Association of Jewish Libraries reviews STUMBLING

  • September 29, 2017
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In The Spotlight

Chapman, Fern Schumer. Stumbling on History: An Art Project Compels a Small German Town to Face its Past. Lake Bluff, IL: Gussie Rose Press, 2016. (Now available from Kar-Ben Publishers) 56 pp. $17.99. (9780996472517). PBK. Gr. 6-12. Reviewed from ARC.

The central story of this illustrated non-fiction book is about unique public art project honoring individual Holocaust victims. It explains one way modern Germans are recognizing and atoning for their country’s involvement in the Holocaust. All over Germany and other European countries, Stolpersteine – German for “Stumbling Stones” – small bronze plaques set in sidewalks near homes of displaced and murdered Holocaust victims “confront Germans with their past sins and their communities’ involvement in this horrific historical event.” When the author’s mother, Edith Westerfeld, was 12 years old, she was sent alone from Nazi Germany to America on a ship, in 1938. Now, the 89-year-old Holocaust refugee returns to her birthplace in Stockstadt am Rhein to be honored in a ceremony to place a Stumbling Stone in front of her childhood home. Westerfeld wonders if the memory of the Nazis murdering her parents, along with millions of other victims, will outlive the survivors.

An attractive layout of text, photographs, historical primary sources, extensive excerpts from the public record, and artifacts, documents the details of Edith’s past, the Stumbling Stones public art project, and the ceremony recognizing the part this German town played in the Holocaust. End matter includes credits for the 46 photos and a list of nations’ crimes, such as use of chemical warfare, religious intolerance, displacement of native peoples, etc., and a list of how some countries have taken responsibility for terrible acts in their past. Front and back inside covers display over 100 Stumbling Stones. A Readers’ Guide is available on the Kar-Ben website. Chapters include Memory, Recognition, Atonement, and an Afterword, with questions and activities following each section. Use Chapman’s three other titles – Motherland for adults and Is It Night or Day? and Like Finding My Twin for middle school grades – for a compelling congregational or community read.

Debbie Colodny, Cook Memorial Public Library District, Libertyville, IL. Former owner Sefer, So Good, and former member Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.