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
* "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