Holocaust survivor set to mark 80th anniversary of famed ship’s launch

The Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, based at KleinLife, 10100 Jamison Ave., has a star speaker in Ronnie Breslow.

A Holocaust survivor, Breslow frequently gives talks about her experience at schools and to people of all ages.

One of her upcoming talks will take place on Monday, May 13, at Our Lady of Port Richmond Elementary School. That just so happens to be the 80th anniversary of the launch of the St. Louis, a German ocean liner that carried Breslow, her mother and more than 900 Jewish refugees.

The ship made its way from Hamburg to Cuba, where Breslow’s dad was waiting for her and his wife, but was denied permission to land.

Capt. Gustav Schröder went to the United States, but the Roosevelt administration declined to take the refugees. So did Canada.

The St. Louis returned to Europe, where Belgium, England, France and the Netherlands accepted some refugees.

However, some other refugees were rounded up by Nazis and later died during World War II. A book and movie, both titled Voyage of the Damned, recounted the deaths of an estimated 200-plus people who were previously on the St. Louis.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C., tells the story of the St. Louis.

A book, While Six Million Died, recounted how some nations didn’t do all they could to stop the Holocaust.

The United States apologized in 2012 for its actions.

“He was certainly no friend of the Jews, FDR, that’s for sure,” Breslow said.

Canada apologized last November.

Breslow was 8 when the St. Louis sailed in 1939. A “daddy’s girl,” she was eager to reach Cuba.

“It was a big ship, the St. Louis. I was in very good spirits,” she said.

But, the ship was turned away.

“It was sad and scary,” she recalled.

The St. Louis, which has since been scrapped, went to Antwerp, Belgium, then to Holland, where Breslow and her mom were among 181 ship refugees placed in a detention center.

Later, they were permitted to leave. A ship took them to Antwerp, and later docked in New York, where Breslow and her mom were met by her dad.

“He picked me up and twirled me around,” she said.

Breslow and her parents settled in Germantown and later moved to Feltonville.

“ I didn’t know a word of English,” she said.

Breslow looked up words in a dictionary and remembers a teacher at Clara Barton Elementary School staying after school to help her and taking her to Wyoming Library.

“She was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said of the teacher, though she cannot recall her name.

Breslow ultimately graduated from Olney High School.

Now 88 and living in Elkins Park, Breslow continues to tell her story.

“I hope I’m making a difference,” she said. “I hope I’m educating people so it never happens again.”

Last week, she spoke at Temple Sholom in Broomall. The synagogue observed Holocaust Remembrance Day by reading victims’ names for 24 hours.

“They’re not just names, they’re people. It’s great that Temple Sholom did it,” she said.

Breslow remains concerned about anti-Semitism around the world, including in the United States.

She has spoken at Swarthmore College, and was dismayed in March when the student government organization approved a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution pushed by Students for Justice in Palestine calling on the college to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

Breslow would also like to see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remove Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a BDS supporter who has made harsh comments about Israel, from the Foreign Affairs Committee  ••

For more information on Ronnie Breslow’s presentation, call the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center at 215-464-4701 or visit hamec.org.