To Hope and Back | Kathy Kacer

To Hope and Back is the true story of the St. Louis, the last boat to leave Germany in 1939 with nearly 1000 Jewish refugees on board.

The journey is told through the eyes of two young children from different families, Sol and Lisa.

I have read quite a lot of Holocaust literature over the years, but this was a story I had never heard about before. A boat full of refugees all with visas for Cuba, bought at great expense. A number of the families also had numbered visa permits for the US. The plan was to wait in Cuba until their number came up before emmigrating to the States.

As soon as the ship set sail the Nazis began a media campaign to convince the Cubans that the boat was full of dirty, poor, undesirable Jews who would take their jobs and use up their resources. The campaign was so successful (with street protests and letters of outrage to the President) that by the time the St. Louis arrived in Havana, the President had issued a decree renouncing all the visas of the Jewish refugees.

Various Jewish organisiations worked desperately to resolve the situation, but one by one, country after country in the area (including the US and Canada) refused entry to the St. Louis. The Captain of the ship had no choice but to turn around and head back towards Germany.

The story is told quite simply without pathos or drama.  Kacer uses photographs and documents throughout the book.

It is suitable for young readers 10+ and due for Australian release in May through Allen and Unwin.

If you would like to know more click here.

Lisa and Sol board the luxury ship St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany, on May 13, 1939. Lisa and her family are in first class; Sol and his parents are below in tourist class. The children have mixed feelings–they’re excited to be beginning this voyage to a better life and sad to be leaving their old lives behind. They are Jewish, as are almost all of the 937 passengers on board, and although war has not been officially declared in Europe, the Nazis have been persecuting Jews for years.

As they set sail for Cuba, the atmosphere on the ship is optimistic, led by the German captain Gustave Shroder, who is determined to see his passengers to safety. But as they learn that Hitler’s propaganda has turned the country against them, the mood changes to despair. They are turned away–first from Cuba, then the United States, and then Canada.

The story of Lisa and Sol is set against the tragic true history of the St. Louis. Denied entry from port after port, the captain was forced to return his Jewish passengers to Europe, where many died in the Holocaust. Through the eyes of Sol and Lisa, we see the injustice and heartbreak that were caused by the prejudice and hatred of so many.

2 thoughts on “To Hope and Back | Kathy Kacer

  1. Thanks for your comment. I deliberately ended my post like the back cover blurb on the book, but I will tell you here, that there was a happy ending of sorts. On the journey back, the Captain and a European based Jewish group organised for the refugees to be divided between 4 countries – the UK, France, Belgium & Holland. Sadly a number of these families were then sent to concentration camps as Hitler invaded Holland, Belgium and France. Both Sol & Lisa survived and emigrated to the States when their visa numbers were finally called up.The Captain was later named one of the Righteous among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel.

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