Clark Blatteis

Memphis, Tennessee

Born: 1932 Berlin, Germany

Refugee: Berlin, Germany

“We were turned away and began sailing back and forth in the Miami harbor,” recalls Clark Blatteis of his voyage on the ill-fated ocean liner St. Louis. “The US Coast Guard wouldn’t allow us to beach and eventually the ship returned to Germany.”

Seven-year-old Clark and his parents were among the 937 refugees who sailed to Cuba in May 1939 to escape Nazi persecution. Following Kristallnacht, Clark’s father had been arrested and taken to a concentration camp. His mother applied for permits to leave the country. Clark recalls, “My father was released from the camp to join us as we sailed out of Hamburg.”

“The trip from Germany to Cuba lasted about two weeks,” Clark says. When the St. Louis reached Havana on May 27, only twenty-eight of the Jewish refugees were allowed entry. The documents for all of the others, purchased from a corrupt consular official, were invalid.

The passengers stayed on the ship for five days. Then the St. Louis sailed slowly toward Miami. Telegrams to the White House and the United States State Department proved futile. The ship turned back. Belgium accepted 241 passengers, Clark and his parents among them. When the Germans invaded, they were trapped again, recalls Clark: “We ran and hid in our cellar and heard bombs going off overhead. After the destruction, we were arrested for being German nationals.” Upon release, they traveled through France to Spain and boarded a boat for Morocco. After eight years in Casablanca, they finally made it to the United States.