More than half a century ago Martin Goldsmith’s father failed to make any real effort to save a father and brother. And so they died…at the hands of Nazis….in captivity. Now, many years later, Martin still feels the sorrow of his father’s guilt. Why did his father not do all in his power to launch a rescue of some sort? Why were Alex and Helmut Goldschmidt left to die sad deaths long before their time? And so the guilt came. But only after it was too late for Alex and Helmut. And from father to son it was passed; although Martin never knew the grandfather and uncle who died in a concentration camp he felt deeply connected to them. So begins a journey that will take Martin across the ocean and to the Continent where he attempts to retrace the journey of his family and come to terms with haunting “could-have dones”.
I’m not too big on memoirs unless they are written by missionaries or sailors, and while the title doesn’t say Alex’s Wake is a memoir that’s what it reminded me a little of. The historical sections are rather cut-and-dried and if you’re looking for something about the voyage of the SS St. Louis, The Voyage of the Damned is a more thorough read. There are areas where the information is too biographical for my tastes – specifically when it comes to the genealogical material on the Goldschmidts (I don’t have enough interest in the family to want to know all of that). And then in another respect it’s like a travelogue as Mr. Goldsmith recounts his and his wife’s journey, providing details about the towns they visit. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see how the author’s physical and psychological journey allowed him to find a degree of peace with his father’s apathy towards Alex and Helmut.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a touching story. The letters written by the internees brought a very personal touch to the story. When all was said and done I felt like I knew Alex and Helmut and wanted so very much for them to be able to live…but they didn’t. There was much anguish that came out of World War II. The Holocaust left behind many victims who had to cope in one way or another as a result of it. This is a chilling reminder of those left behind.
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