Retelling of MS St Louis refugee tragedy through fiction backed by Holocaust and ship survivor

A new book will relate the plight of the St Louis refugees to a new generation, 80 years after the events that caused many to flee Nazi Germany on the ill-fated ship.

We are of Dust by Liverpool (UK) author Clare Coombes starts on the night of Nazi rioting 9th-10th November 1938, known as Kristallnacht, for all the broken glass in Jewish shops and homes, and continues the narrative onto the doomed voyage. 

Despite being a historical thriller and love story with fictional characters and events, the book will stay true to what happened to passengers when Cuba, America and Canada turned them, highlighting key messages about tolerance and empathy for today’s refugees and victims of genocide and war. 

“Individualising history plays an important role in enabling us to learn from the past and question our world today,” Clare Coombes commented. “What happens when we turn refugees away? We need individuals to see how easy it is for someone’s world to collapse through political events and war and feel empathy for this. Historical fiction can do this in a way that tells the stories and respects the memories of survivors.”

St Louis passenger Herbert Karliner was 12 when he boarded the ship. He had watched as his family grocery store was destroyed on Kristallnacht and his father was imprisoned in a concentration camp, leading them to flee Germany when he was released. Herbert’s parents and sisters, along with two hundred other passengers from the St. Louis, were murdered by the Nazis. 

“What we don’t learn will happen again. It’s essential to retell these stories so that no generation has to go through what we went through. I lost my family for no reason.”

On 7th November this year, Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, will apologise for the decision to turn away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazis. The United States apologised in 2012. 

We are of Dust is available to buy now: