To Hope and Back

Overview

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

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Overview

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 Shröder, 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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
"Lisa and Sol's stories, related with poignancy and immediacy, will touch young readers. An unfortunate lesson on the complicity and international complexities that made the Holocaust possible."
Quill & Quire
"A tragic story about an historical event that deserves to be told, and which should provoke thoughtful discussion about a difficult subject."
CM Magazine
"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...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."
Resource Links
"Another excellent book to help young people remember the Holocaust...Highly recommended."
VOYA - Steven Kral
In May 1939, the passenger ship St. Louis leaves Hamburg, Germany, en route to Havana, Cuba. On board are nine hundred passengers, nearly all of them Jews escaping Nazi persecution. Sol and Lisa are sad to be leaving their homes but happy to be leaving a country that hates them. Both have experienced the yellow stars and institutional racism, have had fathers affected by the Nazis, and witnessed Kristallnacht. As the voyage begins, they are fascinated with the ship and begin to look forward to their new life in America. When the ship is forbidden to land in Havana, will another country allow them to land, or will they be forced to an uncertain fate in Germany? While Sol and Lisa have definitely been affected by the Holocaust (as the story begins, Lisa's father has committed suicide after being separated from the family, and Sol's father has just returned from seven months in a Polish work camp), they are not that different from any upper-elementary-school-age child. Based on interviews with Sol and Lisa, and well-illustrated with photos, the novel does an excellent job of mixing fictionalized history with actual events. While it does occasionally feel slightly heavy handed, it achieves its goal of presenting the St. Louis tragedy in a way that younger readers can relate to. Reviewer: Steven Kral
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6— This book sheds light on a dramatic story that is likely to be unfamiliar to most students. In 1939, the St. Louis transported Jewish refugees to Cuba. Their final destination was America, but they never made it there. Denied entrance to both countries, the ship was forced to return to Germany. From there, some passengers managed to find refuge elsewhere in Europe and successfully reach America, while others perished in concentration camps. Kacer's text is well written and well researched, and the black-and-white photography from the United States Holocaust Museum offers windows into everyday lives on the ship. Two child survivors share their experiences, telling their stories of sailing and longing for safe harbor. Playful Sol is the more likable, although it isn't completely Lisa's fault that she's less appealing: she has terrible seasickness throughout the voyage. At times, her thoughts and insights do not seem childlike. Although she is supposedly mourning her father, who committed suicide, she rarely thinks about his death. These first-person narratives are interspersed with a third-person account of the captain's futile struggle to gain freedom for his passengers. It may be jarring for readers to switch between the children's accounts and the journalistic style, especially at first, and some may be tempted to skip the captain's sections altogether. It is difficult to enter Sol's and Lisa's internal worlds because the journalistic sections interrupt the flow. In spite of this, the historical significance of the St. Louis and the compelling photos make this a worthwhile supplementary purchase.—Jess deCourcy Hinds, Bard H.S. Early College, Queens, NY
Pamela Paul
Lisa and Sol's stories, related with poignancy and immediacy, will touch young readers.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her books about the holocaust for young readers, including Hiding Edith, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, Clara’s War and The Underground Reporters. A former psychologist, Kathy tours North America speaking to young people about the importance of remembering the Holocaust.

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