Stum­bling on His­to­ry: An Art Project Com­pels a Small Ger­man Town to Face Its Past

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

Stum­bling on His­to­ry: An Art Project Com­pels a Small Ger­man Town to Face Its Past by Fern Schumer Chap­man | Jew­ish Book Council

This slen­der book is both a mem­o­ry and a memo­r­i­al, a trib­ute and a warn­ing, a look at what is and what was.

Author Fern Schumer Chap­man first recounts the expe­ri­ence of her Ger­man born moth­er, 89-year-old Edith West­er­feld, whose par­ents sent her at age twelve to live with fam­i­ly in Chica­go when the Nazi threat to the Jews was mount­ing. In spite of the West­er­felds hav­ing lived in Stock­stadt am Rhein for near­ly 250 years, Edith’s par­ents were forced from their home and sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps where they perished.

The remain­der of the book is ded­i­cat­ed to describ­ing the Stum­bling Stones project and the instal­la­tion cer­e­mo­ny at the site of Edith’s child­hood home. Begun in 1996, Stum­bling Stones was designed by Ger­man activist Gun­ther Dem­nig to memo­ri­al­ize indi­vid­ual vic­tims of the Holo­caust, and cre­ate a visu­al and tac­tile link to the places where they had lived. In place of cob­ble­stones, Dem­nig and his team have placed tens of thou­sands of bronze mark­ers on walk­ways in front of homes and build­ings through­out Europe, each embossed with a victim’s name, birth­date and fate.

In Novem­ber 2014, Edith and Fern returned to Stock­stadt am Rhein to wit­ness the place­ment of five mark­ers, one each for Edith’s grand­moth­er, moth­er, father, sis­ter and her­self. It is the per­son­al nature of their expe­ri­ence that pro­vides the gate­way to this piece of world his­to­ry, and to a dis­cus­sion of the need to remem­ber and atone in order not to repeat hor­ren­dous events of the past.

For the most part, the text avoids sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty and preach­i­ness; his­tor­i­cal pho­tographs pro­vide visu­al con­text, while pic­tures of the event make the expe­ri­ence relat­able, dri­ving home the mes­sage that what hap­pened in Stock­stadt am Rhein hap­pened to real peo­ple, and that each stum­bling stone is an individual.

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 9 and up.

Teri Mark­son has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 18 years. She is cur­rent­ly the act­ing senior librar­i­an at the Val­ley Plaza Branch Library in North Hol­ly­wood, CA.

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