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Address Unknown

by Kathrine Kressman Taylor

This epistolary novella relates the letters between two German art dealers, Martin Schulse and his very close friend Max Eisenstein – a Jew. It’s the early 1930s and they run a gallery in San Francisco when Martin decides to return to Germany to set up the German side of the business and Max stays in San Francisco. The early letters are warm and friendly and we discover that Martin had had a relationship in the past with Griselle, Max’s sister, whom they discuss with affection.

When Max asks Martin to comment on the stories he has been hearing in the USA from Jews returning from the continent ("I am in distress at the press reports that come pouring in to us from the Fatherland ... Write me, my friend, and set my mind at ease.") Martin sends a shocking reply telling Max that, while they may be good friends, everybody knows that Jews have been the universal scapegoats, and "a few must suffer for the millions to be saved." He also asks Max to stop writing as his and his family’s safety may be compromised.

Max continues to write regardless and when Griselle goes missing, he asks Martin to help find out what has happened to her. Martin responds on blank stationery (less likely to be inspected) and tells Max his sister is dead, admitting that he turned Griselle away when she came to him for help.

The letters continue and Martin becomes more agitated – and more zealous - and finally the letters come back marked Adressat unbekannt “address unknown”. In a few short pages Martin’s shocking descent into ideology is revealed.

When it first appeared in Story magazine in 1938, ADDRESS UNKNOWN became an immediate social phenomenon and literary sensation. Published in book form a year later and banned in Nazi Germany, it earned high praise in the United States and much of Europe.

Kathrine Kressmann Taylor (1903-1996) was an undiscovered writer before the 1938 publication of ADDRESS UNKNOWN. For nineteen years, she was a professor of creative writing and journalism at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where she was the first woman to earn tenure. A moving afterword is written by her son, Charles Taylor.

Irene Haynes

Published by Souvenir Press, 64pp.

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