The Current

Holocaust survivor shares lessons from 'voyage of the damned' on MS St. Louis

Ana Maria Gordon watches the plight of Syrian refugee children with a deep understanding. She was four-years-old on the MS St. Louis ship that carried Jews across the Atlantic looking for refuge only to be turned away and forced into concentration camps.
Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis attempt to communicate with friends and relatives in Cuba, who were permitted to approach the docked vessel in small boats, June 3, 1939. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/National Archives and Records)

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Seventy-seven years ago, a German ship called the MS St. Louis headed across the Atlantic towards Cuba, carrying more than 900 Jews trying to escape the growing menace of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

One of the people on board that ship was four-year-old Ana Maria Karmann. She was travelling with her mother, father, aunt and uncle.
Ana Maria (Karman) Gordon and her mother Sidonie on the deck of the MS Saint Louis. May, 1939. (Courtesy of Ana Maria Gordon)

Karmann who now goes by Gordon is 81-years-old and tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that she still remembers the tension on board the boat when the passengers learned that Cuba, the U.S. and Canada, all refused to allow the ship to dock. 

"I lived the change," Gordon says. "because people were getting nervous and people were talking things I didn't know what was going on."

Gordon and the rest of passengers headed back across the Atlantic where four countries allowed passengers to disembark.  After World War broke out, many of the passengers who took refuge in the countries that would be occupied by the Germans would die in the death camps.

Gordon, her mother and father all wound up in concentration camps, but survived the war.

Looking at the refugee crisis today, Ana Maria sees an eery replaying of the past.

"Many people don't know what happened in history," she says.

"And the children are not taught....what it implies to be an immigrant, and all the implications of running from something bad — not knowing where you are going to end up."

Author of The German Girl Armando Lucas Correa with Ana Maria Gordon. Correa says the world's betrayal of Jewish refugees before the holocaust echoes in today's refugee crisis. (Courtesy of Simon and Schuster)

Listen to the full conversation with The German Girl author Armando Lucas Correa and Ana Maria Gordon.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.