Josef's home is invaded in the middle of the night by 2 Nazi soldiers. Josef's father is taken away by Nazi soldiers who invaded their home, this was because of a violation of German law Josef's father committed by continuing to practice law as a Jew. These transgressions Josef's father commits leaves Josef and his family distraught.
Inevitably, Josef, his mother, and sister have had to pack up and leave Germany because of Hitler and his Nazi's. So Josef and his family have decided to immigrate to Cuba. They listlessly walk around the train until they find the compartment with the letter J standing for Jew.
After boarding the train Josef decides to take his armband off to buy a newspaper and some candy for his sister. Everything s going well until he haphazardly drops his arm band and as a Hitler youth walks by. The Hitler youth then takes him to an empty compartment where there voices are barely audible so he could ask him what he was thinking and lets him go but, not without taking Ruthie's candy.
After they disembark the train they meet up with Josef's father, Aaron. After quickly reuniting Aaron begins to incoherently tell his family they need to rush to the boat before the Nazis catch them. The way he pantomimed during the whole situation worried Josef and the rest of his family.
After boarding the MS St. Louis Josef and his family members, with the exception of Aaron, are beginning to think this is the perfect refuge from Hitler and his Nazi's. A couple of days after embarking on his travel to Cuba Josef learns that he can celebrate his bar mitzvah he becomes extremely excited. Josef's father however does not want to attend. In spite of it all Josef and his mother bristle past without him to the party.
Though Josef's father isn't there Josef still try's to have a great time. The elation of finally being able to flourish into a man. The celebration quickly becomes a respite for not just Josef but everyone on board the ship.