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Many Cubans resented the relatively large number of refugees (including 2,500 Jews), whom the government had already admitted into the country, because they appeared to be competitors for scarce jobs.
Hostility toward immigrants fueled both antisemitism and xenophobia.
The Director-General of the Cuban immigration office, Manuel Benitez Gonzalez, had come under a great deal of public scrutiny for the illegal sale of landing certificates.Germany, May 13, 1939. US Holocaust Memorial Museum On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Most were German citizens, some were from eastern Europe, and a few were officially "stateless." The majority of the Jewish passengers had applied for US visas, and had planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States. Louis sailed, there were signs that political conditions in Cuba might keep the passengers from landing there.Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. The US State Department in Washington, the US consulate in Havana, some Jewish organizations, and refugee agencies were all aware of the situation.Reports about the impending voyage fueled a large antisemitic demonstration in Havana on May 8, five days before the St. The rally, the largest antisemitic demonstration in Cuban history, had been sponsored by Grau San Martin, a former Cuban president. Louis arrived in Havana harbor on May 27, the Cuban government admitted 28 passengers: 22 of them were Jewish and had valid US visas; the remaining six—four Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals—had valid entry documents.
Grau spokesman Primitivo Rodriguez urged Cubans to "fight the Jews until the last one is driven out." The demonstration drew 40,000 spectators. One further passenger, after attempting to commit suicide, was evacuated to a hospital in Havana.Both agents of Nazi Germany and indigenous right-wing movements hyped the immigrant issue in their publications and demonstrations, claiming that incoming Jews were Communists.Two of the papers—Diario de la Marina, owned by the influential Rivero family, and Avance, owned by the Zayas family, had supported the Spanish fascist leader General Francisco Franco, who, after a three-year civil war, had just overthrown the Spanish Republic in the spring of 1939 with the help of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.He met with President Bru, but failed to persuade him to admit the passengers into Cuba.