A child of persecuted German Jews remembers his tormented, perished forebears—and makes peace with the country that hounded them to death.
Building on his previous memoir, The Inextinguishable Symphony (2000), which told the story of his musician parents’ meeting while members of the all-Jewish Kulturbund in Nazi Germany, classical music host Goldsmith delves into the archives and memory to uncover the plight of his grandfather Alex Goldschmidt and uncle Klaus Helmut, who were refugees aboard the ill-fated St. Louis bound for Cuba in May 1939. Rejected by Cuba, however, and in turn by the United States and Canada, the ocean liner, which contained more than 900 Jewish refugees, was doomed to return to Nazi Germany if not for the humanitarian intersession of Morris Troper, who managed to find succor for the passengers by dividing them among Belgium, Holland, England and France. Alex and his younger son were sent to France, soon to be occupied, and passed from camp to camp, finally hauled off to Auschwitz, where they perished in 1942. Hauntingly, Alex sent increasingly frantic messages to his older son, who had found refuge in the United States, and concluded, “If you don’t move heaven and earth to help us, that’s up to you, it will be on your conscience.” That dire warning opened up an understanding to the silence around their past enforced by the author’s parents as he was growing up. Taking clues from cities jotted down on the victims’ passports, the author and his wife resolved to return to Germany and France, tracking Alex’s progress from his family roots in Lower Saxony; to his move to Oldenburg, where he set up a prosperous clothing store with his wife and children; to his final despairing trajectory across Europe. In their emotionally wrenching trek, Goldsmith managed to achieve some sense of closure when the current owners of Alex’s grand house unveiled a commemorative plaque.
A well-researched, thorough reckoning of this shameful past.