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Address Unknown (1938) by American writer Kathrine Taylor details the rise of Nazi Germany through the correspondence of two men, one of whom is Jewish and one of whom is not. The short novel explores themes such as Radicalization, The Impact of Paranoia and Fascism, and The Loss of Friendship and Family.
Chapter 1 Summary: “November 12, 1932”
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A Jewish German man named Max writes to his business partner, a German gentile, or individual who isn’t Jewish, named Martin. Martin has returned to Germany for the first time since World War I. Max envies Martin, as Martin is experiencing a democratic Germany with a bright future, while Max remains in San Francisco. Max misses home and does not know when he will return. He longs for Germanic culture and food but accepts that Martin should have returned to Germany; Max has acclimatized better to America, and their mutual art business is thriving. Max hints at a disagreement between Martin and Griselle, his younger sister who is becoming a famous actress in Vienna. He assures Martin that there is “no bitterness” and wishes Martin well for the future (6).
Chapter 2 Summary: “December 10, 1932”
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Martin responds to Max, describing the large house he has purchased for his family in Munich. He describes his servants, his large bed, and his horses, though mentions that his sons are struggling to speak German as their speech is “too much mixed with English” (7). Meanwhile, his brothers-in-law are struggling financially. Compared to them, Martin’s family seems like American millionaires. He congratulates Griselle on her success after their “stormy affair.”
Chapter 3 Summary: “January 21, 1933”
Max writes to Martin, saying that he has given Martin’s address to Griselle. He mentions the economic turmoil in America and Germany, though their business seems unaffected. He hopes that, even with a downturn in business, they will be “very comfortable.” Meanwhile, he has sold a particularly ugly artwork to an older Jewish woman. After discussing the meaning of home, Max asks about a new politician rising to power in Germany by the name of Adolf Hitler. He does not like what little he has read about the man.
Chapter 4 Summary: “March 25, 1933”
Martin writes to Max about the “new events in Germany” (10), providing insight from someone in the country. Martin believes that Adolf Hitler may be good for Germany in certain ways, but he is not certain. Hitler is now the head of the German government, and his zealous supporters—the brown shirts—are committing acts of violence, particularly against Jewish people. Despite this, Martin has noticed a surge of optimism among the German people. Publicly, Martin does not express any doubts as he is an official in the new regime. He hopes the violence is only temporary. Moving on from politics, he reveals that his wife, Elsa, is pregnant again and that he has hosted the local mayor at his home.
Chapter 5 Summary: “May 18, 1933”
Max writes to Martin, worried about reports of violence against Jewish people in Germany. He trusts Martin and hopes that Martin can tell him the truth. To Max, the violence seems like the latest antisemitic outburst after “centuries of repetition” (12). His sister, Griselle, is considering taking a role in a play in Berlin, but Max has encouraged her to wait until the antisemitic violence in Germany cools down. Though she has changed her name, he fears that she may be identified as Jewish by her physical appearance and gestures.
Chapter 6 Summary: “July 9, 1933”
Using official bank stationery, Martin writes to Max. They must “discontinue writing each other” due to new censorship laws (13). If Martin wants to maintain his official position, he cannot communicate with a Jewish person. He encourages Max to hide their correspondence in bank drafts and letters.
Martin has come to view the new laws as a “painful necessity.” He does not hate individual Jewish people, but he has come to believe that the Jewish population as a whole is a concern. He praises the new Nazi Germany and writes antisemitic paragraphs justifying the state’s new policies. Martin is now an official in the government, and his sons have joined the Hitler Youth. He hopes that they will be able to resume their correspondence “someday.”
Chapter 7 Summary: “August 1, 1933”
Max writes to Martin, explaining that the letter will be passed along via intermediaries so as to avoid the censors. He is deeply troubled by Martin’s previous letter and hopes that Martin was performing an antisemitic character for the censors’ benefit. He lambasts the censorship laws and the antisemitic violence. He appeals to Martin's better nature, asking him to respond with a simple “yes” if he acted antisemitically to fool the censors.
