Alex’s Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance Reviewed By June Maffin of
June Maffin

Reviewer June Maffin:Living on an island in British Columbia, Canada, Dr. Maffin is a neophyte organic gardener, eclectic reader, ordained minister (Anglican/Episcopal priest) and creative spirituality writer/photographer with a deep zest for life. Previously, she has been grief counselor, broadcaster, teacher, journalist, television host, chaplain and spiritual director with an earned doctorate in Pastoral Care (medical ethics i.e. euthanasia focus). Presently an educator, freelance editor, blogger, and published author of three books, her most recent (Soulistry-Artistry of the Soul: Creative Ways to Nurture your Spirituality) has been published in e-book as well as paperback format and a preview can be viewed on YouTube videos. Founder of Soulistry™ she continues to lead a variety of workshops and retreats connecting spirituality with creativity and delights in a spirituality of play. You can find out more about June by clicking on her Web Site.

By June Maffin
Published on March 31, 2014

Author: Martin Goldsmith

Publisher: Da Capo Press

ISBN: 978-0-306-82322-0

Author: Martin Goldsmith

Publisher: Da Capo Press

ISBN: 978-0-306-82322-0

The stories of millions of individuals (who lived ordinary lives, loved and were loved, suffered intolerably, and died horrible deaths) lie beneath the reality of the Holocaust.  In death, they left a haunting legacy both for those who survived and for those who followed.  A legacy described by the author, as that of “failure, sorrow and guilt,” ultimately led Martin Goldsmith to a journey of the soul and the writing of this book.

Goldsmith’s paternal grandfather Alex and uncle Helmut were victims of the Holocaust. While alive, his grandfather begged Goldsmith’s father to help free both he and son Helmut: "I have described our situation for you several times. This will be the last time. If you don't move heaven and earth to help us, that's up to you, but it will be on your conscience."  No help was forthcoming.  Alex and Helmut were among the countless souls who were murdered in concentration camps during Adolf Hitler’s reign.  

Posting a photo of Alex and Helmut on his car’s rear view mirror, Goldsmith and his wife began their odyssey in Sachenhagen, Germany where his grandfather Alex was born because “I wanted to save them.”  There he learned that his grandfather had been a deeply respected and successful businessman, a man who loved his country, fought on its behalf in WW1, awarded a medal for his valiant efforts, and ultimately had his name stricken from the lists of honoured dead on WW 1 German memorials, simply because he was Jewish. 

The rise of Naziism - the “de-jewing of businesses … the process of Aryanization … the legal theft of Jewish businesses” created an untenable situation for Jews who became stateless persons in their own country, including Alex and his son Helmut who purchased passage on the St. Louis ship, hoping to emigrate to Cuba and survive.  But that ship was doomed.  Denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada, its passengers were forced to return to Europe in a demoralizing and terrifying trip to face the nightmares that awaited them.  

Alex's Wake is a uniquely moving and vivid memoir of the author’s journey as he visits every town, city and camp his grandfather Alex and uncle Helmut were forced to live after the St. Louis returned to Europe including the dreaded Aushwitz.  Stepping into the setting of each town, the reader becomes intimately enmeshed in the history, story and the lives of Alex, Helmut and their grandson/nephew Martin Goldsmith who was trying to unburden himself from inherited guilt.

The genius of this book is that it not only tells a tale, it challenges readers to ask questions of their own history, both cultural and societal.  It invites readers to enter into the reality of WW 11 Europe and ask questions … "what did the people of Europe know about the horrors of Kristellnacht, the concentration camps, the St. Louis?" … "what did they do about it"? … "why didn’t they do more?"  And, the book moves readers to reflect and ask questions about the sins of slavery, residential schools, racism, religious/sexual persecution, sexism - past and present.

Author, educator and bishop, Steven Charleston writes: 

Tradition is wisdom collected.  

 Wisdom is experience gathered.  

 Experience is life encountered. 

 We are all scholars of our own story
and of other stories we learn through love.”   

Martin Goldsmith’s love of his grandfather Alex and uncle Helmut transcended the guilt and shame he felt because of his father’s inability to “do something” to save the men.  Goldsmith searched the tradition, gained wisdom, experienced life, is a scholar of his "own story and of other stories we learn through love" evocatively and powerfully honouring the memory of his family who died in the Holocaust.

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