Social Justice Stories

building compassion, tolerance, and responsible citizenship through social justice narratives

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

by Kathy Kacer

An ocean-liner carrying Jewish passengers can find no safe harbour.

Lisa and Sol board the luxury ship St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany on May 13, 1939 with mixed feelings. Lisa and her family are in first class; Sol and his parents are below in tourist class. Both children are 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 the the St. Louis sets sail for Cuba the atmosphere on board is optimistic, led by the German captain Gustave Schroeder, 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.