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The Book Shelf – Nov. 8

To Hope and Back: The Journey of the St. Louis, By Kathy Kacer, 204 pages. @ SPL: J 940.53180922 Kac

In May of 1939, the St. Louis, an ocean liner, left Germany to find a new home across the Atlantic Ocean for its almost 1,000 passengers. Under the Third Reich, Germany was becoming a dangerous place for Jewish people of all ages, even children. Fearing for their lives, 938 people boarded the St. Louis in hopes of finding safety in Cuba or the United States.

Their hopes for refuge were dashed when the liner was denied entry to both countries. At first, it appeared the liner would have to return to Germany, but soon came the joyful news the ship’s passengers would be allowed into Britain, the Netherlands, France and Belgium. (However, the latter three countries were later invaded and occupied. Close to a third of the St. Louis’s passengers did not survive the Holocaust.)

To Hope and Back recounts the voyage of the St. Louis for young readers through the eyes of two real-life children: Lisa, whose family shared a large first class cabin, and Sol, who traveled below in third class with his parents. 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.

Extra insight is provided with chapters entitled “What the Captain Knew,” in which readers will learn how Captain Schroeder advocated for and assisted his passengers. An epilogue continues the story of Lisa as an adult and Sol, now living in the United States.

A forward to the book provides helpful background information, and black and white photos are included. Readers will be interested to know that in January 2011, a monument named, “The Wheel of Conscience,” designed by Daniel Libeskind, was unveiled at Pier 21 in Halifax as a memorial of this voyage. Toronto author Kathy Kacer has spoken to young people around the world about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. She is the author of many other children’s stories about this subject, such as Hiding Edith and The Diary of Laura’s Twin.

** Recommended for ages nine and up.

Making Bombs for Hitler, By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, 160 pages. @ SPL: J FIC Skryp

Making Bombs for Hitler brings to light one of the lesser-known aspects of World War II and the Holocaust – slave labourers, often teenagers or young people in their early 20s. Captured by Nazi soldiers in Russia, especially in the Ukraine, they were brought to Germany and forced to perform dangerous work from dawn to dusk.

Regarded as “expendable,” they were shot if they became too sick to work. In Marsha Skrypuch’s story, Lida was one of the youngest slave labourers. When she was taken by Nazi soldiers, Lida was separated from her parents and her younger sister and sent to a labour camp. Surviving on a meager daily portion of bread and thin soup, and clothed in only a thin dress, Lida survived the long days of hard work only through luck, resourcefulness and the desire to find her sister.

Then, with a group of other girls, she was assigned the dangerous work of constructing bombs that would be used by the Nazis to kill allied soldiers and civilians. How Lida survived the terrible days which followed was later a mystery to her.

But she did survive, barely, and was later rescued by allied soldiers, only to find that she could not go home. Joseph Stalin regarded anyone who had been captured by the Nazis to be a Nazi. Such people were either killed or sent to work camps in Siberia.

Making Bombs for Hitler is a companion book to writer Marsha Skrypuch’s award-winning Stolen Child, which relates the story of Lida’s sister, Larissa. Both of these stories, told with sensitivity and compassion, are based on historical fact.

** Recommended for ages nine to 12.

Sally Hengeveld, librarian

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