Sketching the SS St. Louis

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Seventy-three years ago this week (June 4, 1939), the SS St. Louis, the infamous “Voyage of the Damned,” hovered off the coast of Florida, hoping to be granted permission to land.

In a telegram to the White House, the Jewish refugees begged: “Help [us], Mr. President, the 900 passengers, of which more than 400 are women and children.” There was no reply. Meanwhile, a handful of editorial cartoonists tried to rally American public opinion in support of the refugees. The cartoons below will appear in the forthcoming book “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust,” coauthored by Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and comics historian and editor Craig Yoe (photos courtesy of the Wyman Institute).

Fred Packer’s cartoon was published in the New York Daily Mirror on June 6, 1939, alongside an editorial titled “Ashamed!” The editorial asserted that the Statue of Liberty “hides her face in shame today as our now stern shores send back this refugee ship.”

This cartoon by Herbert Block (better known as “Herblock”), for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, appeared in various papers on June 7, 1939. Block was later the editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post for more than 50 years.

Edmund Duffy drew this cartoon for the Baltimore Sun, on June 4, 1939. Duffy took the medieval anti-Jewish legend of the “wandering Jew” and turned it into a protest against the persecution of the real wandering Jews of the 1930s.

Jesse Cargill’s cartoon (for the King Features Syndicate) on June 7, 1939, invoked the well known Protestant hymn about taking shelter in God.

Arie Navon was the cartoonist for Davar, the Hebrew-language daily newspaper of the Labor Zionist movement, in British Mandatory Palestine. Although not specifically about the St. Louis, this cartoon, published on April 30, 1939, captured the mood of despair among Jewish refugees seeking haven. The passenger on one ship asks, “Where are you coming from, and where are you going?” The second man replies: “From the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, and back.”

Jerry Doyle’s cartoon in the Philadelphia Record (June 6) cynically compared unemployed recent college graduates to the refugees aboard the St. Louis. The American public’s anxiety over economic conditions stoked opposition to admitting refugees—although, ironically, the immigration quota from Germany was almost never filled and many more Jewish refugees could have been admitted under the existing limits.

Posted on June 1, 2012 and filed under Features, U.S..