Herbert Karliner, Holocaust survivor,and his wife. Karliner was on the Voyage of the Damned
photo by Rhonda Spivak
HERBERT KARLINER SURVIVOR OF THE VOYAGE OF DAMNED REMEMBERS
This past summer Canadian Jewish Congress selected internationally-renowned architect Daniel Liebskind to produce the monument, which will be permanently displayed at Halifax’s Pier 21: Canada’s Immigration Museum. The monument is under production and will be unveiled in early 2011, along with a companion educational program.
Over a year and a half ago, Herbert Karliner, a survivor of the S.S. St. Louis was in Winnipeg, as part of a Canada-Israel Friendship Tour sponsored by Watchmen for the Nations and other Christian groups.
I had an opportunity to interview him and hear is incredible story of survival, which bears re-telling in light of the fact the upcoming unveiling of the monument.
Herbert Karliner, who is today in his mid-eighties, was one of 936 German Jews who tried to flee Hilter’s persecution by boarding the ill-fated St. Louis ship that steamed away from Germany toward freedom in America.
Karliner and the other passengers had paid their passage and had their quota numbers for entry into the United States. They were to arrive first in Cuba, and stay while waiting for their numbers to come up for entry into America.
The tragic story of the passengers of this ship was one Hollywood retold in 1976 in “Voyage of the Damned.”
“We were in the Cuban harbour for one week,…The Cuban police stopped us from disembarking…The first Spanish word I learned was manyana [tomorrow], but manyana never came…We were turned away by the Cubans and cruised around to Miami… We sent telegrams to [then U.S. President] Roosevelt to let us in, and then we sent a telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt asking her to let in even just the children…But we didn’t get an answer…We sent telegrams to South America and Canada [which went unanswered]… Nobody wanted us..,” said Karliner.
The cable sent to President Roosevelt which went unanswered read: “Most urgently repeat plea for help for the passengers of the St. Louis. Mr. President help the 900 passengers among them over 400 women and children.”
“I was 12 and a half years old and I could see Miami from the ship, and I was so impressed with it I knew I wanted to live there,” Karliner recalled.
A French Jewish organization the “ OSE” offered Karliner “false papers” and he boarded a ship “ to go to Spain and then to Palestine.” But he never got to Palestine.
After being liberated by the American Army in 1944, at the age of 16, Karliner re-connected with the Jewish organization that had helped him, and through them he was sent to a displaced persons camp in France along with 450 Jewish boys who had survived Buchenwald.
“Elie Weisel was one of those boys. [Israeli] Chief Rabbi Lau was one of those boys,” Karlinger noted.
Karliner, against all odds, finally made his way to America in 1946, and headed straight for Miami Beach. In 1950 he was drafted into the American army.
“In 1950, I got a letter from Uncle Sam saying ‘I want you.’ In 1939, Uncle Sam didn’t want me but in 1950 I was drafted into the American army and sent out East [serving as a translator in the Pacific], he said.
Karliner, who “retired as a baker 15 years ago” is married to a woman he met in a children’s home in France, and they have two daughters and three grandchildren. His brother, also survived the Holocaust and came to America.
To watch a video interview of the sole remaining Israeli survivor of the S.S. St. Louis, see:
Read about the S.S.St.Louis “reunion” in Israel:
Survivors of the SS St Louis Finally “Dock in Jerusalem”, by Sara Bedein: