Synopses & Reviews
A tale of two journeys...
On May 13, 1939, the luxury liner SS St. Louis sailed away from Hamburg, Germany, bound for Havana, Cuba. On board were more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. But an indifferent world conspired against them. After being denied landing rights in Havana, the refugees were turned away by the United States and Canada and forced to sail back to Europe, where the gathering storm of the Holocaust awaited them.
Two of those refugees were Alex Goldschmidt, a sixty-year-old veteran of World War I, and his seventeen-year-old son Klaus Helmut Goldschmidt. After their trans-Atlantic voyage, they landed in France. They would spend the next three years in one French camp after another before being shipped to Auschwitz in 1942.
Sixty-nine years later, Martin Goldsmith, Alex's grandson and Helmut's nephew, retraced their sad journey. Beginning in lower Saxony where Alex was born, Martin spent six weeks on the road and covered more than 5,700 miles, setting foot on the earth Alex and Helmut trod during their final days. Alex's Wake is Martin's eyewitness report.
The book offers a compelling history of the voyage of the St. Louis, including testimony from those on board, a tale of espionage, and the brave resolve of Captain Gustav Schroeder. It also offers a harrowing chronicle of the vast network of camps in France, many of which were organized by the French themselves with little or no encouragement from the Germans.
But Alex's Wake is also a contemporary travelogue and a heartfelt memoir of a second-generation American Jew trying to make sense of his heritage and to escape the burden of guilt and fear he long thought was his sole inheritance. Setting forth with the irrational, impossible desire to save two members of his family who were murdered ten years before he was born, Goldsmith concludes his journey by coming home to a moving symbol of remembrance at one of the scenes of the crime.
Kirkus Reviews, 3/1/14
A child of persecuted German Jews remembers his tormented, perished forebearsand makes peace with the country that hounded them to death
A well-researched, thorough reckoning of this shameful past.”
Advance praise for Alex's Wake
"Martin Goldsmith re-traveled the route of his grandfather and uncle, both lost to the Holocaust, through their internment in France to their horrid deaths at Auschwitz. He found therein a kind of personal deliverance from the guilt that clings so nastily to the survivor. The opposite of love, Elie Wiesel has observed, is not hate but indifference. With Alex's Wake, the author proves himself the least indifferent and, because of that, the most loving of men."and#151;Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball and author of Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked
"Alex's Wake is beautiful and brave. Martin Goldsmith's search for the truth is at once a chilling yet affirming account of human loss and recovery."and#151;David Maraniss, author of They Marched into Sunlight
"There are six million Holocaust stories. All of them are the same in sadness and devastation. Each is different in circumstance and fear. Martin Goldsmith eloquently tells the story of his search for family in the rubble of memory and distance. It's a moving journey of finding the past and his own determined and compassionate present."and#151;Susan Stamberg, National Public Radio
"Martin Goldsmith's odyssey brings clarity to a mystery and closure to a tragedy within his own family. By vividlyand#151;and searinglyand#151;personalizing the Holocaust, he has done a service to history and the collective conscience of humanity."and#151;Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former Deputy Secretary of State
Johns Hopkins Magazine, Spring 2014
and#147;This is family history travelogue as act of repentanceand#151;candidly written, deeply considered, and profoundly moving.and#8221;
New York Journal of Books, 4/17/14
and#147;Martinand#8217;s journey and book offer a new perspective on the Holocaust; one that is typically missing from most books and films about the Shoahand#133;Alexand#8217;s Wake is a powerful and evocative memoir.and#8221;
Boston Globe, Child in Mind parenting blog, 4/22/2014
"Alexand#8217;s Wake is at one level a history lesson as memoir...The book also reads as demonstration of the healing power of storytelling, and of the transformation of terrible loss in to great beauty...[The] Jewish concept, Tikkun Olam...refers to humanity's shared responsibility to 'heal the world.' With the writing of Alex's Wake, Goldsmith has done his part."
