The Tragedy of the St. Louis

Simon family boarding the M.S. St. Louis

Curated especially for Kennesaw State University's Year of Cuba, and sponsored by a generous grant from the Breman Foundation of Atlanta, Georgia, The Tragedy of the St. Louis tells the story of more than 900 Jewish refugees who departed Germany in May 1939 hoping to wait safely in Cuba until their U.S. visas were approved. Visitors to the exhibit will learn what happened when the Cuban government refused to let the M.S. St. Louis land in Havana. They will also have the opportunity to follow the story of one family whose desire to escape Nazi Germany sent them on a journey that included Cuba, England, the Netherlands, Poland, New York, and ultimately Kennesaw, Georgia.

This 8-panel bilingual (English and Spanish) traveling exhibit was originally planned to open at the Kennesaw State University Social Sciences Atrium on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 with a reception from 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. that would have included a curator's talk and remarks from members of the family featured in the exhibit. This event has been cancelled as of March 13, 2020, in keeping with KSU's COVID-19 policy. We will update this website once more information is known about next steps. The exhibit will next appear on June 28, 2020, with a special event at Roosevelt's Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, featuring Scott Miller, co-author of Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust.  The exhibit will be available to travel beginning in August. 

Please email us to inquire about availability of this traveling exhibit for your organization.


Created in conjunction with the MHHE's 2020 accessibility initiative, The Tragedy of the St. Louis will be accompanied by an audio guide and other resources intended to welcome visitors of various backgrounds and preferred methods of aural, visual, physical, and linguistic engagement. Please stay tuned for details. 

Supplemental Materials

Oral History

Born in Brooklyn in 1948, Susan Berman is the daughter of German Holocaust survivors. Her mother Ruth Simon Heinemann took the Kindertransport to England in 1939, a few months before other members of her family boarded the ill-fated ship, the St. Louis. Berman's father, Manfred Heinemann, was arrested on Kristallnacht, but after his release he fled Germany and immigrated to the United States, where he served in the U.S. Army. Thanks to Susan, the Simon family's story runs through The Tragedy of the St. Louis

Archival Footage


Generously shared with us by the JDC Archives, this footage documents the journey of the St. Louis from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, and then back to Antwerp, Belgium. The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was instrumental in negotiating asylum for the St. Louis refugees in Belgium, France, England, and the Netherlands, after they were refused entry in Cuba and the United States. Please visit this website to learn more about the role of the JDC Archives in the St. Louis saga. 

Image: Simon family boarding the M.S. St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany. Courtesy Susan Berman and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum