Is It Night or Day?: A Novel of Immigration and Survival, 1938-1942by Fern Schumer Chapman
It's 1938, and twelve-year-old Edith is about to move from the tiny German village she's lived in all her life to a place that seems as foreign as the moon: Chicago, Illinois. And she will be doing it alone. This dramatic and chilling novel about one girl's escape from Hitler's Germany was inspired by the experiences of the author's mother, one of twelve hundred
It's 1938, and twelve-year-old Edith is about to move from the tiny German village she's lived in all her life to a place that seems as foreign as the moon: Chicago, Illinois. And she will be doing it alone. This dramatic and chilling novel about one girl's escape from Hitler's Germany was inspired by the experiences of the author's mother, one of twelve hundred children rescued by Americans as part of the One Thousand Children project.
This title has Common Core connections.
Is It Night or Day? is a 2011 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
“* This book is an exceptional story of survival and devotion to homeland. . . . This is a wonderful study of the Holocaust in a way that young readers will understand. Highly Recommended.” Library Media Connection, starred review
“This empathetic historical novel rings with authenticity.” Kirkus Reviews
“* In Edith's bewildered, sad, angry voice, the words are eloquent and powerful. . . . As with the best writing, the specifics about life as a young immigrant are universal. ” Booklist, starred review
“Chapman captures a plucky determination in Edith that readers will find endearing. There is no Cinderella ending for Edith, but the hope she finds in Jewish ballplayer Hank Greenberg and the honesty in her story make this historical fiction well worth reading.” Publishers Weekly
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Is It Night Or Day?
By Fern Schumer Chapman
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2010 Fern Schumer Chapman
All rights reserved.
NOBODY TOLD ME ANYTHING
The first long train trip I ever took in Germany was my last. Now I see that it was a funeral procession. The mourners traveling with me were my father, my mother, and Mina, a Christian girl who lived with my family and was as dear to me as my big sister, Betty. We were burying my childhood.
The train would take us from our little town of Stockstadt am Rhein all the way to Bremen, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) away. Only once had I been so far away from home: a year earlier, my parents had borrowed our uncle's car, and we had taken Betty to the Bremen port to see her off when she left for America. Until then, I had never even ridden my bike farther than the next town. From that trip with Betty and from my geography class, I knew that Bremen was a big city, a port where huge ships came and went, day and night. Soon I would board one of those ships and sail to America, all by myself.
Chicago. I was going to Chicago, the city where Betty now lived with her new family. We had not studied that place in my geography class. But I knew from her address that Chicago was in a state called Illinois. I didn't even know what a state was, but I knew Illinois was in this distant place called America, which my father sometimes called das gelobte Land, "the promised land." It felt like I was going to the moon.
"Show me your passport." My father's voice broke through my thoughts as I stared out the train's window. The wheels screeched, steam puffing up off the tracks. Without taking my gaze from the window, I held up the passport dangling from a string around my neck. We all jerked backward as the train began to move. The local church, our school, my house on Rheinfeldstrasse, drifted past us, each a perfect postcard. The train picked up speed: the pictures blurred.
My father was still talking. "Now, Tiddy, your ticket is right here, too," he said, patting the breast pocket of his best wool coat. "You remember, we're sending a telegram to Onkel Jakob, your uncle in America. The Jewish group organizing the trip will let him know when to meet you. In Chicago, yes? Tiddy?"
Onkel Jakob? I'd never met Onkel Jakob. How would I know him when I saw him? I certainly couldn't ask anyone, since I couldn't speak English. And Onkel Jakob, who went to America nearly thirty years ago — would he still speak German?
I knew only one story about this Onkel, my father's eldest brother, who had emigrated in 1910. My father had told me that Jakob enlisted in the ambulance corps, not the infantry, in the United States Army. He feared that if he served in the infantry, he might find himself pointing a gun at the head of one of his two brothers serving on the German side.
His youngest brother, my father, Siegmund, was proud to have served the Fatherland in the Great War and proud of the medal he'd won — the famous Iron Cross, trimmed in white, with the year 1914 engraved on its face. Captured by the Russians and held as a prisoner of war, he learned to speak Russian. That made him fluent in five languages.
My father believed absolutely in Germany, and so he was stunned by the anti-Semitism that swept the country in the 1930s. "I can't believe my comrades would turn against me," he often muttered as he fingered the Iron Cross that was displayed on a bookshelf in our living room.
His ancestors — my ancestors — had been among the town's original settlers. The old records showed that the Westerfelds had lived in Stockstadt long before Germany was Germany, for more than two hundred years. My parents had told me that we were descended from refugees who had fled the Spanish Inquisition and settled — a few families here, a few families there — in the towns and cities of northern Europe. Only one other Jewish family, my mother's ancestors, came to Stockstadt. Their descendants, my mother's cousins, had fled to America a few years ago, when things started to get bad for Jews. After my parents sent my sister away, only four Jews — my mother, my father, my grandmother, and I — were left in the town of two thousand people.
