Gustav Schröder

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Captain Gustav Schröder

Gustav Schröder (Hadersleben (now Haderslev), September 27, 1885 – Hamburg, January 10, 1959) was a German sea captain, who in 1939 attempted to save 937 German Jews, who were passengers on his ship, the MS St. Louis, from the Nazis.


Schröder began his sea-going career in 1902 at the age of 16, aboard the training ship Großherzogin Elisabeth. After completing his training, he served first on sailing ships, and then was an able seaman on the SS Deutschland of the Hamburg America Line, at the time one of the fastest ships in the world and holder of the Blue Riband. Schröder finally reached the position of Captain after 24 years of service. In 1913, he was posted at Calcutta, India, but was interned there as an enemy alien throughout World War I. He began studying languages as a hobby and eventually became fluent in seven. When Schröder returned to Germany in 1919, he found himself without a job, due to the forced demilitarisation and the limit placed on the number of warships in the German Navy by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1921, he was hired by the shipping company HAPAG (Hamburg-Amerikanische Paketfahrt-Aktiengesellschaft), and in 1935, was promoted to 1st officer on the Hansa. In August 1936, he became master of the MS Ozeana.

Voyage of the Damned[edit]

St. Louis Captain Schröder negotiates landing permits for the passengers with Belgian officials in the Port of Antwerp.

Schröder was next appointed captain of the MS St. Louis, and in 1939 he sailed from Germany to Cuba carrying 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum. He insisted his passengers be treated with respect and allowed them to conduct religious services on board, even though he knew this would be viewed unfavorably by the then ruling Nazi Party. The refugees were refused entry at Cuba and neither the United States nor Canada would let them land, forcing Schröder to return with them to Europe. Eventually the passengers were landed in Belgium and all were accepted by Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and other European countries. The events of the voyage are told in the 1974 book Voyage of the Damned, written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, which was the basis of a 1976 film drama of the same name.

Honors and tributes[edit]

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.[1] In 2000, the German city of Hamburg named a street after Schröder and unveiled a detailed plaque at the landing stages.

Later years[edit]

Still in command of the St. Louis, Schröder prepared for another transatlantic voyage, but his passengers were not allowed to board. En route, war was declared on Nazi Germany by both Britain and France. Returning from Bermuda, Schröder evaded a Royal Navy blockade and docked at then neutral Murmansk. With a minimum crew aboard, he managed to slip past Allied patrols and reached Hamburg on New Year's Day of 1940. He was assigned a desk job and never again went to sea. After the war, he worked as a writer and tried to sell his story. He was released from de-Nazification proceedings on the testimony of some of his surviving Jewish refugee passengers.[2]

Gustav Schröder died in 1959 at the age of 73.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1976 drama film about the St. Louis, Voyage of the Damned, Schröder is played by Swedish-French actor Max von Sydow.[4]