It is human, perhaps, to try to forget the past when the memories dredge up feelings of guilt and shame. The danger is that in sweeping our ugliness under the rug, we will never learn from our mistakes, and the suffering of the victims will never heal. Fern Schumer Chapman’s mother, Edith Westerfeld Schumer, was born in the tiny German town of Stockstadt am Rhein, into one of only two Jewish families at the time of the Holocaust. She and her sister were sent to America to live with an aunt and uncle they had never met when Edith was only twelve years old. She never saw her parents again. Only later did she learn that they died in two different concentration camps.
In 1996, German artist Gunther Demnig began an activist art project in Berlin called the Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteinen) Project. Demnig places a square, brass marker—about the size of a hand—in the street in front of a victim’s home or place of business. The marker is deeply inscribed with the person’s name, date of birth, and their fate. Since he conceived of it, the Stumbling Stones Project has spread to many cities in Germany, as well as France, Poland, Italy, Denmark, and Austria. Although he has met with opposition, “Demnig’s team embosses 450 Stumbling Stones each month,” and they have placed markers in over 1,000 cities.
Stumbling on History, besides giving a factual account of the project, tells Chapman’s personal story of traveling with her mother to Stockstadt am Rhein to participate in a historical ceremony. The book is laid out in picture book format, but the amount of text is best suited to older children and adults who, like me, have never heard of this beautiful and significant art project. This inspiring story is accompanied by many large photographs on every page, both historical and contemporary. Chapman has produced a volume that will help children to recognize both the enduring tragedy of Nazi violence and the profound impact that a small work of art can have on an individual’s life.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book, which I had specially bound for our library. It can be hard to get, even though it was published in 2016, but the paperback is on Amazon. Well worth it. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.