There was a blast on the ship’s siren. We were going— together— to somewhere where no one would measure our heads or noses, or compare the texture of our hair, or classify the color of our eyes. We were going to the island you drew in the muddy water of a city to which we would never return.
Hannah is a Jewish girl growing up in Germany at the onset of Hitler’s reign. When the exile begins she struggles to understand what it means to have your personhood defined, measured and ranked.
In the end, I knew that however much I washed, burned my skin, cut my hair, gouged out my eyes, turned deaf, however much I dressed or talked differently, or took on a different name, they would always see me as impure.
As things escalate, Hannah begins to learn the true nature of the grave situation she is in.
The cleansing had begun in Berlin, the dirtiest city in Europe. Powerful jets of water were about to start drenching us until we were clean. They didn’t like us. Nobody liked us.
Fortunately, Hannah’s family has means and they secure passage to find asylum in Cuba- an exotic, unknown land.
We would start from scratch and make Khuba into an ideal country, where anybody could be blond or dark haired, tall or short, fat or thin. Where you could buy a newspaper, use the telephone, speak whatever language you wished and call yourself whatever you wanted to without bothering about the color of your skin or which God you worshipped. In our watery maps, at least, Khuba already existed.
However, safety is fleeting and Hannah soon finds herself amidst an unsure future aboard the St. Louis.
We were a wretched mass of fleeing people who had been kicked out of our homes.
Juxtaposed with Hannah’s story is that of Anna, another young girl and descendant of Hannah who is also looking to understand what the future holds- but she must look first into the past.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I see Dad in Berlin, Havana, New York. I’m German. This is my family, forced to call themselves Sarah and Israel, whose businesses were destroyed. The family that fled, that survived. This is where I come from.
The German Girl is a sweeping tale of the controversial and largely unknown voyage of a ship meant as a safe haven for Jewish German citizens which turned out to be something worse.
Until now, in Cuba, the tragedy of the St. Louis has been a topic absent from classrooms and history books. All the documents related to the arrival of the ship in Havana and the negotiations with Federico Laredo Brú’s government and Fulgencio Batista have disappeared from the Cuban National Archive.
Intrigued ? Buy the book here:
A review copy of this title was provided by Atria Books via Netgalley