I'd often heard my parents talk about how Hitler urged towns to make themselves "free of Jews." Now, a large sign in front of a village hall caught my eye as the train sped past. Judenfrei, it said. That town had met its goal.
But not in our town. In Stockstadt, there would still be three.
Why hadn't we all left together? Months, then years, had slipped away as my parents tried to decide what we should do. My mother wanted the whole family to emigrate together, but my father couldn't persuade his mother, who lived with us, to leave. In 1721, the Westerfelds had built our home, a large German Tudor held together with straw and manure, and carefully maintained and handed down from one generation to the next. My father's mother, Oma Sarah, often reminded us that this was her home; she had always lived within these walls, this town, this country.
"I was born a German," she would tell my father whenever he pressed her to leave, "and I will die a German."
My father wouldn't go without his mother. For the longest time, he thought that things eventually would change in Germany and, he'd say, things really weren't too bad. As long as the laws weren't too restrictive, as long as he could bring in money by buying and selling local produce, as long as he could believe that Hitler wouldn't last, he could wait. "Der Vierer geht, aber der Fünfer kommt," he'd say: "The year '34 is going away, but '35 is coming." In German, it was a pun that suggested the Führer, Hitler, would be gone.
Still, my father didn't want to take any chances with his daughters. He and my mother debated endlessly, weighing my sister's and my safety in Germany against an unknown life in a foreign country without them. How could children survive thousands of miles away from their mother and father? He couldn't bear that thought, so he filed the papers for passports and permission for all of us to emigrate together, hoping that Oma Sarah, who never changed her mind about anything, might consider leaving the only home she and her Westerfeld ancestors ever knew.
The day my father nearly "died a German," he realized things were much worse than he had thought. He had gone to the tavern across the street from our house. Often, after work, he would have a beer with some of our Stockstadt neighbors. As he walked in that evening, a group of rowdy men — many of them my father's customers, and some his grammar school classmates — were clanking beer steins and singing loudly. Several turned to face my father, stuck out their arms, and said "Heil Hitler," and burst into the Nazi national anthem, "Das Deutschlandlied."
My father, whom Betty and I called Vati, turned and left. But a few men followed, chasing him into our main street, Rheinfeldstrasse. He ducked into the stairwell at the village hall, hoping to lose them, but they saw where he went. He struggled, pushing against the glass door to keep it closed. The men counted together, Eins, zwei, drei, then heaved, shoving the door open. Vati was trapped. Calling him dreckiger Jude — "filthy Jew" — the men kicked and beat him until he lost consciousness.
Some time later — he had no idea how long — with swollen eyes, purplish lips, and a bloody nose dripping onto his blue-and-white-checked work shirt, he staggered through our front door, smelling of vomit and beer.
"Siegmund!" my mother shrieked, and ran to steady him. "Was ist denn mit dir passiert? What happened to you?"
For a month he lay in bed, recovering from broken ribs, bruised kidneys, and a ruptured spleen. Some days, it seemed he just lay there, staring out the bedroom window all day long. Finally, on the first day he was up and around again, he told my mother that he could see only one solution to the anti-Semitism in Germany. "We must send our daughters to safety in America."
I knew this only from what I saw and what I was able to piece together from bits of conversations I'd overheard. Nobody told me anything. Even when Betty left, no one said much; we behaved as if her trip were just a brief separation, a temporary inconvenience before we would all be together again in America. My parents could not bring themselves to speak of the possibility that we might never see one another again.
Betty was only fourteen then, but she seemed so much older to me. Just before she left, she had lost some of her baby fat, and her thick, dark hair framed her face, showing off her high cheekbones, clear skin, and beautiful brown eyes. I figured if I ever had to go to America, I'd be all right if I could live with Betty! When I told Vati this, he said that he couldn't necessarily arrange that. "We take what we can get, Tiddy."
Now they were sending me away and, though Betty and I would be in the same city, I was going to live with relatives, many miles from my sister, who was living with a foster family my parents and I didn't know. That family had agreed to take in Betty as a companion for their only daughter.
On the train, my father was saying, "When you get to Chicago, Tiddy, see how you might raise some money so that we can join you." Until recently, money hadn't been a problem for our family. But in the last few years it had become difficult for my father to make a living and he had spent most of his savings on passports, tickets, and bribes to get Betty and me out of Germany.
I turned to face him. "Your Onkel Jakob will help you send us the money," he continued.
