Return of the St Louis

for oboe, clarinet in A and bassoon

Anthony Gilbert

Logged-in user discounts applied
Log in to get discounts (now or at checkout)
Ask us about multi-copy choral discounts


for oboe, clarinet in A and bassoon

Ask about this work
Composer Anthony Gilbert
Year of Composition 2017
Duration 8'45"


, ,

Student Difficulty

Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-ag3rsl1


In May 1939, six months after the ironically-named Kristallnacht (the Nazis’ terrorising reponse to the assassination of a German official in their Paris Embassy by a displaced Jewish teenager), the ocean liner St Louis set out from Hamburg with 937 German Jewish refugees on board, heading for America. All had entry permits for the United States, but on checking, it was found that these were all post-dated to 1940 or 1941, so the liner had to aim not for North America but for the Caribbean and South America. Cuba, which had already welcomed 3000 refugees, took another 28 from the St Louis, but none of the other Caribbean or the South American states were willing to accept a single person; nor, indeed, were the United States’ authorities at that time. Canada, likewise, was ’emphatically opposed’ to accepting anyone. So after some weeks of cruising up and down the western Atlantic in sweltering heat, the liner was forced to return, not long before Germany attacked its European neighbours. Fortunately, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium between them agreed to welcome most of the survivors of that voyage. Then came the war, and 254 of those in the latter three countries shared the fate of all other Jews assigned to concentration camps.

This piece is simply a reflection on these tragic effects of short-sighted international politics, where words are more important than people. It is in no way, I must stress, an attempt to portray the suffering of those who did not survive on their return. The structure reflects on the sadness of departure from home, the despairing admission of defeat in the western Atlantic, and the return to Europe in its ever more threatening condtion.

I’m indebted to Sonja Geismar, one of the survivors of this horror, for the information above, about which I first read in the late Sir Martin Gilbert’s book on Kristallnacht.

Return of the St Louis was written for the Trio Volant, who gave its première on 6th February 2018 at the Lincoln Drill Hall.