Gustav Schröder

Gustav Schröder (German: [ˈɡʊs.taf ˈʃʁøː,dɐ] (listen); 27 September 1885 – 10 January 1959) was a German sea captain who in 1939 attempted to save 937 German Jews, who were passengers on his ship, MS St. Louis, from the Nazis.

Gustav Schröder
Gustav Schröder 107-01.jpg
Born27 September 1885
Died10 January 1959 (age 73)
Known forAttempting to save 937 German Jews aboard the MS St. Louis


Schröder began his sea-going career in 1902 at the age of 16, aboard the training ship Großherzogin Elisabeth. After completing his training, he served first on sailing ships, and then was an able seaman on SS Deutschland of the Hamburg America Line, at the time one of the fastest ships in the world and holder of the Blue Riband. Schröder finally reached the position of Captain after 24 years of service. In 1913, he was posted at Calcutta, India, but was interned there as an enemy alien throughout World War I. He began studying languages as a hobby and eventually became fluent in seven. When Schröder returned to Germany in 1919, he found himself without a job, due to the forced demilitarisation and the limit placed on the number of warships in the German Navy by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1921, he was hired by the shipping company HAPAG (Hamburg-Amerikanische Paketfahrt-Aktiengesellschaft), and in 1935, was promoted to 1st officer on Hansa. In August 1936, he became master of MS Ozeana.

Voyage of the DamnedEdit

St. Louis Captain Schröder negotiates landing permits for the passengers with Belgian officials in the Port of Antwerp.

Schröder was next appointed captain of MS St. Louis, and in 1939 he sailed from Germany to Cuba carrying 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum. He insisted his passengers be treated with respect and allowed them to conduct religious services on board, even though he knew this would be viewed unfavorably by the then ruling Nazi Party. The refugees were refused entry at Cuba and neither the United States nor Canada would let them land, forcing Schröder to return with them to Europe. Instead of delivering his passengers into the clutches of the Nazis and the concentration camps that awaited them in Germany, he stalled the trip as he tried to find asylum for the Jewish people on board. Eventually the passengers were landed in Belgium and all were accepted by Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the UK. The events of the voyage are told in the 1974 book Voyage of the Damned, written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, which was the basis of a 1976 film drama of the same name, and the book The German Girl by Armando Lucus Correa.

Later yearsEdit

Still in command of St. Louis, Schröder prepared for another transatlantic voyage, but his passengers were not allowed to board. En route, Britain and France had declared war on Nazi Germany. Returning from Bermuda, Schröder evaded a Royal Navy blockade and docked at then neutral Murmansk. With a skeleton crew, he managed to slip past Allied patrols and reached Hamburg on New Year's Day of 1940. He was assigned a desk job and never went to sea again. After the war, he worked as a writer and tried to sell his story. He was released from de-Nazification proceedings on the testimony of some of his surviving Jewish refugee passengers.[1]

Schröder was married and lived with his family in Hamburg. He died in 1959 at the age of 73.[2]

Honors and tributesEdit

Schröder received much praise for his actions during the Holocaust, both while he was alive and posthumously. In 1957, he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Federal German Republic "for services to the people and the land in the rescue of refugees". In March 1993, Yad Vashem honored Schröder with the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" by the State of Israel.[3] In 2000, his home town Hamburg named a street after Schröder and unveiled a detailed plaque at the landing stages.

In popular cultureEdit

In the 1976 drama film about the St. Louis, Voyage of the Damned, Schröder is played by Swedish-French actor Max von Sydow.[4]

In the 2017 book Refugee, Schröder is included in the story about a fictional boy (Josef Landau) aboard the St. Louis.


  1. ^ Gordon Thomas (2012). Voyage of the Damned. Premier Digital Publishing. ISBN 9781937624118.
  2. ^ Boroson, Warren (4 December 2009). "The true 'voyage of the damned'". The Jewish Standard. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Gustav Schroeder - The Righteous Among The Nations". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2013-06-23.
  4. ^ Matt Brunson (October 3, 2013). "From Here to Eternity, House of Wax, The Little Mermaid among new home entertainment titles". Creative Loafing Charlotte.