"Address Unknown" | Reviewed by Joan Kletzker
The little gem, “Address Unknown,” by Katherine Kressman Taylor, took about about 90 minutes to read. The backstory also is most interesting.
The story itself was published in 1938, and occurs in 1932, as Hitler is beginning his rise to power. The book is the fictional account of two friends, Max and Martin who were former business partners in San Francisco. Max is a Jew, and Martin is a German who returns to Germany in 1932.
Their correspondence, 18 letters, begins in November 1932 and ends abruptly, and chillingly, in March, 1934. Over the course of the correspondence, Martin gradually, then fully, endorses Hitler, calling him our “Glorious Leader.” His wife calls Hitler my “Gentle Leader.” Martin even names his youngest child Adolf. He moves from begging Max not to write anymore to terminating their friendship.
Martin tells Max they have been friends in spite of Max being Jewish. Martin become an extremist and the Gestapo begins to censor his mail; he grows frightened for his family. Yet Max remains a true friend to Martin until the end. Even as the relationship becomes strictly business minded, Max still offer his prayers for Martin.
These few letters show how rapidly one can be absorbed into extremist thinking. How does a good person become bad so quickly? When do we know what we know? This novel was also written to warn Americans of how evil Hitler was. It is a novel written in present time, not as historical fiction. It is written from the heart.
The novel is now published under the full name of the author. The idea for the story came from her real life experience. Some German friends of hers were intellectual, cultivated and goodhearted people. They returned to Germany before the war and in a very short time became sworn Nazis.
When they returned to the States for a visit, they met an old friend, a Jew on the street. They refused to speak with the friend and turned their backs on him. Taylor wondered how such thing could occur? What happens to people? She began to research Hitler and read some of his speeches. She was appalled and terrified. Taylor realized that few in America know how dire things were in Germany; the Isolationist movement was in full swing in 1938. No one was listening.
In 1938, the publishers decided the story was “too strong to appear under the name of a woman." She was assigned the name of Kressman Taylor, which she kept professionally for the rest of her life. When this story was published in “Story Magazine” in 1939, it was an instant hit. Walter Winchell heartily suggested this book to his audience. Its first publication was 50,000 copies—a huge number at that time. It also was a big hit in England.
Translations into other languages were begun, but the blitzkrieg changed everything. “Address Unknown” was on the banned book lists in Germany. Over time, it became a forgotten masterpiece. In 1995, in memory of the 50th anniversary of the European Liberation, the book was re-issued, again to rave reviews. By 2010, this book had been translated into 23 languages. It has been made into a play in Europe and the United States.
About the Author: Katherine Kressman Taylor wrote three other books, also all well received. She was a professor of creative writing and journalism at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania for 19 years. She died at age 93 in 1996.