“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
In 1886 France gave the United States the Statue of Liberty. “The torch is a symbol of enlightenment. The Statue of Liberty’s torch lights the way to freedom showing us the path to Liberty.” And yet…
On Saturday, May 13, 1939 the ocean liner St. Louis set sail from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba with 900 passengers, mostly Jews, trying to escape Hitler and his armies. Two weeks later the ship arrived in Havana and only 22 Jews along with four Cubans and two Spaniards were allowed to disembark and the remaining passengers and crew on the St. Louis were ordered to leave Cuban waters by June 2. The German captain of the St. Louis, looking out for the best interests of his passengers, regardless of their religion, continually attempted to find another safe port and as the ship approached Miami, Franklin D. Roosevelt denied entry to the United States and then Canada followed suit. Great Britain, France, Belgium and Holland ultimately agreed to take some of the passengers and then, months later, many European countries were occupied by Nazis. Only the people who disembarked in Great Britain escaped the immediate horror of Hitler and his followers, the rest were caught up in the war or murdered in concentration camps.
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa is a fictional story based on the history of Nazi Germany, the ocean liner St. Louis, the Cuban Revolution and New York City post 911. Young Hannah and her family, feeling the effects of antisemitism in Hamburg in 1939, make plans to start fresh on the island of Cuba. Along with her friend, Leo, and his dad, they embark on the ocean liner, the St. Louis, with high hopes for a new beginning.
Young Anna and her mother live in New York City post 911, and they have received a package with old photographs from a relative in Cuba. Living with imagined memories of her Cuban father she never knew, the young girl is anxious to know who the people are in the photos. Anna’s mother agrees to take her to Cuba to see where her father grew up and to learn more about the family history of her husband who is gone.
The two stories are beautifully woven together with first loves, hopes, disappointments and tragedies as we learn how the two girls are connected. This heart wrenching and tragic historical fiction debut novel was well written and the author included a special treat at the back of the book; all the signatures of the passengers on the St. Louis.
To read about the horrible injustices our country and others exhibited during this time is appalling and hopefully enough of us will continue to fight for everyone’s rights so it won’t happen again.
Photo credit: Jennifer S. Brown, author of Modern Girls.