It is December 1938, Marianne is one of a group of children arriving at Liverpool Street station in London, anxious and tired after their long journey from Berlin on the Kindertransport; Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. She is taken in by a cold, wealthy woman whose disappointment at being allocated such a young girl when hoping for an older child to be a domestic help is obvious. When war is declared Marianne is evacuated to rural Wales where she has to endure the trauma of waiting to be chosen (youngest and prettiest first) then, when not selected, she is taken to a home for unmarried girls before a ‘billet’ is found with a strange lonely couple who see Marianne as a sister (and to an extent replacement) for the daughter whose loss they grieve and cannot accept. Letters from her mother are the only thing that keeps Marianne going throughout this difficult time; she loses contact with her father very quickly. Eventually she is reunited with her mother who has managed to escape Germany before war is declared and track her down.
We see the whole traumatic experience through Marianne’s eyes, missing her Mutti and Vati desperately – everything is strange. The food, customs and the language; she struggles with English and Welsh is incomprehensible. Although she experiences some kindness and makes one or two friends she often feels unwelcome, some strangers showing obvious dislike because she is Jewish, some suspicious because she is German, perhaps even a spy! She struggles to remain hopeful of being reunited with her parents and struggles also to retain her identity, her carers mispronouncing or even changing her name.
This book effectively uses a graphic novel format to tell a powerful story through words and pictures. Pencil drawing is used highly effectively to create mood, setting and character. Movement is cleverly conveyed too through the use of multiple images in the same frame.
Seeking Refuge continues the story, based on the author’s own experiences, begun in Goodbye Marianne and continues the collaboration between this author and illustrator. This is an important story which raises awareness of the experience of Jewish children fleeing Nazi Germany and also of refugees everywhere, highly relevant in the contemporary world context.