More than 900 passengers, mostly Jewish refugees escaping Hitler, boarded the MS St. Louis ocean liner May 13, 1939, bound for Cuba. Among the travelers was 10-year-old Henry Gallant, born Heinz Goldstein in Berlin, who recounts his story in Pamela Sampson’s first publication, “No Reply: A Jewish Child Aboard the MS St. Louis and the Ordeal That Followed.”
Passengers aboard the St. Louis rejoiced as they began their voyage toward Cuba, but they were prohibited from disembarking at the island because of worthless visas sold to them.
In a final attempt to go ashore, the passengers sought U.S. asylum with the help of humanitarian organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. They never received a reply, however, because President Franklin Roosevelt was wary of anti-Semitic and anti-immigration attitudes in America.
The St. Louis had to return to Europe with the passengers on board.
German refugees on the St. Louis asked to relocate to countries outside Hitler’s control, which then included France. Henry’s parents, Herman and Rita Goldstein, took the family to Paris and ran a small business, but the Nazis marched in the next year.
Herman Goldstein was interned and eventually sent to Auschwitz.
Henry and his mother tried to escape Nazi attention, and Henry wound up in a children’s home outside Paris.
An only child, Henry describes his time at the home as miserable. He often spent his time at the theater or as a tour guide to German soldiers to raise pocket money.
Henry and Rita fled to southern France, and, unable to cope with the thought of being captured, Rita obtained fake documents and escaped to neutral Switzerland with Henry in 1942.
In Switzerland, Henry learned cooking and hospitality skills at the Ecole d’humanite, then immigrated to the United States in 1947.
Although he faced anti-Semitism in the United States, Henry put those Swiss-taught skills to use at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. He worked his way up until he became the maître d’hôtel at the Empire Room, a nightclub at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
After the nightclub closed Henry and his wife moved to Atlanta, where they used their experience in hospitality to establish a kosher catering company.
Sampson’s book is a story of will and survival. She also highlights the political situation in America during the ’30s and ’40s and the ongoing issue of immigration, which for Sampson serves as a reminder of what can happen when a country shuts its doors to refugees.