Bookviews Blog, May 2014
and#147;[Goldsmith] details his six-week quest to retrace their journey to assuage the guilt he carried for living happily in America despite his familyand#8217;s tormented history. The book is more than just his and his familyand#8217;s, but one that many experienced, including Germans who regretted the horror the Nazis inflicted on Jews and others.and#8221;
Baltimore Sun, 4/29/14
and#147;Underscores the immense moral challenges and failings of a nation that believes itself the leader of the free worldand#133;A heartbreaking story of fear, frustration, anti-Semitism and betrayal.and#8221;
The Hub, 6/14/14
and#147;[A] gripping bookand#133;A profoundly moving read.and#8221;
and#147;Alexand#8217;s Wake is unfailingly well-meaning, carefully researched and skillfully written. It is clearly a work with considerable meaning for its author and, by extension, for those who share a similar family history and similar connections with the Second World War.and#8221;
WTBF Radio, and#147;Book Bitand#8221;, 5/13/14
and#147;The author could not save their lives, but he was able to save their stories, and the journey restored his faith.and#8221;
The Ivy Bookshop blog, 7/8/14
and#147;[Goldsmithand#8217;s] skillful recreation of the and#145;everydaynessand#8217; of their lives in Germany and France, his powerful and eloquent prose, his deft portraits of the living and dead allow the reader who may have no connection to the Holocaust to become invested in the lives of Alex and Helmutand#133;One canand#8217;t comprehend 6,000,000 deaths. Martin Goldsmith has saved two of them from oblivion.and#8221;
Military History, July 2014
and#147;The poignant story of Goldsmith's efforts to fill in vital gaps in his family history, as well as of his struggles to understand his own attitudes toward the Holocaust and the people who denied helpand#133;Provides a fuller look at two remarkable relatives and is a touching literary tribute to two men among the many people forever lost to the catastrophe that was World War II.and#8221;
Providence Journal, 7/12/14
and#147;[An] unusual bookand#133;Much of the story is compelling.and#8221;
Washington Times, 7/29/14
and#147;The shameful tale of the German liner St. Louis, which sailed the seas in 1939 with its Jewish refugee passengers in search of safe harbor, has been told many timesand#133;However, Alexand#8217;s Wake brings something different to the story; namely, that all-important personal touchand#133;What happened to Alex and Helmut Goldschmidt at the hands of the Nazis is too well-known to us to be surprising but, in the telling of their tale here, which tries and succeeds to do such honor to them, is heartbreaking nonetheless.and#8221;
Internet Review of Books, October 2014
and#147;[A] thoughtful and sensitive bookand#133;Alexand#8217;s Wake combines the shameful history of the SS St. Louis with a poignant journey of remembrance. This is a beautiful and engrossing book of lasting value.and#8221;
WWII History, December 2014
and#147;One of the saddest tales of World War II is the voyage of the ship St. Louis.and#8221;
and#147;[A] tragic, riveting story.and#8221;
Kirkus Reviews, 3/1/14
and#147;A child of persecuted German Jews remembers his tormented, perished forebearsand#151;and makes peace with the country that hounded them to deathand#133;A well-researched, thorough reckoning of this shameful past.and#8221;
Providence Journal, 8/24/14
and#147;Goldsmith ably personalizes the Holocaust, traveling the Auschwitz-bound arc of his grandfather and uncle, chillingly vivifying the collective campsand#8217; otherwise monolithic millions.and#8221;
and#147;Beautiful and braveand#133;a chilling yet affirming account of human loss and recovery.and#8221;and#151;David Maraniss, author of They Marched into Sunlight
and#147;The opposite of love, Elie Wiesel has observed, is not hate but indifference. With Alexand#8217;s Wake, the author proves himself the least indifferent and, because of that, the most loving of men.and#8221;
and#151;Chris Matthews, host of MSNBCand#8217;s Hardball
"There are six million Holocaust stories. All of them are the same in sadness and devastation. Each is different in circumstance and fear. Martin Goldsmith eloquently tells the story of his search for family in the rubble of memory and distance. It's a moving journey of finding the past and his own determined and compassionate present."and#151;Susan Stamberg, NPR
"A new perspective on the Holocaust...powerful and evocative"and#151;New York Journal of Books
and#147;Underscores the immense moral challenges and failings of a nation that believes itself the leader of the free worldand#133;. A heartbreaking story of fear, frustration, anti-Semitism, and betrayal.and#8221;and#151;Baltimore Sun
and#147;A child of persecuted German Jews remembers his tormented, perished forebearsand#151;and makes peace with the country that hounded them to deathand#133;A well-researched, thorough reckoning of this shameful past.and#8221;and#151;Kirkus Reviews
and#147;Goldsmith ably personalizes the Holocaust, traveling the Auschwitz-bound arc of his grandfather and uncle, chillingly vivifying the collective campsand#8217; otherwise monolithic millions.and#8221;and#151;Providence Journal
"Profoundly moving"and#151;Johns Hopkins Magazine
and#147;[A] heartbreaking accountand#133;A harrowing taleand#133;A book with a lesson for today.and#8221;
New York Daily News, 4/15/15
and#147;With painstaking detail and a historical biography, Goldsmith digs deep into his own history and the psyche of Eastern European Jewry.and#8221;
and#147;[An] intensely personal story.and#8221;
From well-known classical music radio host and author of The Inextinguishable Symphony, Martin Goldsmith, a tale of two journeysand#151;one, a journey from the ill-fated voyage of the SS St. Louis in 1939 to the death camp at Auschwitz; the other, a grandsonand#8217;s journey of remembrance seventy years later.
is a tale of two parallel journeys undertaken seven decades apart. In the spring of 1939, Alex and Helmut Goldschmidt were two of more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany aboard the St. Louis
, and#147;the saddest ship afloatand#8221; (New York Times
). Turned away from Cuba, the United States, and Canada, the St. Louis
returned to Europe, a stark symbol of the worldand#8217;s indifference to the gathering Holocaust. The Goldschmidts disembarked in France, where they spent the next three years in six different camps before being shipped to their deaths in Auschwitz.
In the spring of 2011, Alexand#8217;s grandson, Martin Goldsmith, followed in his relativesand#8217; footsteps on a six-week journey of remembrance and hope, an irrational quest to reverse their fate and bring himself peace. Alexand#8217;s Wake movingly recounts the detailed histories of the two journeys, the witnesses Martin encounters for whom the events of the past are a vivid part of a living present, and an intimate, honest attempt to overcome a tormented family legacy.
About the Author
is the host and classical music programmer for Symphony Hall
on Sirius XM Satellite Radio and previously hosted NPRand#8217;s daily classical music program, Performance Today
, from 1989 to 1999. He is the author of The Inextinguishable Symphony
and lives in Maryland.