Keene State Professor to speak on "The Voyage of the St. Louis and American Immigration Policy"

MANCHESTER — Paul Vincent will be the guest for the Vermont Humanities Council's upcoming First Wednesdays talk, with a reception and photo exhibit at the Manchester Community Library preceding his lecture, "The Voyage of the St. Louis and American Immigration Policy."

Vincent, a professor of Holocaust studies and history at Keene State College and chairman of the school's baccalaureate program in Holocaust and genocide studies, will share the story of the May 1939 voyage of the St. Louis and the plight of the refugees aboard it. His talk is scheduled on Nov. 1.

"It's going to be largely focused on the voyage of the St. Louis, with most of the passengers on board assuming that they'll be able to get off of the ship with tourist landing passes in Havana [Cuba]," said Vincent. "The decision was made just before the ship left, however, that they would no longer recognize these permits."

Of the ship's 937 passengers, almost all were Jewish refugees from across Europe fleeing the rising Third Reich, according to Vincent. While many had applied for U.S. visas, with a plan to stay in Cuba until they could enter the United States, it soon became clear that the Cuban landing might not go as planned.

"Negotiations go on for about a week, and the ship is sent back out to sea to travel in circles for several days until it becomes clear that the Cuban president won't allow them in," said Vincent. "This is kind of when the U.S. State Department becomes involved, along with members of the International Refugee Committee, meeting in London."

With immigration quotas severely limited by the 1924 U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, the St. Louis was eventually forced to sail back to Europe in June 1939. Still, European governments collaborated to assist the passengers of the St. Louis, with refugees offered asylum by Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

"At the center of what I'll be talking about is the fact that we didn't really have a refugee policy; most countries don't," said Vincent. "Refugee policy and immigration policy often overlap. No country really has a refugee policy in place, but rather they respond to crises as they evolve."

Though Vincent plans to focus on the history of the St. Louis, he does anticipate that connections to current events will be drawn during his discussion with audience members.

"I hope [the audience] walks away recognizing the complexity of dealing with refugee policy in the midst of a crisis that the administration is just starting to get at handle on when war breaks out — the Great Depression," said Vincent. "These issues aren't black and white, but they need to be seen in relationship to other issues at the time."

Many of the dilemmas faced by President Roosevelt regarding policy, says Vincent, are similar to those faced by contemporary administrations.

"Roosevelt had to live under the same constitutional provisions that our current president has to live under," said Vincent. "People on either side of the spectrum can get frustrated when things are not accomplished, but they need to realize that it was written into the constitution to make things difficult — to ensure checks and balances with three branches of government."

Vincent, the author of "The Politics of Hunger: The Blockade of Germany, 1915-1919," and "A Historical Dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933," will be welcomed with a reception and photo exhibit at the Manchester Community Library, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1, co-sponsored by the Israel Congregation of Manchester.

His talk will begin at 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church.

First Wednesdays talks are free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Manchester Community Library at 802-362-2607 or the Vermont Humanities Council at 802-262-2626,, or visit

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471


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