One of the lessons I learned very early in my three-decade-long career writing and editing fundraising appeals was that statistics numb the brain while a gripping tale of one individual can unlock torrents of emotion in the reader. So it was no surprise to me that the story of one young refugee Jewish family in London in 1945 could bring home the chilling reality of the Holocaust more powerfully than any recitation of the numbers of Hitler’s victims could ever possibly do. And that’s what you’ll find in The List, a haunting novel about Holocaust survivors.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
From the death camps to England and Palestine
The author of The List is Martin Fletcher, an NBC foreign correspondent who is the son of an Austrian refugee couple named Edith and Georg. He borrows their names for his protagonists in a fictional tale of a small group of Holocaust survivors scratching out a living in a boardinghouse in post-war London amid the violent conflict over Britain’s pro-Arab policy toward Palestine.
The story unfolds in London beginning on May 8, 1945—V-E Day (“Victory in Europe,” should you be too young to know)—and concludes in the days before Christmas that same fateful year. The narrator’s focus shifts to Palestine from time to time. There, we observe the increasingly desperate struggle between the three leading groups of the Zionist insurgency (Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi) and the British occupation forces. The two threads of the tale converge, as they tend to do in novels, bringing home to the apolitical refugees in peacetime England some of the grim choices facing Jews in what is to become, within three years, the Israeli homeland.
The List by Martin Fletcher (2011) 354 pages ★★★★★
A shrinking list of Holocaust survivors
The “list” of the title is Georg’s long, handwritten list of his family members. One by one, he crosses out their names as news emerges of their deaths from the chaos of the DP (displaced persons) camps on the Continent. This homely but powerful metaphor for what we all lost in the Holocaust reawakened childhood memories of my New York cousins sitting me down as a teenager to tell me about the lives of my own relatives who perished in the death camps.
Fletcher’s grim but fascinating novel about Holocaust survivors centers around two central events drawn from history. One is an anti-Semitic petition movement to expel Jewish refugees from the London borough of Hampstead. Fascists recently released from wartime prisons led the movement. The other is the attempted assassination of Aneurin Bevin, the Foreign Minister in the Labour Government that came to power in Britain following Winston Churchill’s rejection at the polls.
The List is a searing tale, beautifully told, brimming over with suspense that drives the reader forward to the end.
About the author
Martin Fletcher writes on his author website that “I began thinking of my first book in 1977, started research in the mid-80’s, wrote it in 1988, rewrote it in 1994, rewrote it in 2007, and Breaking News was published in 2008. Luckily I was employed throughout by NBC News, which enabled me to raise a family in less time than it took to write the book. . . [I’ve] been covering world events for thirty-five years, mostly for NBC News. For twenty-six years [I] was NBC correspondent in Israel and for fifteen, bureau chief as well. [I have] won almost every award in TV journalism, including the du Pont, known as the TV Pulitzer, five Overseas Press Club awards, [and] the Edward R. Murrow Award.”
Wikipedia notes that Fletcher was born in London, England, in 1947 and graduated from the University of Bradford in 1970. He is the author of two books of nonfiction and four novels. It’s evident from these facts that Georg and Edith were, in fact, Holocaust survivors.
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