I stared hard, scarcely listening, working instead to photograph my father's face in my mind, so I would always remember him. He was just forty-three, but he looked ancient. His deep brown eyes never sparkled anymore. It had been months since I'd seen the fine net of tiny wrinkles that appeared around his eyes when he smiled. And my mother — Mutti — I couldn't remember how she used to look. Young, I suppose. Nothing like the dead-eyed figure before me. These were people I knew, but barely recognized.
Once, we were the Westerfelds of Stockstadt, an old family completely accepted by the community. My father, a respected civic leader, had helped each of our neighbors at one time or another; no farmer had ever sold a crop without Siegmund Westerfeld's services. Every year of our young lives before the trouble started, Betty and I had gone to our neighbors' homes to help trim their Christmas trees; they would come light the menorah with us at Hanukkah and eat matzo at Passover.
All the neighbors helped one another out. When Mina was thirteen, she came to live with us because her family couldn't support all their seven children. She did chores around our house in exchange for free room and board. It was a loose arrangement and, as years passed, Mina became another sister to Betty and me. We even took a family portrait with all of us: Oma Sarah, Vati, Mutti, Betty, Mina, and me.
But now, suddenly, we were filth, Jews polluting the village. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws cut us off completely, and after living in our town for more than two hundred years, the Westerfelds were no longer citizens. We couldn't vote, couldn't go to the theater or concerts or restaurants. We were still tolerated in the public school, but there were no more music lessons for Betty and me; Mr. Klaus, our mandolin teacher, told my father that even though Betty showed talent and he would have liked to work with her, he was not allowed to teach Jews anymore. Worse than that, Vati couldn't open his shop's doors to sell feed and supplies to the farmers.
Yet even then we didn't think of ourselves as Jews. We were Germans. I was young, and I didn't really understand how everything had changed, not till several weeks after Betty had gone to America — on my birthday, May 6, 1937, when I turned twelve.
We had always celebrated my birthday with a party; usually Betty, Mina, and the seven girls in my class came. This year, we sent out postcard invitations with a pretty drawing of four girlfriends seated at a formal table, all looking at the birthday girl. Wirfreuen uns, wenn Ihr um vier Uhr zu einer schönen Tasse Kaffee zu uns kommt, it said. "We will be happy for you to join us for a special coffee at four o'clock." My mother baked my favorite yellow cake with vanilla frosting. Mina and I set the table with our best tablecloth, napkins, and china.
Betty and I had created a special birthday ritual: the birthday girl always sat at the head of the table with her sister next to her on the right, in what we called der Ehrensitz, "the seat of honor." Every birthday I could remember, Betty was always there, right next to me, ready to help me blow out all the candles. But this year Betty was gone. I didn't want anyone else in her seat. Her chair would stay empty.
Long before four o'clock I was ready, wearing a new, pale pink party dress and a birthday hat. Through the front window, I eyed the brick pathway to the door, waiting for my first guest.
Mina, who was seventeen now, couldn't resist teasing me. "Tiddy," she said, giggling, "you're twelve years old! Try not to act like a six-year-old who can't wait for the party to start."
As four o'clock approached, Mutti busied herself making the traditional apple punch while Mina straightened the silverware and put a pitcher of milk on the table. Every few minutes, I jumped up to look out the window and see if anyone was at the door. After half an hour, I began to wonder if we had written the wrong time or date on the invitations. After forty-five minutes, I started to think: Had I done something that made all my friends mad? Finally, around five o'clock, I realized that nobody was coming. All the chairs, not just Betty's, would be empty.
As I took off my party hat and hung up my new pink dress, I began to understand. I hadn't changed, but everything around me had. Later that evening, Vati found me in my room, a lump on the bed, with one of Oma Sarah's handmade quilts over my head. I didn't want anyone to see my red eyes and swollen face.
"This isn't your fault, Tiddy," Vati said, trying to pull down the quilt. I wouldn't let him.
"But it's my birthday." I choked on my words from under the quilt.
"It's ... it's Germany, Tiddy. It's all of Germany."
But he couldn't really explain it. No one could.
One afternoon, shortly after my birthday, I went to the local movie theater. Betty and I had always gone to the movies on Sunday. After she left, I didn't like going by myself, and Mina rarely joined me because she had chores to do.
On this Sunday, Vati gave me ten pfennigs for the show and insisted that I go. But when I got there, Mr. Lutz, the man who owned the small movie theater just two blocks from our house, wouldn't let me in.
"Heute nicht, morgen nicht, nie, nie wieder. Not today," he snapped, "Not tomorrow. Never, never again."
Tears filled my eyes. "Please, Mr. Lutz. Let me sneak in when it's dark, after the show starts." I couldn't imagine that he would say no. I often had babysat for his youngest daughter, Marie. "You can start the show and then open the door for me."
His cold, blue-eyed stare gave me little hope, but I kept trying. "I'll slip out through the side door before the lights come back on."
