To Hope and Back: The Journey of the St. Louis

by Kathy Kacer

Second Story Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-897187-96-8 (sc)
$14.95, 204 pp, b/w illustrations, ages 9+

SPart of Second Story’s “Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers,” To Hope and Back tells the sad tale of the luxury liner booked by refugees anxiously fleeing Germany in spring 1939. Destined for Cuba, most of the 937 passengers— all but six of them Jews from Germany and France—would never set foot in Havana. Fear that the St. Louis was harbouring the first onslaught of what might become a tidal wave of refugees, the Cuban authorities issued “Decree 937” which barred the ship from docking. After weeks of fruitless negotiations with various governments, and ultimately being denied permission to land at Miami and Halifax, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe. Eventually about a quarter of the passengers settled in England, the rest made new homes in France, Holland and Belgium. Of course, in less than a year those last three countries were occupied by the Nazis and it is estimated that just over one-third of the refugees ultimately were sent to death camps.

To tell this story, Kathy Kacer has focused on the memories of two survivors (Lisa Freund who eventually settled in Toronto and Sol Messinger who ended up living in nearby Buffalo, New York) to offer the perspective of what it was like to be child on that journey. Interspersed are chapters entitled “What the captain knew,” which offer information on the international events and negotiations that took place between 13 May and 17 June 1939.

Classroom Connections:

Although aimed at ages 9 and up, this rather lengthy work would better fit intermediate or high school-aged students. Ontario’s grade 10 History curriculum, for example, asks students to “analyse significant events related to the Holocaust (e.g., the rise of anti-Semitism and Nazism, Kristallnacht, establishment of the ghettos, concentration camps and death camps) and Canada’s response to those events.” Similarly, the Manitoba grade 11 History curriculum expects students to know about the Holocaust as well as “pre-war restrictions on ... Jewish immigration.” Those points, and much more, are dealt with by Kacer in this fact-filled work.

[Review by George Sheppard.]

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