After a two-day visit to schools in Texas, I received this question from a student:
Dear Mrs. Chapman,
You wouldn’t believe I figured out I have German in me, but also some Jewish, like you!! I attend Tarkington Middle School and I’m 12 years old. I asked my mother if we could order Is It Night or Day?, but she said “no,” but today, February 3, 2011, I was attending my 6th period class and my librarian, Mrs. Dillard, whom you’ve met, brought me a signed copy of your book!! I started reading it and found myself in Germany as if I were your mother. If we could go back in time and see what had happened, would you? Ohh and your mother got on a ship to come to America and I thought you said the German government ran the ship, how come they let the Jews come to America? PLEASE WRITE BACK?!!
Thank you for your email. I’m delighted that Mrs. Dillard gave you a copy of my book and that you have found it deeply engaging. That is what I had hoped would happen to readers — that they would travel alongside Edith. You asked me if I would like to go back in time and find out what really happened to my mother. Yes, I wish I could and, in some ways, I think I did just that by writing the book.
How interesting that you just discovered that you are German and Jewish. How did you find out?
You ask an excellent question about why Germans allowed the children to travel on a German ship to America. Let me explain. First, it was more difficult for adults to get out of Germany than for children. Adults had to find a country that would take in Jews. That was difficult since there was so much anti-Semitism in countries around the world at that time. In addition, adults who wanted to leave Germany had to find a sponsor to assure that the immigrant would have a place to live and a place to work. That was not easy either because it was the Depression and jobs were scarce.
Before November 9, 1938, the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), it was easier to get passports and papers and make arrangements to leave Germany. After Kristallnacht, it was nearly impossible to get out. (As you know, my mother left in March of 1938, before Kristallnacht.) The German government more readily approved passports and papers for children than adults. The government was glad to get rid of the “Jewish problem” any way it could and sending Jewish children to another country removed them from German society. So many children came to America on German ships.
I enjoyed visiting your school last week. You and your classmates were warm, welcoming, and attentive to my presentations.
Fern Schumer Chapman