The SS St. Louis voyage through children’s eyes
Children’s Holocaust author Kathy Kacer felt the story of the 1939 SS St. Louis voyage had to be retold in a manner that would resonate with children.
Denied entry by Cuba and then the United States, the St. Louis, with 937 mostly Jewish passengers, was forced to return to Europe. Canadian immigration policy was also hostile to Jewish immigration, and the government of the day refused to offer the passengers sanctuary.
Kacer’s new book, To Hope and Back: The Journey of the St. Louis (Second Story Press), looks at the ill-fated voyage through the memories of two young passengers, Lisa Avedon and Sol Messinger. Kacer divided the story into three sections: Lisa’s account of the voyage, Sol’s perspective and the captain’s point of view.
“Children love to read a story with the main characters being their age. Through the voices of Lisa and Sol, they address the hopes and feelings of young children. You feel the optimism and the fear of the children as the St. Louis has to change course in the journey,” Kacer said.
“Lisa and Sol addressed what they saw, heard and felt in their hearts and looked up to the captain. In the section titled ‘From the Captain,’ I gave the factual account of the voyage with details and concerns the captain had at different points of the journey to round out the story.”
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.
Kacer will be speaking on “To Hope and Back: My Personal Testimony” with Sol Messinger on Nov. 6, 10 a.m., at Temple Sinai in Toronto. On Nov. 8, 2:15 p.m., she will speak at Louis Honore Frechette School in Thornhill. Both events are part of Holocaust Education Week.
“Lisa lives in Toronto and Sol in Buffalo, and from many meetings with them, I was able to write from their perspectives,” Kacer said. “It was an honour to share their views of the voyage and having Sol speak with me during Holocaust Education Week.” Kacer is a child of Holocaust survivors. To Hope and Back is her seventh book in her series of Holocaust Remembrance Books for Young Readers. Kacer’s first book, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser (1998), tells how Kacer’s mother escaped the Nazi concentration camps by hiding in a dresser at her home.
The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser was adapted into a play that was performed at the Al Green Theatre in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto in 2004, as well as in many schools.
“I come from a family of survivors who were willing to talk about what they went through,” Kacer said. “There are so many survivors willing to speak and whom I met over the years that there is no shortage of stories for me to write about in the future.”
She worked for 20 years as a psychologist before becoming an author in 1997. Kacer is married to attorney Ian Epstein. Her son is actor Jake Epstein, best known for his work on the television series Degrassi: The Next Generation. Her daughter, Gabi, is a jazz singer and actor who recently recorded her CD Show Off.