Survivor guilt is the tragic thread that winds through much of Alex’s Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance (Da Capo) by Martin Goldsmith (The Inextinguishable Symphony). A single paragraph in the introduction sums that feeling up almost too eloquently:
With the help of my wife and my therapist, I came to recognize a rhetorical question that hung over me like the mist that follows in the wake of an ocean liner: “How can I ever be truly happy, how can I ever deserve happiness,” I would say to myself, “when my grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz?”
In some ways, that is the theme of Alex’s Wake: the author’s coming to terms with the loss of several family members under horrific and inhuman conditions. Appropriately for this particular trip, the author quotes Martin Buber as the first chapter ends: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
If Alex’s Wake is not sunshiny reading, it is definitely thought-provoking and carefully researched. Goldsmith brings us the Holocaust in a way you’ve not seen in textbooks as the story he tells reverberates through his own consciousness. The horror, yes. And the guilt.
It is not a spoiler to tell you that Goldsmith does find a bright point when a memorial plaque to his grandfather becomes the touchstone that allows the grandson freedom from at least some of the guilt he has been feeling.
There’s certainly been no shortage of Holocaust recollections, but this is an especially good one. Available now in paperback, and you can find it here. ◊