Fern Schumer Chapman is the author of four books:
Stumbling On History: An Art Project Compels A Small German Town To Face Its Past (Gussie Rose Press, 2016)
Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust – A Mother/Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past (Viking 2000; Penguin 2001), and
Is It Night or Day? (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2010; Square Fish, 2014; Scholastic Books, 2014).
A memoir, Motherland follows a young mother’s pilgrimage into her family’s history, as author Fern Schumer Chapman uneasily accompanies her mother, Edith, a Holocaust escapee, on a baffling visit to the German village her mother left at the age of 12. Edith, the youngest member of the town’s only remaining Jewish family, was sent alone and terrified to America to escape the Nazis. Nearly half a century later, mother and daughter return to the village and gradually realize that no one has escaped the shame, guilt and lingering scars of the war.
The success of Motherland has led to numerous speaking engagements at libraries, book clubs, junior/senior high schools, universities and literary organizations.
Is It Night or Day?, a work of historical fiction, is a prequel to Motherland. In 1938 — torn away from her family and friends, her village in Germany, and everything she has ever known — 12-year-old Edith Westerfeld travels alone to distant America as her parents struggle to follow her in escaping the Nazis.
Sent to live with a hostile aunt who makes Edith a virtual servant, the girl desperately seeks to understand who she is in this new world. One girl’s journey from child refugee to American teenager mirrors and illuminates the struggle of every immigrant child as Edith searches for a new identity through school, friends, and even baseball.
These two books led to another amazing story. On the ship that brought her to America, young Edith became best friends with 12-year-old Gerda Katz, but the two hadn’t seen each other since their arrival in 1938. After a Naperville, Illinois middle-school class read Is It Night or Day?, the students were so moved by the story that they made it a class project to reunite the two women. Fulfilling a shared life-long dream, the two women, now in their 80s, finally saw each other again last summer in Seattle, Washington.
Through historical documents, photographs, and storytelling, Fern Schumer Chapman’s latest book, Like Finding My Twin, captures the 1938 friendship of the two young girls, the students’ research, and the reunion of the two old friends. A show called Lost and Found on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) featured the reunion of Edith and Gerda on its first episode on January 3, 2013.
Here’s a peek at the OWN show:
Scholastic Books released the paperback edition of Is It Night or Day? in 2014. The book includes bonus material — a Q/A with the author, a 3,000-word story of how 8th graders reunited the two Holocaust refugees featured in the book, and the Teachers Guide, which is aligned with the new Core Curriculum Standards.
Most recently, Gussie Rose Press released Stumbling On History. Edith Westerfeld, now 89-years-old, wonders if the memory of the Nazis murdering her parents, along with millions if other victims, will outlive the survivors. Now — 76 years after Edith’s parents saved their daughter’s life by sending her, alone and terrified, to America — she returns to the small German town where her family had lived for hundreds of years. Invited to witness the installation of a memorial to her family — part of an effort throughout Europe to confront the genocide of World War II — she experiences how art is helping today’s generation face and atone for crimes of the past.
Here, a student interviews FSC and her mother, Edith Westerfeld: