US & Canada

Twitter feed marks 1939 US refugee block of Holocaust victims

Lutz Grunthal Image copyright US Holocaust Memorial Museum

On the day that President Donald Trump banned immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, a Twitter bot was also sharing the names of Jewish refugees on a ship which was turned away from the United States, some of whom went on to die during the Holocaust.

Every five minutes, a tweet from the St Louis Manifest account shared the name of a person on board the MS St. Louis and described their individual fates after being denied entry to the US in 1939.

The account was created on International Holocaust Memorial Day as an act of remembrance to those who died, but the timing meant it was quickly adopted by those protesting against President Trump's temporary halt on the US refugee programme.

Rabbi Charlie Schwartz and software developer Russel Neiss, both from the US, told the BBC they created the account to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day and to remind people of the need to help the vulnerable.

The first tweet read: "My name is Herbert Ascher. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered at Auschwitz."

Image copyright Twitter

Although the pair say the purpose of the account was not political, it was caught up in the midst of the debate over the president's executive order.

The name St Louis comes from the German transatlantic liner that sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba in 1939. More than 900 people were on board, hoping to reach the US. Almost all were Jews fleeing the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.

When the St Louis arrived in Havana harbour in May 1939, the Cuban government admitted only 28 passengers. None of the others were allowed to enter the country or receive US visas because of strict immigration quotas.

Image copyright Three Lions
Image caption St Louis in Antwerp, Belgium

Left with no choice, the ship sailed to Florida but did not make it to the shores because the coastguards stopped it.

Following the US government's refusal to permit the passengers to disembark, St. Louis sailed back to Europe in June. Of those on board, 254 could not seek safe refuge and died in the Holocaust.

The account's description on Twitter reads: "We remember the victims of Nazism turned away at the doorstep of America in 1939."

Image copyright US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Image copyright US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Rabbi Schwartz, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said: "Creating the Twitter account and the website didn't take us more than an hour."

The account has attracted around 70,000 followers within a few days with many of the tweets shared tens of thousands of times.

Image copyright US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The information was sourced from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"Along with remembering those who were murdered in the Holocaust, we wanted the account to place the protection of refugees and vulnerable people in the national debate," said Rabbi Schwartz.

Image copyright Neil Freeman via Twitter
Image caption Protester at an anti-travel restrictions rally pictured with banner quoting the St Louis Manifest account

"Many were moved by the story behind the account and some even referred to it during the recent anti-travel restriction protests."

Both creators say the reaction to the account has been overwhelmingly positive.

However, some users have defended Mr Trump's policies and argue that the government must continue to secure the borders and impose tougher restrictions.

Image copyright Twitter

Other users criticised the link between the St Louis incident and the US presidential executive order on restricting the travel of people with certain nationalities, while others said blaming the US for the death of the St Louis refugees is not correct.

Produced by the UGC and Social News team

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