from the Damned
by Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer
Not all bottled messages
are found on the beach. Many, while browsing a book, have discovered
a note. One connection to the sea belongs in Ripleys Believe-It-Or-Not -
a missive hidden in a book from a bottle cast overboard by one of
the book's characters!
In 2003, at a book sale in Bath, England, John Moore,
67, spent 1£ for a copy of Voyage of the Damned.
From its pages fell a plea: "Please
help me President Bru or we will be lost," penned Richard
The book explained the appeal.
The harrowing account begins with a thousand Jewish refugees fleeing
Nazi Germany, including Richard and Ruth Dresel with their 6-month
old daughter. In Europe, they boarded the SS St Louis destined for
The SS St Louis in
Havana Harbor, May-June 1939. (Photo from the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Cuba where they expected
asylum. Unfortunatly, when they arived, Cuba's president Frederico
Laredo Bru reneged on his promise of sanctuary.
For ten days, May 27 - June 6, 1939, the St Louis anchored
in Havana Harbor while negotiations for refuge continued. At his
wits end, Richard threw his plea into the Harbor. Rebuffed, the St
Louis retraced its course across the Atlantic where officials
dispersed the homeless to France, Holland, Belgium and England, the
country by chance providing sanctuary to the Dresel family.
Years passed and the Dressels established a chain of clothing shops.
The 1974 book Voyage of the Damned by Gordon Thomas and Max
Morgan Witts, and the 1976 film of the same name told the
story of the St
Louis. In 2003, John discovered Richard's plea and contacted
the Dresel's daughter, now Zilla Coorsh, 65. "It
would be interesting," said Zilla, "To trace the journey of the letter."
I've taken up Zilla's quest, but, unfortunately, this is as much
as I know.
As to ocean drift I can add the following. From Havana, located
on Cuba's north shore 220 miles from Miami, flotsam frequently reaches
Florida. Near Coco Beach, for example, Pete Zies beachcombed a plastic
bottle containing a receipt fro a park near Havana Harbor. Since
1990, tens of thousands of Cubans, longing for freedom set adrift on
make-shift rafts. Thousands completed the arduous journey, most beaching
along eastern Florida.
Richard's entreaty most likely landed along eastern Florida during
summer 1939. It also might have continued across the North Atlantic,
washing ashore in wartime England as early as summer 1940. Why didn't
the beachcomber report it? Answers to this and other questions form
the rest of the story.
(Source: Jewish Chronicle courtesy Eve Streeter, British Broadcasting
Corporation. I learned of this story from the sotes Eve sent after
my interview on the BBC radio program Questions, Questions, April 27,
|THE STORY CONTINUED...
From the subsequent Beachcombers' Alert:
MIBs from the Damned
Across generations, MIBs (Messages in Bottles) cry out. Translated,
this MIB reads: "Please help me President Bru or we will be lost."
At the time, Frederico Laredo Fru was the president of Cuba.
The story continued from a past Alert, 847 refugees sought
escape from Nazi Germany aboard the liner St Louis. At 8:00
pm, Saturday May 13, 1939, the St Louis set sail from Hamburg.
Photo by Jim White
In 2003, sixty-four years
later, one of the MIBs turned up in the book Voyage of the Damned about
the harrowing odyssey of the St Louis. The MIB bore the
name of Richard Dresel whose family included a six-month old baby
Zilla Coorsh, now 65.
On the Internet, I found Zilla. "I'm enclosing a copy of the message
with my father's name on it," she replied. "However, I'm sure it
was not written by my father and is not signed by him personally.
I can only assume that the [passenger] committee formed on the St
Louis sent these messages on behalf of the passengers. Unfortunately,
I have not found any information about the way in which the message
arrived in England."
Zilla's reply suggests that the committee hurled hundreds of MIBs
overboard. Upon returning to Europe, during June 16-20, 1939, 181
passengers disembarked in Holland, 224 in France, 229 in Great Britain
and 214 in Belgium. If the committee cast one MIB per refugee, a
total of 847 might have drifted the sea. From Havana, they scattered
along the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic. During June 1939, hundreds
likely washed up along the U.S. East Coast and found in Europe vary
from 1% to as high as 10%. If Europeans found 1%, perhaps 85 St Louis
MIBs dispersed to Norway, UK, France, Spain, and Portugal, Azores
and the Canaries. Some kept on around the North Atlantic Subtropical
Gyre back to Florida and Cuba. Others drifted on, making multiple
circuits of the Gyre, turning up as late as the inauguration of President
John F. Kennedy.
Thus far, only a single St Louis MIB has come to light. I hope beachcombers
will report others.