The Poem “Refugees”

Last Sunday, I participated with Ikar, HIAS (the Jewish organization committed to relocating and advocating for ALL refugees), and several other communities in a Vigil at the LA Museum of the Holocaust remembering the SS. St. Louis.  In 1939 this luxury boat was loaded with German Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi persecution and travelled to Cuba to await their quota number in order to be able to enter the United States.  This was the last hope for many of these refugees as visas had tightened after so many had fled in 1938 immediately after Kristallnacht.  The tickets for this voyage were expensive, and families had to sacrifice enormously to find or earn the money for the passage.

A nazi flag flew over the boat, but the captain ordered the crew to treat the passengers as they would any other.  The passengers actually enjoyed themselves with fine food and lots of on-board activities.  However, just a few days after they departed, the captain got word that his passengers might not be allowed to disembark after all because of changing political tides.  But the boat carried on and those on board kept hoping.

When the SS St. Louis reached Cuba, they were denied entry except for 29 of the 937 passengers.  The US tried to convince Cuba to take them, but the boat ended up heading for the US instead with 907 refugees still aboard.  But when they reached the US, they were denied entry again.  Pressure was put on Canada to accept the people, but they were denied a third time.

Refusing to take these people back to Germany, the captain returned to Europe and took them to Belgium.  They were accepted by the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  But with the Nazi invasion of Europe, 254 of them, a little over 1/4 died… 254 people that could have been safe in Cuba or the US or Canada, but were sent away.

With this story in mind, and considering today’s new ruling against the President’s travel ban, I bring your attention to the poem below by Brian Bilston.  Read it twice… once forward and once backward, and see how identical words can be turned around, much the way the SS St. Louis was turned around again and again.


They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

To learn about the poet, go here:

To help refugees, become a supporter of HIAS at

To support the LA Museum of the Holocaust, go to

To support Cool Shul so we can keep making the world a better place filled with non-judgmental, flexible, open-minded Judaism, go to


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