'Make It Better' celebrates local authors

  • July 29, 2010
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Profile of FSC (second from left) from Make It Better/North Shore Magazine

It’s impossible for us to know who we truly are without knowing something of our mothers.

That’s why Fern Schumer Chapman, a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Forbes, has spent years unraveling the enigma that is her mother, who was orphaned by the Holocaust.

Fern’s first book, “Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past,” became a cult favorite with North Shore book clubs and was a finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards in 2000. The book tells the story of her mother-daughter trip to Germany to visit the town where her mother, Edith, lived until she was 12. In 1938, Edith’s parents sent her to the U.S. to live with relatives in Chicago. Four years later, Edith learned that her parents had died in a concentration camp.

“Much of my adult life has been this slow discovery of my mother’s life,” Fern says. “Trauma is transmitted through families. I was very defined by her experience. Writing was my attempt to understand what shaped her—what shaped me.”

After the publication of “Motherland,” Chapman learned that her mother came over with a small group of children as part of an American rescue effort now known as The One Thousand Children Project. Researching the 1,000 children and talking to her mom prompted Chapman to write a book of historical fiction for young adults, “Is It Night or Day?” She assumes her mother’s voice to tell Edith’s story of immigration and survival. The book, which was published this spring, was recognized as one of Booklist’s Top 10 Historical Fiction Books for Youth for 2010.

And, Fern’s writing brought her closer to her mom. “I am my mother’s voice,” she says. As part of their journey, Fern has talked openly with her mom about the difficulties in their relationship as a result of the trauma. Fern’s mother grew as a result, and Fern forgave her for some of her behavior.

Today, Fern regularly speaks about her mother’s Holocaust experience in schools, museums and for groups. She says of her mom, who attends all of her speaking engagements, “She hears me, she supports me, and she loves me more for speaking the truth.”

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