Stories of Jewish Refugees

These books for young readers tell the stories of Jewish children and families who fled their homeland due to religious persecution. Many are based on true stories or childhood experiences of the authors.

More Recommended Titles

For additional titles about Jewish traditions and stories, see the Jewish Children's Themed Booklists from PJ Library.

Books About World War II and Beyond

Annushka's Voyage

Illustrated by: Lydia Dabcovich
Age Level: 6-9

"Narrated by elder sister Annushka, the story tells of two Russian girls who leave their native home and their beloved grandparents to begin a new life in New York with their father. Their parting from their relatives is wrenching, yet their future is full of possibility…An afterword includes an antique photograph of the real sisters, the author's mother and aunt, along with a historical note regarding the persecution of Jews in Russia during the late 1800s." — School Library Journal

Hedy's Journey: The True Story of a Hungarian Girl Fleeing the Holocaust

Illustrated by: El Primo Ramon
Age Level: 9-12

It is 1941. Hedy and her family are Jewish, and the Nazi party is rising. Hedy's family is no longer safe in their home in Hungary. They decide to flee to America, but because of their circumstances, sixteen-year-old Hedy must make her way through Europe alone. Will luck be with her? Will she be brave? Join Hedy on her journey-where she encounters good fortune and misfortune, a kind helper and cruel soldiers, a reunion and a tragedy-and discover how Hedy is both lucky and brave.

How I Learned Geography

Age Level: 6-9

As a young boy in 1939, Uri Shulevitz and his family fled Poland for the Soviet Union. They lived for a time in Turkestan, where Uri's father returned from the market one day with a large world map. Initially, Uri and his mother couldn't believe that his father had bought a map instead of bread.

In America

Age Level: 6-9

Many years ago, Walter's grandfather left Lithuania and his brother Herschel to come to America. It was a difficult decision, he explains to Walter, but one that he felt he had to make as a Jew. Walter's questions allow his grandfather to share the story of that decision and his journey — as well as the wonderful ways he and Herschel keep in touch after so many years. Snapshots painted in watercolor lend a feeling of looking a family album, bridging the traditions of the old country with opportunities of the new. Out of print but used or library copies may be available.

Journey to Ellis Island

Illustrated by: Laurie McGaw
Age Level: 9-12

Product Descriptoin: "After fleeing war-torn Russia and trekking across Europe, determined to make a new life for themselves in America, in Sept. 1922, 11-year-old Yehuda Weinstein, his mother, & his younger sister boarded the S.S. Rotterdam, bound for the U.S.…What happens to Yehuda and his family on Ellis Island is both a touching story & an illuminating account of the immigrant experience. Illuminated with beautifully evocative paintings, family photos, period postcards, and sepia prints."

Once They Had a Country: Two Teenage Refugees in the Second World War

Age Level: 14-16

Gillick uses historical documents such as letters, telegrams, and police records to weave a compelling narrative of two teen refugees — her own parents — during World War II. Once They Had a Country also offers readers context for the development of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1951.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Illustrated by: Mark Siegel
Age Level: 9-12

A refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of Kristallnacht, Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he has never met. It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his new home in the north of the city, he passes experiences the city's many holiday sights, and encounters it various residents. Each offers Oskar a small act of kindness, welcoming him to the city and helping him on his way to a new life in the new world.

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story

Age Level: 6-9

As a young boy, Hiroki Sugihara lived in Lithuania, where his father was a diplomat. One morning, the family woke up to find a crowd of people outside of the house. They were Jews from Poland looking for visas and safe passage to Japan. Despite the danger that he and his family would be in, Hiroki's father began writing visas for the refugees and continued for many days, saving thousands of lives — "Sugihara's survivors." This unforgettable story as remembered by Hiroki will resonate with readers for a long time to come.

Rebekkah's Journey: A World War II Refugee Story

By: Ann Burg
Illustrated by: Joel Iskowitz
Age Level: 6-9

In 1944 a vacant army base in upstate New York became the temporary home of over 900 men, women and children who had fled Europe towards the end of World War II. With little more than the clothing on their backs, Rebekkah and her mother are just two of the many refugees who come to live in the camp. Adjusting to a strange new world and a new language, Rebekkah puts aside her own fears to try and recreate tiny bits of home for her mother.

Refugee

Age Level: 9-12

Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey

Age Level: 9-12

In 1940, Hans and Margret Rey fled their Paris home as the German army advanced. They began their harrowing journey on bicycles, pedaling to Southern France with children’s book manuscripts among their few possessions.

Louise Borden combed primary resources, including Hans Rey’s pocket diaries, to tell this dramatic true story. Archival materials introduce readers to the world of Hans and Margret Rey while Allan Drummond dramatically and colorfully illustrates their wartime trek to a new home.

The Keeping Quilt

Age Level: 6-9

Anna's mother made a quilt to help the family remember their life in Russia. It has since passed from one generation to the next, used to chronicle as well as remember family members and their stories. Readers will empathize with the handsomely illustrated story from the author's own experience in which Polacco uses both color and and black and white contrast to focus children's attention on this special keepsake.

The Memory Coat

Illustrated by: Michael Dooling
Age Level: 6-9

Meet Rachel and her cousin, Grisha, two Jewish children living in a small town in Russia. When soldiers begin to attack their town, the family decides that they must set sail for America and their grandmother offers Grisha a new coat instead of his old, tattered coat so that the family will make a good impression at Ellis Island. Grisha insists, however, on keeping the coat that is so special to him — a decision that ultimately helps keep the family together in America.

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Illustrated by: Raúl Colón
Age Level: 12-14

Product Description: Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away his ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba. As the tropical island begins to work its magic on him, the young refugee befriends a local girl with some painful secrets of her own. Yet even in Cuba, the Nazi darkness is never far away.