The List by Martin Fletcher
The List by Martin Fletcher tells the story of two young people, Georg and Edith, who escaped Europe before the Holocaust to spend the war years in England, while their families, unable to leave, were swept away in the death camps. We meet this couple in the fall of 1945 as the world moves into the rapidly changing post-war years.
The List explores the rising anti-Semitism in England in the post war years – a wave of ill feeling on the part of some British politicians and citizens who felt that now that the war was over these refugees should return to their own countries. Of course, the refugees had no desire to return to countries where their families had been rounded up and murdered and their homes and possessions claimed by others. Many would like to remain in England and become citizens while others are waiting for permission to emigrate to other countries where they might be able to build a new life. Others are heading for Palestine where they are being turned back by the thousands. The conflict between the British soldiers in Palestine, and the Jewish immigrants is explosive, and has ramifications in England for the Jewish refugees there.
In May 1945, as the crowds in Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square celebrate the end of the war, Georg and Edith are attempting to discover the fate of their family members who had remained in Austria. The Association of Jewish Refugees has access to the Red Cross lists compiled as survivors of the camps are recorded, and an attempt is made to re-unite families. Georg and Edith have their own list, and they cross off name after name as deaths are confirmed.
There is finally good news, however. Edith’s cousin, Anna, is alive. In the fall of 1945 Georg and Edith are at Liverpool Station to meet Anna who, after surviving Auschwitz, is arriving in England to be re-united with Edith – they may be the only surviving members of their family. Anna is very fragile, both physically and emotionally. She is taken in, and lives with Edith and George in their room – one of many rented to refugees in the home of a British couple in central London. Also lodging in the house is the mysterious Egyptian, Ismael.
This novel is a beautifully constructed and written exploration of the affluent life lived by many in pre-war Vienna, the rise of the Nazi party and the capitulation of Austria, the horror of Auschwitz, the war years in England for the British citizens and for those who have come to escape Europe, and then the post war years, a time of both euphoria and hardship.
Hard as it is for us to imagine the horror of the death camps, we might also wonder how the survivors were able to go about making a new life and moving into the future after their liberation. Perhaps peace and the arrival of children, so important after the loss of so many, will mend lives and bring the beginning of a new and happier future.