"Other" in two countries

  • February 26, 2011
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Edith's German school picture
From the German publisher of Mutterland: Dear Fern and Edith, Can write us some sentences for the students and children who are able to read your book, maybe some experiences or impressions after your readings with children and young people in America and in Germany? As child, my mother, Edith Westerfeld, was labeled as "other" in two countries. In Germany, she was identified as inferior and undesirable for being Jewish, even though her family viewed itself as German first and Jewish second. (Edith's father was a decorated World War I veteran.) In America, Edith struggled to fit into her new home, new school, new classmates where she didn't know the culture, the language or the people. In fact, in America Edith felt so alienated that, 73 years later, she still remembers the name of one of the only students who was kind and smiled at her -- "Doug." One of the most poignant moments my mother and I have shared over the last years was in a high school in Frankfurt, Germany. I gave a speech to a group of 80 students who had read Motherland in English. At the end of the speech, I introduced my mother to the group. Edith looked around the classroom and said these words: "I see many different faces in your class, students from all around the world. I must ask those of you who have lived in Germany for a long time, "What do you do to welcome those students who are not like you? What do you do to make those students feel like they are part of your community?" The wounds of feeling unwanted and unwelcome do not heal quickly.

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