CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 12 . . . . November 18, 2011
With all the atrocities dealt Jewish people and other displaced people from Germany and the other war-torn countries during World War II, many people are today unaware of the ill-fated journey of the St. Louis. Leaving Hamburg, Germany, in 1939, St. Louis was transporting nearly a thousand Jews destined for Cuba where they would live temporarily until they would be allowed to enter the United States and live freely. The voyage was doomed from the beginning with news stories and photos depicting the passengers as thieves and low-lives who would take jobs from Cubans and Americans. Indecision, political unrest and useless travel documents would take those people across the Atlantic only to be turned away at every port.
This saga is well written from two young school aged children’s points of view, Lisa, from a high class family travelling above deck, and Sol, from a lower class, travelling below deck. Both children tell readers of their hopes and fears during the trip while their memories relate what their lives back in Germany had been like. In addition, after reading the children’s views, readers are given insight into what was really going on via chapters entitled “What the Captain Knew.” In those, readers learn how the captain had to advocate for his passengers against politicians, corrupt travel agents, and even some of his crew members.
Though To Hope and Back reads like a work of fiction, the author tells this true story through the eyes of the innocent, building the suspense to a level where readers almost feel they are on the ship, themselves. Emotions run high, and the logic of the children seems to be so obviously correct that readers cannot comprehend why the adults do not act appropriately.
At the end, the author includes information about where the actual characters and their families finally ended up. Two epilogues show photos of Lisa and Sol and tell of their lives as they are today. Throughout the story, black and white photos of parts of the ship, family shots and documents bring this true story to life. To Hope and Back is recommended for middle years school libraries as a good resource about World War II.
Sherry Faller is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.