The German Girl presents the story of the real-life trials of the more than 900 Jewish refugees who fled Germany in May 1939 aboard the MS St. Louis, bound for Havana, told through the voice of a fictionalised young girl. Hannah's story is interwoven with that of another girl, her great-niece Anna, in 2014. This is a powerful tale of persecution and a family's struggle to survive, providing insight into a dark episode in our history. The St. Louis was not allowed to dock in Havana, and after being denied refuge by both the US and Canada, 900 passengers were sent back to Europe. In The German Girl, Hannah and her mother are among the very few allowed to enter Havana.
Author Armando Lucas Correa moves skillfully back and forth between past and present day. His characters are well-rounded and compelling, and I feel he did a good job of capturing the voice of a young girl. Hannah's innocence and her confusion as to why others would hate her and her family create a powerful narrative.
As the years pass in Cuba, Hannah and her mother become witness to more persecution, eerily similar to what they had experienced in Germany. The revolutionary government has set its sights on intellectuals and Jehovah's Witnesses, sending them to work camps, as the Nazis had sent the Jews. In Berlin, the Nazis took property, including the apartments owned by Hannah's family. In Havana, the Cuban government took Hannah's business. History repeats itself.
Although this is a fictionalised version of events, with fictitious families, the setting and circumstances of the story were all too real. The St. Louis really did attempt to bring over 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to Cuba, and then to the US, and then Canada. The people on that ship really did experience the fear and rejection felt by Hannah and her family in the book. It's chilling to think that in 1939, Canada turned away these refugees, leaving them to the very real possibility of internment and death.
And, as The German Girl makes clear - history repeats itself. The world is currently facing another refugee crisis, this time as a result of civil war in Syria. Canada has welcomed more than 32,000 to date. When we learn from our past, we can do better in our present and future.
You can learn more about the St. Louis and her passengers at www.armandolucascorrea.com. I had no idea this event had taken place, and I thank Correa for bringing this story to the forefront in such an engaging and moving novel.
Be sure to check out the rest of this Blog Tour for additional insights into this great book and startling story.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary advanced reader copy of this book for review purposes. No financial compensation has been received. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.