A Grandson Traces His Grandfather's Voyage to Auschwitz

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A postcard of the SS St. Louis. May 1939. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Today marks the 75th anniversary of a ship setting sail. It's a ship you probably haven't heard of, but one that tells an important and dark story about our country's past.

The ship was the MS St. Louis. It departed from Hamburg, Germany on May 13th, 1939, with 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum abroad. But the ship's passengers were denied refuge by the United States, Canada, and Cuba. The ship returned back to Europe on June 20, sealing a tragic fate for many aboard. 

Two of the Jewish refugees were Alexander Goldschmidt and his son Helmut. They returned from their voyage on the St. Louis, only to die in Auschwitz. 

Alexander's grandson, Martin Goldsmith, shares their story in his new book "Alex's Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance." It's a tale of how the ghosts of history, big and small, influence our identity and our future. 


Martin Goldsmith

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson


T.J. Raphael

Comments [8]

Joseph Ferreira from Wrentham, MA

There's an older American Experience program entitled America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference which tells a more complete story about US anti-Semitism during the '30s and WWII. The story of the S.S. St. Louis is included, but so are many more stories about government policies, especially by the State Dept. and even Franklin Roosevelt. I use the film when teaching this period in World History. It shocks my students...

May. 15 2014 06:08 AM
Janice D Stearns

But why was the ship turned away???

May. 15 2014 12:06 AM
Layney from Canada

How disgracefull!!!

May. 14 2014 07:09 PM
Harvey Weiss from Chattanooga, TN

a not so gentle a reminder of what was the reality -- zooming from there to now - we must have immigration reform now - we must help others create new histories, legacies and friendship -- never again does have relevance ~~~ still

May. 14 2014 05:23 PM
Gregg McPherson from North Carolina

I found this story to be very moving. The role of the Vichy French government in feeding the deadly engine of the Holocaust is not much appreciated. A good friend's grandparents from Paris died in Auschwitz and her parents had to hide in the home of a Catholic grandmother to escape arrest and deportation. Rivesaltes and Drancy were very much part of her family's story.

May. 14 2014 04:28 PM
Angela DeMartino from Boston, MA

This is a very sad story. But I am glad it's been told so we can share it and keep it for the future.

I grew up in communist East Germany, just a short car ride from Weimar and the Concentration Camp Buchenwald. I visit Germany often. This year I will take my 14 year old American born daughter to Buchenwald for the first time. It will take her innocence away and I will be sorry for that. But maybe her generation will be able to answer the old question of how it all was possible. Mine was not. I can only bow my head and ask for forgiveness....

May. 13 2014 03:40 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I plan on going to Lithuania and see how my Grandfather saved his family during the war. They hid in a hole for 20 months in a barn outside Vilnius. I want to see that hole.

May. 13 2014 03:06 PM

This interview is so very powerful! My throat is choked with grief for this families loss and to know a tiny fraction of their story.

History should never be suppressed or forgotten, because it may lead us to awareness and compassion for circumstance we do not know and may never understand, but to recognize the treasure of striving to know who came before and gave us life is reason.

May. 13 2014 01:06 PM

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