Orca Book Publishers

Browse by Category

The Journey of the St. Louis
Nonfiction Ages 9-12
Pages: 204
Themes: The Holocaust, European history, American history
Publisher: Second Story Press
Pub Date: 01/Sep/2011
Bookmark and Share
September 1, 2011 - From the award-winning author of The Diary of Laura's Twin, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, and Hiding Edith comes a new book about the tragic true story of the St. Louis, an ocean liner carrying over 900 Jewish passengers seeking a new life in North America, only to be turned away at every port.

Young Lisa and Sol are amongst the 937 Jewish passengers who boarded the luxury ocean liner St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany on May 13, 1939. Lisa, with her family in first class, and Sol, with his below in tourist class, share mixed feelings about the trip. Both children are excited to be beginning the voyage to a better life, but sad to be leaving their homes behind. Though war has not yet been declared, Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany has been escalating for years and when the St. Louis sets sail for Cuba hopes run high as the passengers believe they are on their way to safety. But as Hitler’s propaganda machine turns Cuba against their cause, the mood on board begins to darken. Though the ship's German captain is @font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: determined to find safe harbor for his passengers, he is ultimately helpless. First Cuba turns them away, then the United States and Canada both close their doors to the St. Louis and its desperate passengers.

This was the tragic true history of the St. Louis. Denied entry from port after port, the Captain was forced to return his passengers to Europe, where many died in the Holocaust. Through the eyes of Sol and Lisa – both of whom survived the war and shared their experiences with Kathy Kacer – we see the injustice and heartbreak caused by the prejudice and ignorance of so many. In January 2011 the monument called "The Wheel of Conscience", designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, was opened at Pier 21, Canada's immigration museum in Halifax. The monument acknowledges Canada's role in the tragedy.

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."
School Library Journal
"This book sheds light on a dramatic story that is likely to be unfamiliar to most students...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...The historical significance of the St. Louis and the compelling photos make this a worthwhile supplementary purchase."
Myra Junyk, Resource Links
Resource Links   

In her sixth book in the Holocaust Rememberance Book for Young Readers Series, Kathy Kacer brings us face to face with the great injustice done to the Jewish people leading up to and during World War II. In this non-fiction book Kacer gives us an insight into the voyage of the St. Louis, a luxury ocean liner which left Germany in 1939 just before the outbreak of the way, with almost 1000 Jews intent on taking them to a safe haven in Cuba and the United States, away from the Nazi regime which is making their life unbearable. However, all is not as it seems and by the time the ship reaches its destination Hitler’s propaganda machine has been at work and it is not permitted to dock or unload its passengers. Turned away from Cuba the captain tries to seek a safe haven in the United States and Canada but such is not to be, these countries also turn them away. Finally the ship is ordered back to Germany, however on the return journey there is a breakthrough and the passengers are finally taken in by France, England, Holland and Belgium where some of them find a safe home while others, especially those in France, Holland and Belgium end up back under Nazi influence after the outbreak of the war.

Kacer tells this story through the eyes of two children who were passengers on the ship based on the stories which they related to her. Lisa traveled with her mother, brother and grandmother in the first class section of the ship. Sol traveled with his parents in third class. Through their eyes we see what their life was like just prior to embarking on their voyage to ‘freedom’ and the injustice and prejudice which they were made to suffer. While life on the ship was quite different as the captain was determined that his passengers should be treated with the dignity they deserved, there were some incidents which caused problems. As the ship is rejected by the various countries the passengers become more depressed and are in doubt of what the future will bring to the, The book is organized so that we get alternating chapters written from Lisa and Sol’s point of view. These are also interspersed by chapters entitled “What the Captain Knew” which give facts which the children did not know. Even though Lisa and Sol were on the same ship for more than a month it seems that their paths did not cross.

Lisa and her family were eventually taken to England and made their way to the United States with Lisa making her home in Canada in the 1970s where she became an active leader in the National Organization of Women. Sol’s family went to Belgium where they were forced to leave when the Germans invaded in 1940. They made their way to Paris and then to the Pyrenees Mountains where they managed to live for two years before being arrested and taken to the Agde detention camp. They managed to escape after several months and in 1942 they were finally accepted into the United States. They moved to Buffalo where Sol became a doctor and still lives there today.

This is another excellent book to help young people remember the Holocaust. While it presents the injustice and prejudice in a very realistic way it is not overly graphic and thus would be appropriate for students in upper elementary and junior high school. They will certainly be able to relate to Lisa and Sol as they are forced to leave their homes to make a new life in a foreign country.

Highly recommended.
Jewish Book World
This is a very well done nonfiction book
Marvin Glassman, The Canadian Jewish News
With Lisa and Sol as the voices in To Hope and Back, Kacer wrote on how each child saw the voyage through the expectations of their families, resulting in two gripping accounts of the same event.
The Book Shelf
In this very realistic account, readers will feel as if they are actually on board the ship. They will share the families’ feelings of despair and will share in the great relief that was felt by all when safe havens were finally found.
CM Review of Materials
Throughout the story, black and white photos of parts of the ship, family shots and documents bring this true story to life.
VOYA Magazine
The novel does an excellent job of mixing fictionalized history with actual events...it achieves its goal of presenting the St. Louis tragedy in a way that young readers can relate to.
Library Bookshelf
A thoughtful and much recommended read, highly recommended for youth history and Holocaust studies collections.


National Jewish Book Award  | 2011 | Short-listed
Ontario Library Association Silver Birch Award (Non-Fiction)  | 2013 | Short-listed

Resources for Teachers:

Orca Book Publishers produces a number of tools and resources to help teachers, librarians, reading specialists and other education professionals enrich the teaching and learning experience.

Please visit our Teacher Resources page to access and download materials.

Classroom Materials:

Free Teacher Guides

Digital Subscriptions

Resource Websites

Research and Support Materials:

Common Core

Reading Levels