Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor
Call no: 800
Genre: epistolary, general fiction
Setting: 1930s, Germany, USA
Rated : 10 Stars
Dear Martin: Back in Germany! How I envy you! Although I have not seen it since my school days, the spell of Unter den Linden is still strong upon me - the breadth of intellectual freedom, the discussions, the music, the light-hearted comradeship.
–Kressman Taylor - Address Unknown - c.1939
Reread for my book club. And on second read it is just as powerful, if not more so than on first reading.
Original review from 2010 below
Address Unknown is a very slight book. It is told in letters between Max Eisenstein in the US and Martin Schulz in Germany, and begins in 1932. They are business partners, and friends, both have fond memories of Germany, where Martin is originally from. And both seem to start out with similar beliefs and politics. But then comes the rise of Hitler, and where Max sees cause for alarm Martin sees a chance for humiliated Germany to rise up.
I had never heard of this book before it was sent back to HQ from one of the branch libraries and a workmate recommended I take a look, before sending it back out, because it is too good a book to keep hidden in our stores. And it was both written in and set in the 1930s, just what I was looking for for Nymeth’s challenge.
I am so glad that I decided to read this. It is, as I said, a small book. Only 64 pages or so. And, at least in my edition, around a quarter of the page isn’t printed on. But it is wonderfully executed. And all the more for being published in 1938 when the dangers of Hitler & Nazi Germany weren’t so apparent to the US. Aside from the politics it brilliantly conveys why so many Germans went along with Hitler in the early days. The causes of WWII being rooted in the end of the first and all that. But it also shows how living in a society where prejudice and anti-semitism are normal can infect anyone.
As for the stern measures that so distress you, I myself did not like them at first, but I have come to see their painful necessity. The Jewish race is a sore spot to any nation that harbors it. I have never hated the individual Jew – yourself I have always cherished as a friend, but you will know that I speak in all honesty when I say I have loved you, not because of your race but in spite of it.
The Jew is the universal scapegoat. This does not happen without reason, and it is not the old superstition about “Christ-killers” that makes them distrusted. But this Jew trouble is only an incident. Something bigger is happening.
If I could show you, if I could make you see – the rebirth of this new Germany under out Gentle Leader!
Even now, reading that is enough to give me chills. And Taylor is not just making this, the rejection of friendship, up. In the afterword there is a description of an incident that helped her decide to write this book, how some Germans were visiting the US and passed an old, close, friend. He happened to be Jewish, and they turned their backs on him, unwilling to even greet him let alone shake his hand.
There is such a tendency for people to believe that the Nazis were evil monsters. But they weren’t, they were simply people, like any other people. And they did such terrible terrible things. As most humans are capable of under certain circumstances. I think this comes across quite brilliantly in this novel. I could take many more quotes out of this book, but I’m not going to, instead you should go see if you can find a copy of your own to read.
It was also interesting to read in the afterword that this was published under a pseudonym because the publishers felt it was “too strong to appear under the name of a woman”.