Alex's Wake

The Tragic Voyage of the St. Louis to Flee Nazi Germany-and a Grandson’s Journey of Love and Remembrance


By Martin Goldsmith

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 8, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Alex's Wake 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, “the saddest ship afloat” (New York Times). Turned away from Cuba, the United States, and Canada, the St. Louis returned to Europe, a stark symbol of the world'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, Alex's grandson, Martin Goldsmith, followed in his relatives' footsteps on a six-week journey of remembrance and hope, an irrational quest to reverse their fate and bring himself peace. Alex'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.

  • "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.”

  • 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

On Sale
Apr 8, 2014
Page Count
352 pages
Da Capo Press

Martin Goldsmith

About the Author

Martin Goldsmith is a 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.

Learn more about this author