Title: Letters of Stone: From Nazi Germany to South Africa
Author: Steven Robins
This book was a Book Club, which I must admit I would not have ordinarily read because of the subject matter. I surprisingly I enjoyed it.
Steven Robbins maps out his family’s history in this book. An exploration of history that is borne out of curiosity over a family photo that had been in his life for as long as he could remember. Although Robins had always known, growing up, that his father and members his father’s family had either died in concentration camps in Nazi Germany or managed to escape to other countries, he had not quite known the extent to which their plight informed his father’s entire character. Robins writes that all his life, his father never spoke of the heartbreaking demise that befell his family in Nazi Germany.
This discovery of the author’s family history and subsequent travels to Germany all begin with a curiosity around a family photo. From herewith the author takes it upon himself to delve into his family history and the roots that lead him back to Germany. Back to a family that was quite desperate to flee a changing Nazi Germany.
The fear of the unknown, inevitable, is palpable throughout the book. The hope that the German Jews hold for a merciful and kind Germany is quickly dispelled as their hopes for escaping a changing and highly anti-semitic Germany becomes a reality. The author moves back and forth between then modern-day South Africa and the hopelessness that gripped Germany in the height of the Nazi regime.
Robbins’ trace of his family’s history is admirable, given that its genesis was a mere photograph, and that he was dealing with subjects – namely his father – that were reluctant to share the atrocities of his past.
The reader learns of the desperation and the need for escape that defined the Robinksy family. The brothers that managed to escape on time, but went on to live with the guilt and a sense of responsibility that can only be understood by survivors.
The title of the book is likely related to the ‘stolpersteines’ (stumbling stones) to be found in Germany – essentially pave stones that mark the homes of the numerous Jews and Germans who fell foul to the laws and regime of the day. Today they mark the presence of those who lived in the places where the stones were placed but were disappeared in the height of the Nazi regime and its atrocities.
This was an interesting read, especially in terms of learning of South Africa’s and neighbouring Namibia’s relationship with Nazi Germany. The scientific and political policies espoused by the regimes back then, all supposedly supported the science of Eugenics – then recognized as a legitimate stream of scientific theory.
A history book, filled with revelations of the inhumane, racist and anti-semitic policies of the day. A revelation into the history of South Africa’s jews, as well as the Rehoboth Basters of Namibia – a people who were the result of the local Khoi/ Africans and Germans and French settlers.
This book is worth a read if looking for the historical background of the international effects of the Nazi regime on world politics.