Survivor profile: JANE KEIBEL – QNS.com

Survivor profile: JANE KEIBEL

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On May 13, 1939, Jane Keibel, her parents and sister boarded the St. Louis, a large German cruise ship destined for Cuba.
As the 930 passengers, all Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, made their way onboard, they were greeted by a live rendition of the then-popular song, “I Must Now Leave My City,” an all-too-appropriate ballad for those forced to pack up their lives and start anew.
“Everything had to be left behind,” recalled Keibel, a teenager at the time who admitted she had been excited for her first seafaring voyage.
Years later, Keibel learned that the transatlantic liner was adorned with a number of busts bearing Adolf Hitler’s likeness. All of them had been covered following strict orders by the captain, Gustav Schroeder, who wanted the Jews to be as comfortable as possible, Keibel said.
Comfort, however, was not a factor in Keibel’s father’s decision to book first-class passage aboard the ship. He wanted to spend as much German currency as possible, Keibel explained, because the Jews, who had paid $250 a person for Cuban visas, were forced to leave the country virtually penniless.
The passengers onboard the St. Louis never made it to Cuba, however.
Fulgencio Batista, who was then Cuba’s military leader and would soon become President, claimed immigration officers had not charged the Jewish passengers enough. He needed more money, which didn’t exist onboard the St. Louis. Thus, upon crossing the Atlantic, the ship waited in a Cuban harbor, its passengers hoping for a reprieve instead of being delivered into the outstretched arms of the Nazis back in Europe.
“The mood was awful on that ship,” Keibel remembered. “I mean, everybody was depressed because where’s he [Schroeder] going to take us? To Germany? And then what? Nobody had a house or furnishings or anything. It would’ve been concentration camps,” she said, adding, “Of course, we didn’t know at that time how bad the concentration camps were.”
Meanwhile, Jews who had previously arrived in Cuba paddled out to the St. Louis in small boats to offer the passengers encouragement.
“They always called manana - that’s the first Spanish word I learned,” recalled Keibel. “But manana never came.”
After 10 days, the St. Louis left Cuba, traveling north to the U.S., where the passengers were, again, turned away.
“Nobody wanted us,” Keibel said. “My sister always compares it with the garbage barge that was going all over the harbor. That’s what we were basically; we traveled the ocean with no place to go.”
Ultimately, Holland, Belgium, England and France offered to absorb the passengers of the St. Louis - thanks, largely, to Captain Schroeder who was later honored for his assistance to the Jews as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the official Israeli Holocaust memorial.
Keibel and her family settled in France, but soon obtained American visas and arrived in the U.S. in January of 1940. The family was greeted at the pier by Keibel’s two uncles who escorted the newcomers on the subway and through a snowy park to Kew Gardens, their new home.
Still in Kew Gardens today, Keibel thinks back on her maiden voyage to America and all that was lost.
“Too many people were left [behind],” said Keibel, whose grandmother, blind and in her 80s - Keibel’s age now - was unable to get a visa to the U.S. She ended up in Auschwitz, where, according to Keibel, she died a natural death.
“I feel fortunate. And sometimes it just amazes me what people went through,” Keibel said, adding that she never would have met her husband had she not come to the U.S.
“Really, my life is here. This is my life,” she said.

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