Mr. Lutz's face softened slightly.
"Nobody will see me, I promise," I pleaded, with what Vati called my puppy dog eyes.
I knew Mr. Lutz felt sorry for me. Every kid in town went to the Sunday afternoon movies.
"No one will know what you did," I whispered.
When he finally let me in, it was a double thrill. Not only did I get to see the movie, but in a small way, I, Tiddy Westerfeld, was beating the Nazis. For weeks afterward, I would tiptoe into the dark of the theater and sit alone at the far end of the very last row, watching the seven girls in my class, sitting together in the front row, laughing as they mimicked the actors on the screen. Not so long ago, I had sat there, too, laughing with them. When I looked away from my classmates and thought about what I was doing, my heart would pound so hard, I was sure someone would hear it. At any moment a Nazi in uniform might appear, the white in his armband glowing in the dark; someone would grab me by the elbow, call me a dreckiger Jude, and take me away.
Around this time, my parents started staying up late, studying maps, organizing piles of papers, and whispering on the phone (we had the first telephone in Stockstadt). Many nights they didn't even notice when I went to bed. My father now spent his days standing in line at consulates; at home my mother paced back and forth, sighing and crying.
"What's wrong, Mutti?" I would follow behind her, trying to get her attention.
"Nothing, nothing." She waved me away, as if shooing a fly.
"But why are you so upset?"
"Some things aren't for children to know, Tiddy."
But I knew.
Every Saturday at synagogue, the parents whispered, trying to keep details from the young. But that only made us more curious, and we listened more closely. And some things were hard to miss. Our congregation had always taken turns meeting in two neighboring towns, Erfelden and Biebesheim, because so few Jews lived throughout the area. Lately, someone had painted ugly anti-Jewish slogans on both synagogues' doors. Many of our friends spoke of Brown-shirts — the Nazi police — blocking the entrances of their shops and preventing customers from entering, posting big signs that warned Deutsche kauft nicht bei Juden — "Germans don't buy from Jews."
Every week, at Hebrew School, the students were buzzing about what they'd seen or heard. Twice a week, I rode my bike to Rabbi Rubenstein's home in Crumstadt to study Hebrew with most of the Jewish children who lived in the neighboring villages.
Excerpted from Is It Night Or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman. Copyright © 2010 Fern Schumer Chapman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Fern Schumer Chapman is the author of Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Daughter's Journey to Reclaim the Past, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. She lives in northern Illinois.
Fern Schumer Chapman is the author of Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Daughter’s Journey to Reclaim the Past, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. She lives in northern Illinois.
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I loved this book so much im actully going to buy from barnes and nobles. I had to read this book over summer break for school. When i saw this book on the list i searched for it read the preview thing and i was like omg i want this book so bad. I read the book and it made me relize what my ancestors went through. Im not jewish but i am german thats why this book means a lot to me. I was so mad when i heard what hitler did i just wanted to cry. He perscuted innocent people and especially jews for no reason. I dont want anything like that to happen ever again just because your a certian religon means a new hitler all over again. :( This book Is It Night Or Day? really puts a mark in history. I would read all of it even the "authors note" thats at the end it helped me understand it all and even a little bit more.
I think it is a very good book and some times you you just hold her andtellher going to be ok Also she cant really remeber her partans when she on the boat like how she cant really reamember the sound of her mothers voice
I JUST finished this book, and i LOVED IT. My favorite part was the VERY ending. I DO recomend it. It made me relize how lucky i am to have my life. Read it.....You will love it :)
This story i chose to read this book for La class becuase we had to read a book on the hollocost and i luv this book i wish the ful version was free immaalmost done with the one in rl and i don't know if its gonna be sad but peoplsay it is its very interesting i couldkeep on reading
I actually got this book from the library and i loved it sooo much anyone will love this bok i cried and felt her pain it was like i knew her it was just an amazing book that will touch your heart
Is It Night or Day? raises awareness about a rarely discussed topic, child-immigrants assimilating into American culture. Edith, who represents scores of child-immigrants, suffers with waves of confusion and emptiness. Classmates bully her while she is acclimating into American classrooms. Prejudice hurts Edith many times over. She grapples with a greater identity crisis than before leaving her motherland. She is forced to ask herself questions that plague many adolescents: Who am I? Do I belong? Will I ever be loved again? Fern Schumer Chapman's Is It Night or Day? and her memoir, Motherland, capture childhood trauma and the legacy that results. Both are important works that appeal to young adults and adults. They raise interesting topics for book clubs and are a valuable addition to school curriculums.
I feal like I am tiddy
Day and nught wawaw i toss and keep stress in my mond at night aaat night. Slow mooo wawa when i hit that slow everyone is whatin meme