Stumbling on History: An Art Project Compels a Small German Town to Face Its Past
Gussie Rose Press 2016
54 Pages $17.99
Review by Teri Markson
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.