Published September 16, 2022
In 1939, Sol Messinger, MD ’57, and his parents boarded the MS St. Louis, the ship carrying 900 Jewish refugees who were desperately fleeing Nazi Germany.
But no country, including the U.S. and Canada, would allow the ship entry so it had to return to Europe where the Holocaust was rapidly unfolding.
Messinger, who lives in Buffalo, is one of a handful of survivors of that ill-fated journey, who are still living.
An alumnus and professor emeritus of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, he will tell his story on “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” a new three-part, six-hour series by Ken Burns that begins airing on PBS on Sept. 18, 19 and 20.
After the St. Louis returned to Europe, Messinger and his parents managed to land in Belgium where they settled briefly. But when the Nazis invaded in 1940, he and his family fled to France, taking refuge in a Spanish border town that later became part of the territory controlled by the Vichy government.
Not long after, he and his family were arrested by the French police and sent to a French internment camp, which they eventually escaped with the help of the underground resistance movement. They returned to the border town and lived there until 1942 when they managed to get immigration documents that allowed them to leave Europe. They escaped just before the Nazis sent most Jews in France to Auschwitz.
The family landed in New York and soon after, settled in Buffalo, where a few relatives were living. Messinger attended UB, where he earned his medical degree. He then joined the Jacobs School faculty, where he served as associate clinical professor of pathology from 1964 to 2007.
Gratitude for his medical education inspired him to fund the Sol Messinger, MD '57 Active Learning Center in the Jacobs School building.