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Tour: Stumbling Stones by Bonnie Suchman

Book details:

Book Title: Stumbling Stones

Series: n/a

Author: Bonnie Suchman

Publication Date: May 9, 2024

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Page Length: 282

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"Alice knew that Selma sometimes felt judged by their mother and didn't always like it when Alice was praised and Selma was not. Alice glanced over at her sister, but Selma was smiling at Alice. In what Alice understood might be Selma's last act of generosity towards her sister, Selma was going to let Alice bask in the glow of Emma's pride toward her elder daughter. Then the three shared a hug, a hug that seemed to last forever."

Alice Heppenheimer, born into a prosperous German Jewish family around the turn of the twentieth century, comes of age at a time of growing opportunities for women.

So, when she turns 21 years old, she convinces her strict family to allow her to attend art school, and then pursues a career in women's fashion. Alice prospers in her career and settles into married life, but she could not anticipate a Nazi Germany, where simply being Jewish has become an existential threat. Stumbling Stones is a novel based on the true story of a woman driven to achieve at a time of persecution and hatred, and who is reluctant to leave the only home she has ever known.

But as strong and resilient as Alice is, she now faces the ultimate challenge - will she and her husband be able to escape Nazi Germany or have they waited too long to leave?

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Since the Nazis came to power in 1933, there had been many bad days for Alice. Max’s suicide, Kristallnacht, the forced closure of her business. But as Alice crossed the threshold to her empty apartment, she thought to herself that today was one of the worst.

When Alfred was arrested after Kristallnacht, he was gone for nearly two months. That time felt like forever to Alice. As she put down her purse on the table near the door, she thought, “What if, this time, he never comes home?” She knew about men who had died in Buchenwald. Alfred could have been one of those men. He could be beaten in jail, or could be sent away to one of the camps she had been reading about. But as quickly as she thought of those horrible eventualities, she shook her head and said to herself, “No. I will not dwell on ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes.’ It would not help me or Alfred.” Instead, Alice went into the kitchen, made herself a quick dinner and then sat down at the dining room table. Yesterday’s paper was on the table, and she decided to read it while she was eating. That should calm her down.

The Frankfurter Zeitung had been founded by a Jew and had been a great supporter of the Weimar Republic, but was now little more than an arm of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda. Still, Alfred liked to read the paper, trying to ignore the more troubling articles, and Alice often skimmed the headlines after Alfred was finished. Alice sat down with her dinner at the table, opened the paper, and scanned the articles. Nothing really interested her as she turned one page after another. And then she came to an article titled “Degenerate Art Exhibit Opens Today in Frankfurt.” The article included a picture of Government officials attending an exhibit that had been travelling through Germany. Alice had read about this exhibit when it was first announced in 1937. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, had ordered the confiscation of over twenty thousand works of art from Germany’s art museums and had created this exhibit with some of those works. It had taken about two years to reach Frankfurt. According to the article, the exhibit included the “degenerate” paintings of Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh, and the “Jew” Marc Chagall. Alice had seen the works of all of these artists at Frankfurt’sStädel Museum. It was actually the first time she had ever seen a work by Chagall. She loved the way he used color and structure in his Jewish-themed paintings. The contemporary art rooms at theStädel Museum had been closed in 1933, but the works had sat in a warehouse until they had been confiscated by Goebbels in 1937. These are the great masters, she thought to herself. Alice wanted to open and window and yell, “There is no such thing as degenerate art!!!” She was so angry that she could no longer sit. She got up from the table and started to pace. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. After a few minutes, she could feel herself calming down a little. And then she had an idea.

Alice took out her design folder, the folder where she kept all of her favorite purse and dress designs. She found a few blank sheets of paper. She thought about Chagall’s unique images, Picasso’ unusual shapes, Van Gogh’s bold textures. And then she thought about dresses she would like to design, incorporating all of those ideas. And then she started to draw those designs. The designs flowed from her pencil. It was as if the designs had been stuck behind a dam and the dam had just burst. She could not stop her pencil from moving. She could not stop herself from drawing. She was barely aware that time was passing. She kept drawing and drawing and drawing until her hand finally cramped and she could no longer draw. She looked up and saw that it was after 1 am. She had been drawing non-stop for five hours. She was exhausted. But she was also feeling calmer. She put down her design book and turned off the lights.

Alice went into the bathroom and reached for her metal curlers. For the past few years, she had put her hair in curlers every night, so that she would have her waves in the morning. Previously, she had gone to a hairdresser, who used a permanent wave machine to give her the waves that were so fashionable. And while she could no longer visit the hairdresser, she was not ready to give up her waves, and so she set her hair every night. But what was the point now? Alfred was not home, and who knew when he would be home? And so, for the first time in a long time, Alice went to bed without her curlers, abandoning yet another part of her life.

Bonnie Suchman is an attorney who has been practicing law for forty years. Using her legal skills, she researched her husband's family's 250-year history in Germany, and published a non-fiction book about the family, Broken Promises: The Story of a Jewish Family in Germany. Bonnie found one member of the family, Alice Heppenheimer, particularly compelling. Stumbling Stones tells Alice's story. Bonnie has two adult children and lives in Maryland with her husband, Bruce.


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Tour hosted by: The Coffee Pot Book Club


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Thank you very much for hosting Bonnie Suchman today, with an extract from her moving novel, Stumbling Stones. Take care, Cathie xx The Coffee Pot Book Club

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