Software developer Russel Neiss and Rabbi Charlie Schwartz have collaborated on a number of projects that use technology to bring awareness to Jewish issues, history, and culture.
But last night they dreamt up the St. Louis Manifest, a Twitter project sharing the story of some 900 Jews who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 on the MS St. Louis, which planned to stop in Cuba and then continue on in an attempt to gain entry into the United States. Unable to enter due to strict immigration quotas, the passengers were forced to return to Europe, where a number of countries accepted them as refugees; 254 of them were killed in the Holocaust. This story, Neiss and Schwartz believe, serves as a fitting tribute to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, and a reminder of a time in American history when the country closed its doors to refugees.
My name is Lutz Grünthal. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered in Auschwitz pic.twitter.com/DyS8NXrk2P— St. Louis Manifest (@Stl_Manifest) January 27, 2017
Using records from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Neiss and Schwartz have tweeted pictures and information about the passengers on that voyage. Their account has quickly gained more than 9,000 followers. To learn more about this initiative, I spoke with co-creator Russel Neiss. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and style.
Candice Norwood: Can you tell me about the background of this story and the MS St. Louis’s voyage?
Russel Neiss: The MS St. Louis was a ship [holding] primarily Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. So this is after Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when some folks saw the writing on the wall and thought: “I have to get out of here to be safe.” These were folks who booked tickets; they had applied for visas to the United States, and the ship was going to go from Germany via Cuba to the United States thereafter. The Cuban government held their documents on the way from Germany to Cuba, which basically stranded everyone on the ship. Even though these people had applied for visas, the United States would not grant them entry. The ship afterward went from port to port in Europe [dropping off the passengers].