The collection of recently released excellent historical novels about World War II continues to grow. I honestly thought I had read about most of the aspects of life in Europe during that time, but “The German Girl” by Armando Lucas Correa has proven me wrong.
It is a beautifully written story about a little-known event—the trip the St. Louis took from Germany across the Atlantic in May 1939, carrying 937 passengers, most of them Jewish refugees. They had visas to first enter Cuba, then continue to Ellis Island for entry into the United States. Unfortunately, that is not what actually happened.
Hannah Rosenthal had a beautiful life in Berlin before the rise of Hitler. Her father was a successful businessman who provided well for his wife and daughter. Her best friend, Leo Martin, and she are inseparable, although they come from very different backgrounds. But they are both Jewish, so they know their lives are about to change dramatically. When all the Rosenthal’s possessions have been confiscated, Hannah’s father purchases visas for both families to travel on the St. Louis to escape the horrors of Germany.
Unfortunately, the president of Cuba refuses to honor the visas, eventually permitting only 28 passengers to disembark.
All the others are still on the ship when it is sent back. Hannah holds on to the pact she and Leo have made to have a future together to keep herself going.
In New York City, when the Twin Towers are hit on 9/11, Anna Rosen loses her father, so she grew up not knowing him. Even her mother knows little of his past, except that he grew up in Cuba. For her 12th birthday, she receives a package from her great-aunt Hannah in Cuba, who raised her father. She and her mother head to Cuba in the hopes of learning more about her father.
It is through her aunt that the painful past is revealed. The nightmare which she lived is realistically described, giving the reader a true sense of the pain endured by those passengers—those who made it to Cuba and those who did not. Berlin and in Havannah come to life brilliantly through Correa’s language. The contrast of the luxurious life on the ship and the life they find in Cuba is staggering. The heartbreak of separations is palpable.
“The German Girl” is a brilliantly written glimpse of another part of the horror known as the Holocaust.