••• The International Writers Magazine - 23 Years on-line - Review
The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz
Pushkin Press 2021
Sam Hawksmoor review
Written in a four-week frenzy just before WW2 in 1938, this is the harrowing tale of Otto Silbermann, a wealthy Jew (who is considered fortunate because he looks Aryan). He has discovered to his cost that he should have fled Germany a year earlier. This novel was written just after Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) a pogrom against Jews carried out by Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA). The author correctly imagined just what would happen next to Jews in Germany, as all around him Jews were rounded up and transported to concentration camps – the ghettoes.
Sibelmann is trying to get what he can for the apartment block he owns at the beginning of the story, the buyer beating him down and down, taking advantage of the situation. Before business can be concluded the knock on the door comes and he has to flee, leaving his Aryan wife behind.
Sibelmann still thinks the situation is retrievable, that he’s owed thousands of marks by his business partner Becker and hurries to Hamburg to get his due. But when he finds Becker, he’s drinking with his Stormtrooper friends and then further humiliation ensues. He manages to extract some of his thousands but now what? Where can a wealthy Jew go? He wants to join his son in Paris but Paris is being suddenly awkward about visas.
What begins as a frantic search for a way out of Germany becomes an endless set of train journeys – always nervous he might be robbed and everywhere former friends disavow him, restaurants and hotels block his way. He is persona non grata. He can’t even rejoin his wife as her brother has joined the ‘Party’ and won’t have a Jew in the house.
The Passenger is a journey into madness. You read this and look up to see what is happening in Russia right now as any sensible young person with skills has fled, only to find visas are impossible to get so you can work and earn a living. Millions of women and children have fled Ukraine to save themselves from the incessant bombing by Putin’s fanatical army and it is history repeating itself in the UK as we too deny visas. Just as in 1938, we learn nothing; we gain nothing. The Passenger is as fresh today as in 1938. Boschwitz did manage to escape to London only to be interned when war broke out and sent to Australia despite being Jewish. Set free in 1942 he attempted to return to London only for the troopship to be torpedoed by the U-Boats.
Read The Passenger and despair. Sibelmann is still waiting for the next train to nowhere.
© Sam Hawksmoor May 18 2022
author of Mission Longshot