Gustav Schröder (September 27, 1885 – January 10, 1959) was a sea captain, who is best known for attempting to save 937 German Jews, who were passengers on his ship, the MS St. Louis, from the Nazis in 1939.
In 1902, he began his sea-going career aboard the training ship Großherzogin Elisabeth, at the age of 16. Once he had completed his training, he served on sailing ships, and as an able seaman on the SS Deutschland, one of the liners serving the Hamburg America Line, at that time one of the fastest ships in the world, and a holder of the Blue Riband. Schröder was promoted to the position of Captain after 24 years of service. In 1913, he was posted at Calcutta in India, and remained there for the entirety of the First World War, taking up languages as a hobby, and subsequently became fluent in seven. When Schröder returned to Germany in 1919, he found himself jobless due to the forced demilitarisation and the limit placed on the number of battleships in the German Navy by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1921, he was employed by the shipping company HAPAG (Hamburg-Amerikanische Paketfahrt-Aktiengesellschaft) and in 1935, was promoted to the position of 1st officer on the Hansa and in August 1936, was again promoted to master of the MS Ozeana.
Voyage of the Damned
Schröder was appointed captain of the MS St. Louis, and in 1939 sailed from Germany to Cuba carrying 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum. They were refused at Cuba, and were not accepted by the United States, forcing Schröder to return the ship to Europe. It is unknown why Schröder did not proceed to the Dominican Republic, as its officials at the Evian Conference in July 1938 offered to accept 100,000 Jews. Eventually the passengers were landed in Belgium and accepted by Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The events are featured in the 1974 book Voyage of the Damned written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, which was later the basis of a 1976 film drama of the same name.
Honors and tributes
Schröder received much praise for his actions during the Holocaust, both while he was alive and posthumously. In 1957, he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Federal German Republic "for services to the people and the land in the rescue of refugees". In March 1993, Yad Vashem honored Schröder with the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" by the State of Israel. In 2000, the German city of Hamburg named a street after Schröder and unveiled a detailed plaque at the landing stages.
Still in command of the St. Louis, Schröder prepared it for another transatlantic voyage, but his passengers were not allowed to board; en route, war was declared. Returning from Bermuda, Schröder evaded a Royal Navy blockade and docked at Murmansk, then with a minimal crew slipped past Allied patrols to reach Hamburg on Jan. 1, 1940. He assumed a desk job and never again returned to sea. Following the war, working as a writer and trying to sell his life story, he was released from de-Nazification proceedings with the testimony of some of the surviving passengers.
Gustav Schröder died in 1959 at the age of 73.
- "Gustav Schroeder - The Righteous Among The Nations". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2013-06-23.
- Gordon Thomas (2012). Voyage of the Damned. Premier Digital Publishing.