Sunday, June 20, 2021


THE PASSENGER by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz
(Metropolitan Books)

I recently finished reading this extraordinary novel, THE PASSENGER, by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz. It is something of a rediscovery, as it was written in the late 1930s, shortly after Kristallnacht occurred in Nazi Germany. The author, Boschwitz, was a young Jewish man who had already managed to flee Germany but was living a harried and harassed life as a refugee. He had written one other novel before this, but THE PASSENGER is what he is now remembered for. 

THE PASSENGER was published in various forms in English, French, and some other languages back in the 1930s and 1940s, but never in the original German in which it was composed. It was only in the last few years that the original German-language manuscript turned up, and was re-edited according to the intentions left behind by the author in some correspondence (before he sadly perished after his transport ship was torpedoed by the Germans), and was published finally in Germany. It is this new German edition that has formed the basis of several translations into other languages, and we are lucky that the English translation, by Philip Boehm, is now out in the United States from Metropolitan Books (and in the United Kingdom from Pushkin Press). 

I never like to review the plot of a book too fully in a mini-review like this. Suffice to say, the main character, a Jewish businessman in Germany who always thought he looked rather Aryan, finds himself the target of persecution, along with all other Jews throughout Germany, after the horrors of Kristallnacht. He then learns that the clock has been ticking behind the scenes, the last five years since the Nazis came to power, while everyone including himself thought this all would just "blow over." Then it is 1938 and it is too late. He is unable to get himself or his family out of Germany, and it takes a great deal of time for him to even understand that he has no meaningful German citizenship left, and no ability to cling to his assets . . . he will have no choice but to find some way to get out of Germany (illegally, as there is no longer any legal means, and he is not likely to be welcomed by any country he might be able to get himself to). So he becomes a passenger, going from here to there in different points across Germany, hoping not to be taken into custody by the Nazis, but really only just buying a bit of time. The inevitable is going to come, and it is truly too late.

Although some have compared THE PASSENGER to Kafka, I think that is not really accurate in the sense that everything that happens to the hero of THE PASSENGER is all too real, not surreal or fantastical. And it is a fate that can and does happen to anyone, anywhere in the world, who finds him- or herself suddenly the so-called Enemy of the State, for no other reason that one's own ethnicity. 

I highly recommend that everyone read THE PASSENGER before it vanishes again.