What do we really know about our parents' life before we were born? That depends largely, I guess, on how much of an interest we show – and on how much they are willing to reveal. Because in the life of every person there are instances and times they rather wish to forget, and not revive time and again by discussion, even if only among their nearest and dearest.
Such, in the lives of author Martin Goldsmith's parents, were the years from 1933 through 1941; so much so, in fact, that Goldsmith likens that time to the massive ash tree in the house of Germanic warlord Hunding, the setting of the first scene of Richard Wagner's opera "Die Walküre:" Something looming large, yet never openly acknowledged. Because before George Gunther Goldsmith, furniture and home decorating salesman of Cleveland, Ohio, and his wife Rosemary, a violinist with the St. Louis Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, became American citizens in 1947, they had lived a whole other life – the hunted life of Jews in Adolf Hitler's Germany. And only years after his mother's death, on a trip to his father's home town of Oldenburg, did Goldsmith catch the first glimpses of what was hidden behind that massive ash tree, and George Goldsmith began to talk about the events which his, the Goldschmidt family had witnessed there; as well as the early life of Rosemarie née Gumpert in Düsseldorf, the couple's first meeting in Frankfurt, and their later life in Berlin until their lucky escape to the United States. Beginning with this visit, Martin Goldsmith retraced his family's path to the early years of the 20th century, when his paternal grandfather Alex Goldschmidt took residence in Oldenburg, and his maternal grandfather Julian Gumpert settled in Düsseldorf.
How intensely personal this voyage into the past must have been becomes clear in the account of Goldsmith's visit to Oldenburg prison, as a participant in a march retracing the path taken by the Jews – among them the author's grandfather – driven through the streets of Oldenburg in 1938 by Nazi thugs, to later be shipped off (at least temporarily) to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. But although he writes about his very own family, and now in full knowledge of their fate, Goldsmith's narrative is in no way sentimental. With a journalist's detachment he talks about Günther and Rosemarie, Alex, Julian and their wives and other children; turning a nonfiction account whose outcome is clear from the very start into a heartstopping tale few would be able to believe if presented with it under colors other than that of the plain historic truth.