HIAS vigil for victims of MS St. Louis highlights refugees’ plight

WASHINGTON (JTA) – HIAS held a candlelight vigil here Tuesday night to mark the tragic journey of an ill-fated German ship, and to highlight the importance of supporting modern-day refugees.

In 1939, the MS St. Louis carried more than 900 passengers, seeking refuge from Nazi-occupied Europe. The refugees were denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada, and were ultimately forced to return to Europe. About one-third of those aboard ultimately died in Nazi concentration camps.

To mark 78 years since the MS St. Louis’ voyage, HIAS – a refugee advocacy group –  led supporters to the front of the U.S. Capitol. There they paid tribute to those who were on board as well as descendants of the Holocaust refugees. At the Washington vigil, HIAS, in partnership with local synagogues and other groups, called on elected representatives to provide safe haven to people fleeing violence or persecution, including those from Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar. HIAS also organized 20 other such vigils across the U.S.

From vigils to twitter feeds dedicated to the Jewish passengers, many organizations have highlighted the plight of those aboard the St. Louis.

“The anniversary of the St. Louis being turned away from our shores is an important reminder of what’s at stake in this debate,” Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, HIAS’ vice president for community engagement, said.

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