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5.0 out of 5 stars Alex's Wake, 8 April 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
Subtitled, “A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance,” this is the story of a journey. When Martin Goldsmith wrote his previous book, “The Inextinguishable Symphony,” about the lives of his parents, he found that it gave him more questions than answers. Martin Goldsmith’s musician parents had escaped Nazi Europe and fled to the United States and that first book told their story. However, Martin’s paternal grandfather, Alex Goldschmidt and his father’s younger brother, Klaus Helmut Goldschmidt, were not so lucky. This was despite being among more than nine hundred Jewish refugees, who left Germany in May 1939 aboard the ocean liner the St Louis, bound for a new life in South America. The NY Times declared it, “the saddest ship afloat today,” as, after more than a month at sea, it was unable to find a harbour to take those aboard and returned to Europe. Alex begged his son, Martin’s father, to help him and felt he did not do enough for him and his brother. Martin Goldsmith decided to retrace the steps of his grandfather and uncle and also trace his paternal family history. This is the story of that journey.

The book begins in Sachenhagen, where Martin Goldsmith found the home of his great-great-grandfather. He traces the history of his family as prosperous horse traders, the birth of Alex and his move to Oldenburg in Lower Saxony. Alex was a successful businessman, who owned a dress shop, and was respected and liked. As the author meets those that knew his grandfather and uncle, you get a sense of who these people, who had been reduced to statistics, actually were. A kindly man who reduced the price of a dress so a young girl could afford it; a bookish boy who cared for his father and became his companion. Kristallnacht saw Alex and Helmut arrested and their decision to try to leave the country. We read of their approval for visas to Cuba, their voyage on the St Louis, arrival in France and then the refugee and internment camps, before the final destination of Auschwitz.

This is a really moving memoir. The author is adept at showing you what was happening to Alex and Helmut and, also, what the journey meant to him. Along the way he has to come to terms with the well meaning gestures of plaques and memorials, understand how Alex and Helmut coped with their hopes raised and dashed; their boredom, fear and frustration. Both men reproached Martin’s father, although he was also trying to build a new life for him and his young wife, and was limited in what he could achieve. Goldsmith bravely asks whether his father did do enough and whether he was affected by guilt, after the loss of his family. This is a very well written and, almost unbearably, tragic book. You wish, like the author, that you could change the end. Obviously, that is not possible, but in a way, the author does bring his grandfather and uncle back to life – you feel you get to know them, like them and that this is a fitting tribute to their life.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I'd have liked to know more about the mother and daughter, 2 July 2014
By 
Jill Meyer (United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Alex's Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance (Hardcover)
Martin Goldsmith has written "Alex's Wake", the search for his grandfather and uncle, who had been two of the passengers on the "SS St Louis". The boat, which set out from Hamburg to Havana in 1939 and carrying a total of 937 Jewish passengers, who had been promised asylum in Cuba. After being turned away from landing in Cuba, the ship was also denied entry in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. After being shunted around for two weeks, the passengers were accepted by the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Those passengers who ended up in the UK were the only ones who reached safety; the other three countries were occupied the following year by the Germans and the Jews there were sent to their deaths in concentration camps.

Born 10 years after his grandfather and uncle died, Martin Goldsmith was the son of the one son who reached safety in the US, along with his wife, Martin's mother. Martin was determined to honor his dead relatives by tracing their path from their home in Oldenburg, Germany, to the St Louis, and then through the French camps they were sent to before being shipped by train from Drancy to their deaths at Auschwitz. He and his wife, set off on a multi-week driving trip, beginning in Hamburg and ending up in Auschwitz and this book is an excellently written recounting of Goldsmith's thoughts and emotions in 2011 as he walked in the steps of his dead relatives.

However, while reading the book, I felt there was something missing. And that is the story of Martin's grandmother and aunt, also killed in the Holocaust. Martin begins the book in Oldenburg, Germany, where Alex Goldschmidt had built a fortune in horse trading and then in women's retail. Alex and Toni had four children, two sons and two daughters. One daughter died early in life, but the other three reached at least their teen years. One son, Martin's father, did reach safety in the United States, but the parents and the other son and daughter were murdered. Martin's book is about how the father and son were going ahead of the mother and daughter, but nothing about the mother and daughter is mentioned, other than the fact they were sent to Riga and were killed there. I'd have liked to know more about the mother and daughter. It seems as if there's a piece or two of the puzzle missing. What was happening while Alex and his son were on the SS St Louis and then when they were captives in France?

I also wish Martin Goldsmith's book contained a map of Alex and his son's long journey, particularly their various camps in France. I have a pretty good sense of geography, but I would have welcomed some visual assistance.

In any case, Goldsmith's book is a wonderful look at learning about the past by walking in the steps of those lost years before.
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Alex's Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance
Alex's Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance by Martin Goldsmith (Hardcover - 24 April 2014)
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