The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, translated from the German by Philip Boehm (“Where shall I go?…For a Jew the entire Reich is one big concentration camp.”)

When I was still teaching, Code Red drills were added to the Tornado and Fire Drills we routinely practiced. The idea was to learn to protect ourselves from an armed intruder.

One day there was the signal for such a drill while I was finishing a break, and I slowly returned a book to the library and got a drink from the fountain before heading back to my room. Suddenly, every single door on every single floor was shut and locked. The classroom doors…the teacher’s lounge…the office. There was no where for me to go, no where for me to hide, and I found myself foolishly looking into the eyes of a policeman trying to explain my predicament: I hadn’t taken the warning seriously.

I have never been more frightened at school.

When I read of Otto Silbermann trying to find a place to go, after the Germans have come to his apartment, and the typically polite concierge at the hotel asks him to leave, I was reminded of that terrible feeling: having no where to go for safety.

Throughout the novel is searching for an escape. His fear and justified paranoia are ever increasing, for while he has a suitcase of money from the business he sold, he has no haven. He is separated from his wife, and his son; the later was utterly unable to procure tickets for his parents to get out of the country. (I am reminded of my own son’s often ineffective efforts and am strangely comforted.)

I can sense how closely death is nipping at my heels. It’s just a matter of being faster. If I stop I’ll go under, I’ll sink into the mire. I simply have to run, run, run. When I think about it I’ve been running all my life. But then why is it so difficult all of a sudden, now that it’s more necessary than before? Greater danger ought to bring greater strength, but instead it’s paralyzing, if the first attempts to save yourself fall through. (p. 146)

The Passenger is the best book about the terror the Nazis created in Germany that I have ever read, other than Anne Frank’s Diary. I highly recommend this book, written by a young German man in his early twenties, which has recently been rediscovered.

8 thoughts on “The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, translated from the German by Philip Boehm (“Where shall I go?…For a Jew the entire Reich is one big concentration camp.”)”

    1. This novel was newly discovered, I believe, and reads with the power of a train wreck; it’s horrifying, but you cannot pull yourself away from the mounting terror. Like one of those dreams where you run, but can’t get anywhere.

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  1. I am almost afraid to read this if you call it the most frightening book about the holocaust. These books usually leave indelible images. I suppose that is the intention and we cannot and should not forget

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    1. Standing in front of Anne Frank’s house, in Amsterdam, after touring the Secret Annexe was the most frightening experience I ever had about the holocaust. I didn’t even accompany my husband and brother when they went to visit the concentration camps because I couldn’t stand the suffering; her diary, and these novels, give an accurate enough depiction. But, you are so right that we cannot, and should not, forget. Ever.

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    1. Thank you for connecting to my opening…it’s the closest I could come to experiencing fright at having no where to go. How incredibly terrifying it would be to suffer that in real life. What a powerful novel, and to think he was only twenty three when he wrote it!

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