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Alex's Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance Hardcover – April 8, 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


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."—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."—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."—Susan Stamberg, National Public Radio

"Martin Goldsmith's odyssey brings clarity to a mystery and closure to a tragedy within his own family. By vividly—and searingly—personalizing the Holocaust, he has done a service to history and the collective conscience of humanity."—Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former Deputy Secretary of State

Johns Hopkins Magazine, Spring 2014
“This is family history travelogue as act of repentance—candidly written, deeply considered, and profoundly moving.”

New York Journal of Books, 4/17/14
“Martin’s journey and book offer a new perspective on the Holocaust; one that is typically missing from most books and films about the Shoah…Alex’s Wake is a powerful and evocative memoir.”

Boston Globe, Child in Mind parenting blog, 4/22/2014
"Alex’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
“[Goldsmith] details his six-week quest to retrace their journey to assuage the guilt he carried for living happily in America despite his family’s tormented history. The book is more than just his and his family’s, but one that many experienced, including Germans who regretted the horror the Nazis inflicted on Jews and others.”

Baltimore Sun, 4/29/14
“Underscores the immense moral challenges and failings of a nation that believes itself the leader of the free world…A heartbreaking story of fear, frustration, anti-Semitism and betrayal.”

The Hub, 6/14/14
“[A] gripping book…A profoundly moving read.”

InfoDad, 6/5/14
Alex’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.”

WTBF Radio, “Book Bit”, 5/13/14
“The author could not save their lives, but he was able to save their stories, and the journey restored his faith.”

The Ivy Bookshop blog, 7/8/14
“[Goldsmith’s] skillful recreation of the ‘everydayness’ 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 Helmut…One can’t comprehend 6,000,000 deaths. Martin Goldsmith has saved two of them from oblivion.”

Military History, July 2014
“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 help…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.”

Providence Journal, 7/12/14
“[An] unusual book…Much of the story is compelling.”

Washington Times, 7/29/14
“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 times…However, Alex’s Wake brings something different to the story; namely, that all-important personal touch…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.”

Internet Review of Books, October 2014
“[A] thoughtful and sensitive book…Alex’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.”

WWII History, December 2014
“One of the saddest tales of World War II is the voyage of the ship St. Louis.”

Examiner.com, 12/15/14
“[A] tragic, riveting story.”

About the Author

Martin Goldsmith is the host and classical music programmer for Symphony Hall on Sirius XM Satellite Radio and previously hosted NPR’s daily classical music program, Performance Today, from 1989 to 1999. He is the author of The Inextinguishable Symphony and lives in Maryland.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306823225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306823220
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Holocaust memoirs take on added urgency right now, between the revisionists who want to rewrite history and claim that the entire thing was either a hoax or dreadful exaggeration, and the fact that the eye witnesses and survivors are nearly all dead now. Martin Goldsmith retraces the journey, both academically and where possible, literally, to the places his Uncle Helmut and grandfather Alex were taken. It's quite a story, and would be a fun read if it were not so horribly, terribly true. As it stands, Goldsmith's narrative pulls his readers in one slim finger at a time, until we are held firmly to the text and must remain until it's done.

The narrative starts out introspective and almost dreamlike. I nearly set it aside about twenty percent of the way in and not returned, thinking to myself that of course, I know the Holocaust was real, but do I want to read about it again? It's not an enjoyable topic, and what good can it do to revisit it? Furthermore, I started to believe that this particular narrative was not so different from other heartbreaking stories, and might be more of interest to the writer and his surviving kin than to strangers like me.

I am glad I kept reading, because just past this point is where we quit the runway and the story takes wing. The writer starts with the visits, first to the Holocaust museum, and then to Europe. He is greeted warmly in his family's former homeland, and he makes speeches and accepts certificates and expresses appreciation to the family who now occupies what was once the family manse for their clumsy token gesture. The current owners clearly understand that circumstances have skewed things badly, and they want to make it up in some impossible way.
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Format: Audible Audio Edition Verified Purchase
Shortly after publication of his first book, The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany Martin Goldsmith received a telephone call from Nobel laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Offering high praise for the book, Wiesel urged Goldsmith to continue to share his talents and begin soon to write his next book. As a reader, I'm grateful that he took that advice.

In "The Inextinguishable Symphony," Goldsmith told his parents' "story of music and love" as musicians in Nazi Germany. That story had a happy "ending," beginning with Günther and Rosemary Goldsmith's emigration to the United States in 1941. In contrast, "Alex's Wake" - the wartime saga of Günther's own father (Alex) and brother (Klaus Helmut) - ends tragically. It is no spoiler to reveal (as the book jacket does) that Alex and Helmut's awful two-year journey ended in Auschwitz in August 1942.

Martin Goldsmith is a gifted storyteller with a talent for beautiful, evocative language. If you're familiar with his warm, resonant voice when hosting classical music programs on NPR or Sirius XM, it's easy to hear that voice while reading his story. (Of course, you don't have to just imagine it if you buy the CD or audiobook, which he narrates, rather than the book itself.) In "Alex's Wake," Goldsmith retraces his grandfather's and uncle's steps and tells their horrific story. He does so not only to share the lessons of a shameful history (in which both France and the U.S.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Don't read this book if you don't want to be horrified. While Nazi atrocities are well documented and never fail to produce horror when discussed, personal familial stories are not well documented. Martin Goldsmith draws you into this book immediately, and it's impossible to put it down until the book is finished. You get to know his family and live this with them. Rather than have me describe Mr. Goldsmith's style, I suggest you click on both Inextinguishable Symphony and Alex's Wake on Amazon and read his prefaces. You will know what I mean; you'll be captivated and want to buy the book. While you're at it, buy both books. You won't be sorry.

The important aspect of this book is the well-researched and well-documented presentation of the effects of the Holocaust on Mr. Goldsmith's family and particularly on him. This is one story out of millions of untold stories. The seeming "ordinariness" of the cited familial atrocities to millions of people, particularly the Jews, is what makes this book both compelling reading and horrifying at the same time. I read it in two days, not being able to leave it alone, and yet dreading what I knew was the inevitable outcome of his journey. He shares it most personally, and that is what makes it so compelling and yet painful. After such a journey for Mr. Goldsmith, he also shares his liberation from the guilt of having done nothing where he could have done nothing, while questioning his father's inactivity, where he could possibly have done something.

While the final chapter does not make the horror go away--you will think of this book for days and days after--it is cathartic in that Mr. Goldsmith finds peace.
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