August 2, 2021

the honor of a captain in the face of the indignity of nations


Could one have been a member of the Nazi Party, then recognized “Righteous Among the Nations?” » posthumously by the International Institute for the Memory of the Shoah, for saving Jews? Although surprising, the answer is in the affirmative concerning Gustav Schröder (1885-1959), central character of this telefilm taken from a true story and whose original construction (alternation of played scenes, period archives, testimonies of former passengers) is a success.

This story is that of the trip made between May 13 and June 17, 1939 aboard the Saint Louis, a luxury transatlantic liner belonging to the Hapag company, by just over 900 German Jews fleeing the Reich. Departure from Hamburg, expected arrival in Havana ten days later. Among the passengers, some are still traumatized by their recent stay in a concentration camp.

But why did you wait so long before leaving National Socialist hell? “We had no money! The richest Jews were able to leave earlier ”, underlines a survivor, whose parents, like all the other passengers of the Saint Louis, had to pay 500 Reichsmarks, plus 150 US dollars, to obtain a Cuban visa. With a formal ban on carrying more than 10 Reichsmarks with you.

Centered around the personality of Gustav Schröder, captain of the Saint Louis, this telefilm recounts his acts of courage and the anguish of passengers terrified at the idea of ​​having to return to Germany, where a disastrous fate awaits them. Because, having arrived off the coast of Havana after a pleasant crossing, they learn with amazement that the Cuban authorities are contesting the validity of the visas.

“A normal cruise”

The bad news is linked: in the middle of an election campaign, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refuses to welcome these refugees on American soil. Same refusal on the part of the Canadian authorities. It will take all the determination and courage of Schröder, who disobeyed orders from Germany, so that, after long days of torment, the passengers finally find refuge in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Great Britain. .

Read also The United States returned 254 migrants to death in Nazi camps 75 years ago

Although a member of the National Socialist Party, Schröder had taken up, as soon as he embarked in Hamburg, up for the Jews on board. Faced with a dubious crew, in which are several convinced Nazis, he puts things to the point: “I ask you to consider this crossing as a normal transatlantic cruise. Passengers have paid, so they have the right to normal treatment… ”

Incarnated by the excellent Ulrich Noethen, who notably played a chilling Himmler in The fall, 2004 feature film on Hitler’s last days, this telefilm recalls a historical episode which strangely echoes the challenges of the current migration crisis.

The Undesirable, the wandering of the “Saint-Louis”, by Ben von Grafenstein. With Ulrich Noethen, Britta Hammelstein (All., 2019, 88 min). On from June 18 to July 17.