Holocaust Survivors Share Story with 8th & 9th Graders

Alexander Wolff

Holocaust survivors Annette and Frank Lachmann shared their incredible story of survival and escape from the Nazi’s with Pelham’s 8th and 9th graders on March 25 and April 8 respectively. The virtual presentations continue a longstanding tradition that augments the students’ study of the Holocaust and World War II. Prior to the discussion, 8th graders completed their reading and study of “Night” by Elie Wiesel and 9th graders, who were unable to participate in this event last year due to the pandemic, watched a preview of the documentary “Nobody Wants Us,” which details the story of Annette and other survivors’ journey aboard the Steamship Quanza as they sought refuge in the United States. Following the presentations, the students had the opportunity to ask questions of Mr. and Mrs. Lachmann. 

More about Annette and Frank Lachmann

Frank and Annette Lachmann narrowly escaped Nazi Germany and made it to America during the war. Mr. Lachmann arrived here with his parents in 1938, Annette in 1940. While both had incredibly compelling journeys to get here, Annette Schamroth Lachmann’s story is especially harrowing and has garnered much historical attention. So much so, that there is a documentary about her escape with her sister, mother, and great aunt from Belgium on foot into Portugal and eventually onto the Portuguese Ship, the Quanza. 

Germany invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940, sealing the fate of many Jewish citizens. Annette's father realized that Jews in Belgium needed to flee so he came to NYC earlier to set up a home in NYC’s diamond district. He found a modest apartment where they could live. Once he was able to provide a home with food and an income, he sent for his family.  A documentary called “Nobody Wants Us,” created, directed, and produced by Laura Seltzer-Duny, is about Mrs. Lachmann’s journey to the United States on the Steamship Quanza.  

More on the SS Quanza

At the beginning of World War II, against the wishes of his government, the Portuguese consul-general in Bordeaux, France, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, issued visas to Jews who had bought tickets on the Quanza. Sousa Mendes issued visas and passports to 40,000 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany including artist Salvador Dali.  On Aug. 9, 1940, the SS Quanza left the free port in Lisbon, Portugal, carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees from dozens of European countries. Since Portugal was neutral during the war, the SS Quanza was safe from being torpedoed by German submarines. However, the journey turned out to be more than a month-long; the Jews aboard were transported from port to port for a month, Only a year before, hundreds of German Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis had been turned away by Cuba, the United States, and Canada, forcing some to return to Hamburg, Germany.

The supervisor of the U.S. State Department’s Visa Division under U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Breckinridge Long, turned the immigrants away, seeing them as “undesirables.” He voiced concern that allowing the immigrants into America would threaten national security because they could be  “potential Nazis” or “Jewish communists.” After docking in NY, 121 refugees were denied entry.  The SS Quanza then sailed to Veracruz, Mexico.  Thirty-five refugees disembarked there.  The passengers who remained were mostly Belgium Jews. The SS Quanza then sailed to Hampton Roads, Virginia to refuel for their trip back to Lisbon.  In Virginia, Jewish maritime lawyer, Jacob L. Morewitz filed a lawsuit on behalf of the refugees in order to delay their departure.  In the meantime, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had received a frantic telegram from the Quanza passengers asked Roosevelt to let them in. When the refugees disembarked different groups helped the refugees find places to relocate to. 

Michael Dobbs, author of The Unwanted noted at the premiere of the film,  “The Quanza incident is a timely reminder that individuals make a difference. Without visas supplied by the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, many of the Jewish passengers on board might well have been stranded in Nazi-occupied Europe.” “Without the legal brilliance of a maritime lawyer named Jacob Morewitz, the ship would have been obliged to sail back to Europe. Without the intervention of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the passengers would not have been permitted to land,” he continued. “It took three people, from entirely different backgrounds, to save dozens of lives that might otherwise have been lost.”

Their trip on foot from Belgium to Portugal and then onto a refugee ship called the Quanza is historically significant as well as profoundly relevant to contemporary refugee crisis.

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