In 1938, two young girls left their homes, their families and friends – everything they knew – and were sent alone to faraway America by their parents to escape the Nazis. Meeting aboard the Deutschland, Edith and Gertie formed an instant bond that carried them from Germany to New York City. They played all day, all over the ship; they ate as much ice cream as they wanted; they became inseparable in sharing a deep, uprooting loss no one else would ever understand.
Seventy-two years after Gertie and Edith parted ways and lost contact, a middle-school class at Madison Junior High School in Naperville, Ill., read “Is It Night or Day?,” the critically acclaimed book by Edith’s daughter, Fern Schumer Chapman, about Edith’s childhood immigration experience. When Chapman visited their school to discuss the book, the students were so moved by the girls’ story of friendship that they hatched a plan to reunite them. The class — all children of the social-networking age — couldn’t imagine why anyone would be out of touch with anyone, anywhere in the world.
With teacher Catie O’Boyle’s support — and to the astonishment of Edith and Gertie, now in their 80s – the students located Gertie. After winning her trust, they placed her in touch with her old friend. “I am so glad you found me,” Gertie’s first e-mail to Edith said. Now, having spoken by telephone, the women are planning to reunite this summer.
And this week, the youngsters who brought them together will meet Edith when she visits their class with her daughter, who related Edith’s immigration experience and its lingering effects in her two books – the award-winning 2000 memoir “Motherland” and 2010’s young-adult hit “Is It Night or Day?”
This is a story of love, loss, and recovery — AND what modern kids can teach us about righting the wrongs of the past.
Please visit and comment: