Don’t judge a book by its cover, so we are told. In fact, Voyage to the Wall has a very attractive cover, designed by Frank Nicolo. What I found off-putting was that across the cover is a testimonial by James Patterson, not one of my favorite authors. However, in this case I have to agree with him, “It is incredibly readable, intelligent and highly emotional.”
Author Manning Rubin previously published Keep Your Brain Alive and 60 Ways to Relieve Stress in 60 Seconds, both written in collaboration with Dr. Lawrence Katz. Well, he certainly knows a thing or three about keeping the brain alive: At 95, Rubin has written this brilliant debut novel. The novel is semi-autobiographical. The first part relies heavily on the author’s experiences in Germany in the US Army of occupation in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust.
Having grown up in a Reform Jewish family whose observance of Judaism was confined to visiting the synagogue three times a year, lighting candles on a Friday night and gathering for a family Seder, Joey Goldman didn’t particularly feel Jewish. He hadn’t even had a bar mitzvah, having been “confirmed” at his Reform Temple at age 15.
Part One: Witnessing the Nuremberg Trials
Part One of the book chronicles Goldman’s growing awareness as he gets to observe the Nuremberg Trials of leading Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust and realizes that had he been born in Europe, he too would have been among those murdered, just for the “crime” of being Jewish. He gradually stops thinking of “those people” and starts thinking of “my people.” On finding out that one of his superior officers is also Jewish, it was nice for him to have another MOT (member of the tribe) nearby.
What he learns of the Holocaust comes as a terrible shock to him, the more so as it was never talked about at home and seemed of little concern to both his immediate and extended family. Being a drummer, he becomes obsessed with drumming the beat to which the Germans marched and looking out of his window to see who automatically goose steps to the beat, and fantasizes about shooting them.
Through a friend’s family connection he, reluctantly at first, becomes involved with two DPs (displaced persons) living in a camp not too far from his base. He becomes increasingly fond of them, until they become his substitute family. His visits to them and his efforts to assist one to join relatives in America and the other to get to Israel lead to two significant events that will change his life.
The first is an encounter and growing friendship with a tanned young man, who is obviously not a DP, who was previously a British soldier in the Jewish Brigade, who now has become a chameleon, changing identities and persona as needed to aid survivors to run the British blockade and get to Palestine. The second encounter is with a young female survivor intent on getting to Palestine at all costs, with whom he immediately falls in love at first sight.
Part Two: Stay in Germany to help refugees, move to help Israel or return home?
Part Two of the book chronicles his indecision as to whether on his discharge he should stay in Germany and help the refugees and ultimately join his love, making a new life in the fledgling and embattled State of Israel, or go home to his family with its watered-down commitment to Judaism and very little interest in the history of the Jews or the current situation of the State of Israel.
I will not spoil the book by telling you of its conclusion, but there are some adventures that one would expect a young soldier to be involved in. These include almost getting arrested by the Russian occupation forces but getting out because the Russian officer is also Jewish, and a few incidents – some dangerous, some merely annoying – with antisemitic soldiers in the American army and disguised former SS officers; and despite his growing love for the beautiful girl he intends to marry, some fun and a few amorous encounters with willing frauleins on the way to his final destination.
The book emphasizes and reinforces the saying “Never again,” making it as important today as it ever was.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend reading the Foreword by Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League. This makes the book all the more relevant to young Jews growing up in the US under the same circumstances, and I wish I could make it required reading for these youngsters and their parents. ■
Voyage to the WallManning RubinGatekeeper Press, 2022374 pages, $13.99