In an era of mass migration, refugees fleeing war-torn countries and opposition to immigration, Rona Arato’s recent historical children’s book, The Ship to Nowhere, reminds readers of the continued relevance the Holocaust has to our lives today.
Set in 1947, it is based on the true story of 11-year-old Rachel Landesman. It follows her and her mother and sister’s journey aboard the Exodus, the infamous refugee ship bound for Palestine. The ship was barred from offloading refugees in Palestine by the British and escorted back to Europe, where the passengers eventually landed in Germany.
Although Arato believes there are differences between European Jewry escaping the Nazis and Syrians fleeing the Assad regime today, she finds people’s inability to remember the past distressing.
“You find history keeps repeating itself. We have learned some lessons, though not enough,” Arato contends. For her, the mission of the Jewish passengers aboard the Exodus was clear: “They wanted to go to one particular country, to Eretz Yisrael, and live as free Jews.”
While modern refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa are motivated by different reasons, Arato believes there is still much we can learn from the treatment of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, which can inform our response to current events.
Like Arato’s award-winning novel, The Last Train, which is also about the Holocaust, The Ship to Nowhere is meant for young readers. When asked how she was able to write a book about such an emotional subject as genocide for a young audience, Arato contemplated the question for a moment, then said that, “You have to get into the head of your protagonists and write from a young person’s point of view.”
Putting yourself in that mindset is difficult for many of us, but for Arato, it is something she has become quite adept at.
The former school teacher said that while the tale of the Exodus was an ordeal for its passengers, the story does have some optimistic elements. One of the historical lessons we can learn from their struggle, is the determination of the Jewish People. Despite being turned around just off the Palestinian shore and subsequently sent to Germany – the cradle of the Final Solution – the refugees were determined to return to the Land of Israel. In fact, notwithstanding all the hardships the refugees had endured, they were offered French citizenship, but refused to accept it, in an act of defiance that Arato describes as “tenacious.”
Likewise, upon their arrival in Germany, the passengers continued to assert their desire to go back. “Nothing will deter us from Palestine. Which jail we go to is up to you (the British),” many of the deportees asserted.
Fear of Holocaust denial has added renewed urgency to relearning the lessons of the Holocaust. Moreover, the lingering reality that one day there will be no more Holocaust survivors left makes Rona Arato’s The Ship to Nowhere an important read for all.