When Hitler’s reign of terror began, and the Jewish people soon realized that his goal was to wipe them from the face of the Earth, there was a mad scramble to get out of Germany and any other nation that was under Hitler’s control. Some people stayed, thinking that the war would be over soon, and many of those died. Others saw the writing on the wall, and started making plans to escape before it was too late.
On May 27, 1939, a ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees was for the most part, turned away from Havana, Cuba, after admitting roughly 28 people onboard that had valid visas or travel documents. In my opinion, that was probably a blessing for those turned away, because as we all know, Cuba is not really they place that many people want to live. Nevertheless, it was a huge disappointment to the 909 Jewish refugees still on board. For seven days, the ship’s captain, Gustav Schröder, attempted to negotiate with Cuban officials, but they refused to comply. He then appealed to the United State and Canada for entry, and was also denied.
The SS Saint Louis had set sail on May 13, 1939 from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba. Six months earlier, 91 people were killed and Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed in what became known as the Kristallnacht massacre. It was becoming increasing clear that the Nazis were accelerating their efforts to exterminate Jews by arresting them and placing them in concentration camps. World War II and the formal implementation of The Final Solution were just months from beginning. Before they set sail, the refugees had applied for US visas, and planned to stay in Cuba until they could enter the United States legally. The Cuban government was not pleased with the planned stay in Cuba…even if it was temporary. Their impending arrival was greeted with hostility in Cuba before they even set sail. On May 8, there was a massive anti-Semitic demonstration in Havana. Right-wing newspapers claimed that the incoming immigrants were Communists.
The ship sailed closer to Florida, hoping to disembark there, but it was not permitted to dock. Some passengers attempted to cable President Franklin D Roosevelt asking for refuge, but he never responded. A State Department telegram stated that the asylum-seekers must “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.” As a last resort, the Saint Louis continued north to Canada, but it was rejected there, too. “No country could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere,” Frederick Blair, Canada’s director of immigration, said at the time.
After exhaustive appeals failed, the refugees were faced with no other options, the ship returned to Europe. On June 17, the SS Saint Louis docked in Antwerp, Belgium. By the time they arrived, several Jewish organizations had secured entry visas for the refugees in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Great Britain. The majority of the refugees who had traveled on the ship survived the Holocaust, but 254 died as the Nazis swept through Europe during Hitler’s horrible reign.
The Nazi bombers were notorious for their sneaky bomber raid, especially the night bombings. The British decided that it was time for start fighting back. So they came up with the idea of using German speaking individuals to impersonate German air controllers, broadcasting false orders to confuse German fighter pilots. The plan was called Operation Corona, and the scope of the operation was massive, but ironically, it was only made possible because of German-speaking Jewish refugees who had escaped Germany and settled in Britain. What an amazing way for the Jewish refugees to be able to get back at the Nazis for the horrid treatment they had received and that they had escaped thankfully. Now, these refugees were breaking into Luftwaffe radio channels and playing wreaking havoc on the Luftwaffe’s ability to direct their night fighters.
On one night in 1943, the British managed to get almost all the German night fighters to fly home, and only one aircraft was lost during that night. Another night, a German night fighter, who was already lost, was redirected to a British airfield and captured. I can’t imagine what was going on in the minds of the commanding officers in charge of the night fighters. Their men were presumably, totally mixed up, and every mission failed to bring the desired result.
For me, the most amazing part has to do with the Jewish involvement. Hitler was so intent on killing the Jewish people, and in this instance, it was a group of Jewish people who were able to pull of a great victory over Hitler and his night fighter pilots. Operation Corona was made possible because before the war many people, mostly Jews, fled Nazi Germany to England, and I seriously doubt if Hitler ever knew what happened, but those people who were involved knew, and while they were not able to help their own people directly, I’m sure it gave them some satisfaction to know that they were doing their part to fight against the horrible dictator who was responsible for the deaths of so many of their people. Operation Corona gave them the opportunity they needed to do something big to help in ending the war and bringing victory to the Allies, thereby helping many of their own people too.