On the ship, Liesl could eat whatever she wanted. She could walk freely around the ship and see movies in the recreation room whenever they played. Back in Germany, she could only eat rationed bread and eggs. And Jews like Liesl and her family weren’t allowed to stroll in the park, walk on the sidewalk, or go to the movies.
(from Liesl’s Ocean Rescue)
Quick summary: Liesl’s Ocean Rescue is a picture book based on the true story of Liesl Joseph, who was one of around 900 Jews to escape Germany on the MS St. Louis. The ship left Hamburg in May 1939 bound for Havana, Cuba, but the fate of the passengers hung in the balance when they were denied entry to Cuba and the United States, generating chaos and fear when they learned they were ordered to return to Germany. The captain and a committee comprised of some passengers scrambled to find other countries that would take them.
Why I wanted to read it: I was curious how the subject would be handled in a children’s book.
What I liked: Barbara Krasner tells the story through the eyes of a young girl who doesn’t understand why her freedoms have been taken away and why her family must leave their home in Germany forever. Readers see how the voyage to Cuba was a carefree one for Liesl, with so much promise, and how the fear returned when they were not allowed to leave the ship. Avi Katz’s illustrations are fantastic in that they capture the myriad emotions on the character’s faces, from hope to fear to joy. At the end of the story, there is an author’s note that lets readers know what happened to Liesl and her family after the MS St. Louis, and there is a bibliography with a list of books and DVDs to learn more.
What I disliked: There was nothing to dislike. Krasner and Katz did a wonderful job adapting such a heavy story for a younger audience.
Final thoughts: Liesl’s Ocean Rescue is a gentle introduction to the Holocaust for children. Of course, the book doesn’t touch upon reports that around 227 of the 915 refugees perished in the Holocaust after being given refuge in European countries that eventually were occupied by the Nazis. But it does explain why Liesl’s family had to leave Germany and what happened on the ship in a way that children can begin to understand the history of the time, even if it really is impossible to truly comprehend why these things happened. Parents can use the book as an introduction to the events leading up to World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, providing an opportunity for deeper discussions later.
Disclosure: I received Liesl’s Ocean Rescue from Gihon River Press for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.