Holocaust Survivor and M.S. St. Louis Passenger

Liesl Loeb was born on June 17, 1928 in Rheydt, Germany, the only child of Josef and Lilly Joseph. Her father was a prominent and successful attorney, and her mother was an accomplished soprano. Of interest, one of their neighbors in Rheydt, Joseph Goebbels, later became the Minister of Propaganda in the Nazi Party.

Despite the passage of the oppressive Nuremberg Laws of 1935, Liesl’s father was able to continue his practice of law. But the ever-increasing warning signs worried her father, and he applied for immigration status with the United States. On August 20, 1938 the family was given quota number 14, 350 for immigration, meaning they could reasonably expect to be called to travel to America with the next two years.

However, time was not on the side of the Joseph family. On November 9, 1938 the Nazi government sanctioned anti-Jewish riots that resulted in the destruction of 267 synagogues, the looting of 7,500 Jewish businesses, and the incarceration of more than 25,000 Jewish men into concentration camps. This pogrom came to be known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.  Liesl and her mother hid in the home of their non-Jewish neighbors while their home was ransacked, and Liesl’s father was arrested and imprisoned.

Liesl’s father was released from prison after six weeks and the family sought a means to leave Germany while they awaited their turn to immigrate to America. Along with over 900 other German Jews, the Joseph family purchased travel visas to Cuba and booked passage to Cuba on the cruise ship, M.S. St. Louis. Their hope was to stay in Cuba until they could immigrate to the United States. What they and the other passengers did not know – the travel visas were not valid and their entry into Cuba would be denied.

On May 13, 1939, the St. Louis left Germany and arrived in Cuba on May 27th. Denied entry into Cuba the St’ Louis sailed to Miami where U. S. Coast Guard cutters denied the ship entry into American waters. The St. Louis returned to Europe, but not to Germany; the passengers were granted asylum in England, Belgium, Holland, and France. Liesl and her parents were sent to England.

When England entered the war with Germany in September of 1939, Liesl’s father was interned with other German males on the Isle of Man. One year later the family was reunited when their ‘quota number’ to immigrate to America was called. The family traveled to America and settled in Philadelphia. Liesl attended high school in Philadelphia and frequented a German-Jewish club, where she met her future husband. Hans Loeb, a German-Jewish refugee and American WWII veteran, married Liesl on June 1, 1947.

In addition to raising two children, Joan and Joel, Liesl worked as an art director, graphic designer, and German-Language correspondent. After almost forty years of marriage, Hans died of heart failure in 1987. Liesl has four grandchildren, and stays busy as a volunteer at the Holocaust Archive at Gratz College in Philadelphia and with speaking engagements around the United States. Liesl has participated in numerous documentaries regarding the St. Louis including SEA tales series on A&E and NEWSSTAND on CNN World-wide.