The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz review – on the run in Nazi Germany

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz review – on the run in Nazi Germany

The Guardian

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Eighty years on, this uncannily prescient tale of a Jewish businessman, forever travelling but going nowhere, is part John Buchan, part Franz Kafka

There was a risk that the story of this book might overwhelm the story in the book – its origin tale is quite something. It was written in a four-week fever immediately after Kristallnacht, the pogrom in November 1938 that signalled the lethal nature of the Nazi intent towards Jews. The author was a 23-year-old German Jew who had got out three years earlier, making his way to England via Sweden, France, Luxembourg and Belgium.

His name was Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, and though he published an early version of his novel in England and France, few noticed it. Once war broke out, he was deemed an “enemy alien”, interned along with thousands of other Jewish refugees on the Isle of Man. From there he was deported to Australia, interned again in a prison camp in New South Wales before finally being redesignated a “friendly alien” and allowed to return to England in 1942. He was on a troopship heading back when it was torpedoed by a German submarine, killing him and 361 others. More than 70 years later, the original German manuscript for The Passenger turned up in a Frankfurt archive, allowing an editor to revise the novel in line with instructions Boschwitz had conveyed in letters to his mother. It’s the translation of that new text that has been lovingly published by Pushkin Press.

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