Silbermann becomes a man on the run, hopping on and off trains criss-crossing Germany. At first, each journey is part of some vague strategy for survival – at one point he tries to make an illegal break across the border into Belgium – but soon there is no real destination, only desperation and eventually disintegration: he is forever travelling but going nowhere. There is tension, as Silbermann seeks to dodge those who might check his papers, relying on his Aryan looks to blend in as fellow passengers greet him with a “Heil Hitler!”, but there is also the surreal, thickly claustrophobic atmosphere of an actual nightmare – a man repeating the same move over and over again, his goal permanently out of reach. The result is a story that is part John Buchan, part Franz Kafka and wholly riveting... The Passenger is a gripping novel that plunges the reader into the gloom of Nazi Germany as the darkness was descending. It deserved to be read when it was written. It certainly deserves to be read now.
As the violence of Kristallnacht shatters Berlin in 1938, the wealthy Jewish businessman Otto Silbermann crams money into a suitcase, hoping to flee the country by train. But has he left it too late? And will his identity be exposed before he can cross the border? Ulrich Boschwitz wrote one of the few contemporary (though largely ignored) novels about Nazi persecution at just 23. He never published another, for in 1942 he went down with a British troopship.