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

Second Story Press  2011

How do you tell children what it's like to live in Nazi Germany in 1939 and, subsequently, show their escape to Cuba via a luxury ship?  By having the children tell the story.  The author uses this technique except when she wants to insert the opinions of the captain who shares what is happening in the outside world.  These chapters are entitled, What the Captain Knew.  The setting, for the most part, is the ship, The St. Louis, carrying 937 passengers, almost all of them Jews.  On the ship, the emotions range from jubilance to fear, despair and, finally, relief when they are allowed to dock in different ports in Europe.  The message is not sugarcoated nor is it lurid.  Lisa, the daughter of an upper class family, and Sol, the son of a working class one, give us vivid descriptions.  Sol's comment that he feels “free on the ship" and that his fears "fall away… like so many layers of heavy clothing" gives the reader a clear picture of what he has been facing.  The captain is committed to releasing his charges to freedom in Cuba and, when unable to, works with negotiators to find other countries that will accept them.  The author includes photographs of the people and activities that take place on board, as well as letters which plead for the release of the refugees.  Additionally, in the epilogue, we see pictures and read stories about what happened later to Lisa and Sol and to some of the other passengers on the ship.  This is a very well done nonfiction book and is recommended for ages 10-15. 

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