Chapter 8 Summary: “August 18, 1933”
Martin responds to Max by saying “no.” He insists that he is a German patriot and criticizes liberalism, freedom of speech, and American idealism. He praises the actions of the Nazi government and defends book burning and the destruction of libraries as essential parts of the country’s plan of action. He insists that they “write no further” as they have grown politically estranged (16).
Chapter 9 Summary: “September 5, 1933”
In a brief message, Max sends Martin business documents. He also mentions in passing that Griselle has gone to Berlin, despite the antisemitism that is overtaking Germany. He asks Martin to “watch over her” but admits that he has been forced to remove Martin’s name from their business, as German names are increasingly unpopular (17).
Chapter 10 Summary: “November 5, 1933”
Max writes again to Martin. He is worried that he has lost all contact with Griselle. He begs Martin to help locate her.
Chapter 11 Summary: “November 23, 1933”
Though he has heard no response, Max writes to Martin again. Through intermediaries, he has heard that Griselle was taunted while acting in a play. The crowd booed her because she is Jewish. Griselle, a proud young woman, responded to the audience’s jeers and was chased backstage. She spent several days sheltering with a Jewish family and tried to escape to Vienna, hoping to stay with Martin in Munich along the way. Max begs Martin to send him “a word of relief” about his sister (19).
Chapter 12 Summary: “December 8, 1933”
Opening his letter with “Heil Hitler” and writing on bank stationary, Martin tells Max that Griselle is dead (20). He blames her for acting foolishly: She arrived at Martin’s house with Nazi troops pursuing her. When he opened the door, he dared not risk the well-being of his family. Understanding his fear and desperation, she ran away again. The troops caught and killed her. Martin arranged for the body to be buried. He claims that he was “helpless to aid her” (20). He insists again that Max does not write to him as all his mail is read and he does not want to be seen as associating with Jewish people.
Chapter 13 Summary: “January 2, 1934”
Max sends a brief telegram to Martin, telling him that his “TERMS [are] ACCEPTED” (21). He obliquely references business success and signs off the telegram with his surname, Eisenstein.
Chapter 14 Summary: “January 3, 1934”
Max writes to Martin again. His short, strange message references their “grandma's birthday,” which implies that they are related. The letter mentions specific numbers of paintings, budgetary figures, and places that may resemble a coded message. He again signs the letter with Eisenstein and refers to Martin as “dear brother.”
Chapter 15 Summary: “January 17, 1934”
Max writes to Martin again. His letter is a similar mix of (false) references to their shared family and the exact dimensions of paintings that Martin will need to “prepare.”
Chapter 16 Summary: “January 29, 1934”
Max writes to Martin, referencing a letter that has been “delivered by mistake” (24). He also alludes falsely to shared family members and speaks about an upcoming family reunion.
Chapter 17 Summary: “February 12, 1934”
Martin writes a desperate letter to Max, one that will need to be smuggled out of Nazi Germany via a friendly American. The authorities have demanded that he explain Max’s cryptic messages as they believe that there is a “code.” Martin worries that Max is trying to “destroy” him. He has been forced to resign, and his family members are being thrown out of official organizations. His family is being socially ostracized. Martin is concerned that he will be taken away to a concentration camp or executed. He pleads with Max to stop sending letters. He finishes the letter by begging Max to stop, appealing to the love they once had for one another.
Chapter 18 Summary: “February 15, 1934”
Max writes another letter to Martin. The letter references precise levels of rainfall and numbers of paintbrushes that have been shipped to Berlin ahead of a “big exhibition.”
Chapter 19 Summary: “March 3, 1934”
Max writes a final letter to Martin. He discusses a birth in the family and mentions the upcoming exhibition again. He finishes the letter by hoping for “the God of Moses” to be at Martin's right hand (27). The letter is returned undelivered, as the addressee is unknown.