Project tells story of refugees sailing to Cuba

Writer Torsten Hilscher and Berlin’s Herrmann Film are developing a film project based on the real-life story of the German trans-Atlantic liner St. Louis, which set off in 1939 on a fateful voyage from Hamburg to Havana, Cuba, with nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees looking to escape Germany’s fascist regime.

The Cuban government rejected the refugees’ plea for asylum, however, and the ship then traveled to Florida, where it was also refused entry on orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was facing re-election the following year.

As a result, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where many of the passengers ultimately perished in the Holocaust or lost their lives in the war.

Hilscher holds the rights to the story of St. Louis survivor Michael Fink, who was 4 years old at the time of the voyage. Pic would tell the story largely through his eyes and examine the period following the ship’s return to Europe.

Fink and his family spent the war interred in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic before being liberated by the Red Army. Fink, who later changed his surname to Barak, has lived in Israel since 1946.

Hilscher and Herrmann Film, who are aiming to make both a theatrical version and a two-part mini for television, are looking to co-produce with U.S. and Israeli partners.

The tale of the St. Louis made it to the bigscreen in 1976 in Stuart Rosenberg’s “Voyage of the Damned,” which boasted an all-star cast that included Faye Dunaway, Malcolm McDowell and Orson Welles.

Hilscher, who has been researching the story for nearly a decade, said a wealth of information regarding the voyage has come to light in recent years, including the tales of many of the survivors that had not before been available.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum recently completed a 10-year research project to uncover the fates of the St. Louis passengers.

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