MS. St. Louis

My poem is up at Schlow Library as part of local response to the traveling exhibition ”Americans and the Holocaust,” at the Penn State University Libraries, January 29th to March 10th. The Schlow exhibition of art work and poetry is up for the month of January.

The poem considers the ”Voyage of the DamnedT” and the imagined response of those on board. From Brittanica:

The MS St. Louis sailed from Hamburg on May 27, 1939 with 931 passengers. Most were Jew trying to escape Nazi Germany. The travelers were denied entry to Cuba (a popular destination while waiting for a US Visa), the United States and Canada. The ship was forced to return to Europe, where the passengers were eventually taken by England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium. 255 were killed during the war—the vast majority in concentration camps.

The incident was chronicled in the book Voyage of the Damned (1974) by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan and later adapted into a film (1976).

The poem:

MS St. Louis

My brother turned

thirteen this week—

he was to take

to the Bema,

and read from the torah

salvaged

from our synagogue 

in Berlin.

But, he decided

just the day before,

not to.

At ten,

I must start 

studying, 

although my brother

says, “why bother,

since we are sailing 

East again.”

The mood

on board the boat

has changed

since we left 

the lights of Miami

behind—

smiles

are hard to come by

and my dad and mom

are more 

than just seasick.

The Rabbi says

we should forgive

those who have 

forsaken us—

but my brother says

“the rabbi is older 

than Methuselah 

and we will 

bury him at sea

before too long.”

Dad told us

“there is so much

we have been

blamed for, 

that they fear a contagion—

like the Black Death

arriving by ship 

in Messina in 1347.”

My brother shakes

his head to agree.

“To help a Jew

is to become 

a little Jewish,”

he says

“and who would

ever choose to be 

Jewish.”

But, the boat

steams on

and soon, 

we will see

Gibraltar

again.

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2 Responses to MS. St. Louis

  1. beth says:

    ❤️ congrats

    Like

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