37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939 tells the story of Jewish passengers aboard the luxury ship, The M.S. St. Louis, fleeing Nazi Germany. The story, told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Ruthie Arons, is written in prose that captures the fragility of her family’s limbo, Ruthie is both a playful child and a keen observer of the shifting dynamics of the larger world around her.

The transatlantic cruise ships of the early 20th century were sold as a luxury travel experience. The German-built M.S. St. Louis, built during the boom and opulence of the mid-1920s, boasted such amenities as a concert hall for live music and dancing, a swimming pool, and a movie theater.

In 1939, the ship would become famous for the fate of the passengers it carried; 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Their destination was Cuba, with the ultimate hope of reaching the United States.

The passengers were mourning lives and loved ones left behind, their future still uncertain, but for the moment they were living the life of wealthy vacationers at sea. Food at home was increasingly scarce, but aboard the ship they could enjoy the delicacies of days gone by.

They traveled under the Nazi flag but they were comfortable. For the time being.

Ship captain Gustav Schroder observed “a nervous disposition” among the passengers. Optimistically he wrote “painful impressions on land disappear quickly at sea and soon seem merely like dreams.”

For the children aboard the ship, despite sensing their parent’s anxiety, part of the voyage must have seemed like a wonderful adventure.

The dream on the sea ended abruptly when the ship docked on June 17, not in Cuba as hoped, but in Antwerp, Belgium, to face the harsh reality of life in Europe again.

Source for quote: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-tragedy-of-s-s-st-louis