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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

Thursday, April 16, 2015 - 7:00 pm

To mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), author Martin Goldsmith discussed his compelling new book, Alex's Wake.

“Powerful and evocative”
— New York Journal of Books

“[a] demonstration of the healing power of storytelling”
— Boston Globe

In 1939, the SS St. Louis, carrying 900 Jews attempting to flee Nazi Germany, sailed from Hamburg bound for Havana. After being turned away by Cuba, the US, and Canada, the ship was forced to return to Europe. Among the passengers were Alex Goldschmidt and his 17-year-old son Helmut, who spent the next three years in one French camp after another before being shipped to Auschwitz. Sixty-nine years later, Martin Goldsmith, Alex’s grandson and Helmut’s nephew, retraced their journey, spending six weeks and traveling more than 5,700 miles. Alex's Wake s his eyewitness report.

Martin GoldsmithMartin Goldsmith is the Peabody-winning classical music host of Symphony Hall on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. For ten years he hosted NPR’s daily classical music program, Performance Today. In his first book, The Inextinguishable Symphony, he told his parent’s story of participation in the Jewish Kulturbund, a performing arts ensemble exploited as propaganda by the Nazis.


Martin Goldsmith signed copies of Alex's Wake (available in the Spertus Shop) following the program. 

From Alex's Wake

My grandfather Alex Goldschmidt and his younger brother, my uncle Klaus Helmut Goldschmidt, were two of the more than nine hundred Jewish refugees who attempted to flee Nazi Germany in May 1939 on board an ocean liner called the St. Louis. The fate of that ship commended global attention for a few weeks that spring — the New York Times declared it "the saddest ship afloat today" — as it attempted to find safe harbor in an unwelcoming world. After more than a month at sea, my grandfather and uncle found themselves in France, where they would remain for the next three years. They spent time in a number of different settlements, each less hospitable than the last, before being shipped to their deaths at Auschwitz in August 1942.

Late one night, it came to me what I must do: I knew that I needed to retrace their steps, to set foot on the earth they trod during those final three years of initial hope and eventual hopelessness, to see what they saw and to breathe the air they breathed before they breathed their last. I would tell their story as a grandson, a nephew, and an eyewitness.


This program was made possible with support from the Bernard and Rochelle Zell Center for Holocaust Studies at Spertus Institute.