Tuesday 21 May 2024

Read an excerpt from Stumbling Stones by Bonnie Suchman


Stumbling Stones
By Bonnie Suchman

Publication Date: 9th May 2024
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Page Length: 282 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

"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?


The weekend following the incident at the Westend Synagogue was the opening weekend of the summer season for the Frankfurt bath resorts. Frankfurt had a number of public bath resorts along the Main River, but the Heppenheimer family had always gone to the Nierderrad Licht- und Luftbad (Light and Air Bath). Located on a peninsula in the Main River, the bath had a sand beach, a river pool, and a café. When Alice was a child, the facilities were rather primitive. But while she was living in Nuremberg, the city had added changing rooms and showers. And while the consumption of alcohol was forbidden through the 1920s, the café began serving wine and beer in 1933. After Alice returned to Frankfurt, one of her favorite activities in the summer was to spend an entire Sunday at the Nierderrad bath, swimming in the pool and enjoying the afternoon with family or friends.
Unfortunately for Frankfurt’s Jews, the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws impacted this coveted summer leisure activity. While Jews could frequent any of the public baths before those laws were passed, beginning in the summer of 1937, Jews in Frankfurt could only visit the Nierderrad Light and Air Bath. Asit turned out, this was one of the few new directives that did not affect Alice, since she had always gone to the Nierderrad Bath. And that was Alice’s plan for the first Sunday the bath was open.
Alice woke early that Sunday morning and was just too excited to remain in bed. She began packing the wicker basket with enough food for lunch and an afternoon snack, taking her time as she made the sandwiches. Alfred and Alice had planned to pick up Selma and Emma around 10 am, and the four of them would take the tram to the bath. Fortunately for Alice, Leo would not be joining them – he claimed it would be too hot for him. After she finished preparing all of the food for the day, Alice still had an hour before they needed to leave, and so sat down with a cup of coffee and read yesterday’s paper. Alice didn’t mind the wait -- it was nice to just sit and not have to work.
Just before 10 am, Alice and Alfred left the apartment and walked to Selma’s apartment. Of course, when they arrived, Emma was not even close to being ready. But Alice expected that her mother would be late and joined her sister in the kitchen. Selma inspected the food basket, made a face at Alice, and then replaced much of what Alice had packed with food she had prepared. Alice laughed, but did not object. When Emma was finally ready, the four left the apartment and walked to the tram stop. As they boarded the tram, they could see others carrying baskets for a day at the bath. As they continued the ride, Alice could see the car filling with more and more Jews taking the tram to the Niederrad Bath. Alice thought to herself, regardless of all the other challenges in their lives, today, Frankfurt’s Jews were going to enjoy a day in the sun. That was certainly the case for Alice.
The tram stopped just outside the gates of the bath, and virtually everyone exited the tram. They all walked up to the ticket booth to pay the small admission fee. The Jewish community had been forced to lease the bath from the city for the 1937 summer season, and the fee was intended to cover the cost of the lease. After entering the facilities, the ladies went to the right and Alfred went to the left to change into their bathing suits. After they finished changing, Alfred rented four chairs and an umbrella and then the four found a place to settle for the day.
Alice and Selma had taken swimming lessons as children and both immediately went into the pool to swim. Emma did not like the water, but enjoyed watching her daughters swim. Alfred was afraid of the water, but was happy to sit in a chair and read his book. He also enjoyed talking to his mother-in-law. Emma had been raised by a religious scholar and Alfred had attended an orthodox yeshiva. Alfred was no longer religious, but Emma still attended services when she could and liked to discuss the week’s Torah portion with Alfred when they were together. Emma’s scholarly father believed it was important for all of his children to receive a Jewish education, and Emma was happy to share that knowledge in conversations with her son-in-law. At some point, Alice stopped swimming and looked over at her mother and Alfred. It was clear they were arguing over some point and having fun. Without having to worry about whether Alice or Selma would be bored by the conversation, the two could enjoy challenging each other with various arguments, which they were clearly doing. But it was always in good fun, and neither ever left the discussion with bruised egos, so Alice went back to her swim.
Around noon, Alice opened the food basket. Alfred had already walked to the café for cold drinks. The sun was strong, but the breeze from the river kept everyone comfortable as they ate their lunch. After lunch, Alice decided to take a nap, and was soon sound asleep. Deep into a dream, Alice could hear her name and woke with a start. She stared at Alfred.
“What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
Alfred smiled at her. “Nothing has happened. I am sorry I startled you. They are about to start the boat races and I thought you would want to watch.”
Alice took a deep breath to calm herself. “I was dreaming that you were being chased by Nazis and then I heard you call my name in the dream. I thought something bad had happened. But it was just a dream. Yes, let’s go watch the races. Where are Selma and Mama?”
“Your mom was getting a bit warm, so Selma took her to the café for a cold coffee.”
The Jewish sports club Schild was on the peninsula next to the Nierderrad bath and had built a boathouse in the 1920s. Following the restriction on Jewish participation in all sporting events, Schild invited other Jewish boat clubs to store their boats at the boathouse and then organized rowing races to run through the summer. The first rowing race was about to start when Alice and Alfred reached the shoreline. There were so many people there to watch the race that Alice and Alfred had trouble seeing the river. Six boats were in the water and then the gun went off to start the race. People started to cheer for their team and Alice and Alfred soon found themselves cheering for Schild. The race lasted about a minute and Schild was victorious. Alice and Alfred hugged each other and then hugged others who had been cheering for Schild.
There were several other boat races, but Alice and Alfred decided to take a walk instead along the path that followed the water. Others were also walking along the path, and Alice and Alfred stopped to chat with several people they knew. Alfred noticed someone selling ices and bought them both ices. They reached their chairs as they were finishing their ices. Selma was reading and Emma was napping.
“Welcome back. How were the races?”
“We only watched the first race. Schild won, which was pretty exciting. Then Alfred and I took a walk along the water. How is Mama doing?”
“I think Mama might be ready to leave.”
“I am also ready to leave. Let’s pack up everything and then we can wake Mama. We can all change in the changing rooms and then head home.”
By the time they left the bath, it was nearly 3 pm. The tram arrived almost immediately after they reached the stop, and it soon filled with other Jews, exhausted from their day at Niederrad Bath. Alfred found a seat for Emma and Selma, but he and Alice were forced to stand. That was okay, Alice thought. The ride would be relatively quick. As the tram started to empty of bathers, Alice could hear several teenage boys in the back bothering an elderly Jewish couple.
Alfred looked at Alice and shook his head. “Alice, say nothing. Just look to the front of the tram. Out stop is next.”
As soon as the tram stopped, Alice and Selma helped up their mother and the four quickly left the tram. I hope that couple is okay, Alice thought to herself. But she knew it would not have helped them if she had tried to intervene. What could she or Alfred have been able to do? They actually could have made things worse. She tried not to think about the couple as they walked her sister and mother home.
Alice was singing to herself as she prepared dinner that evening. Nothing fancy, just a cold soup and a cold chicken salad. She could hear Alfred enter the kitchen. Her hugged her from behind and kissed the back of her neck.
“Well, someone is in a particularly good mood.”
“I am. It was just a really nice day. The weather was perfect and it was nice not to have to worry about being hassled by people that hate you. The only bad thing that happened to me today was that my shoulders got a little too much sun. But being there today makes me think maybe we can wait out this craziness. Maybe if the Nazis gave us our own space to live, we could be okay.”
“I know what you mean about feeling safe in a place. It was really nice to be in a place where it was okay to be Jewish. But that was only because the Nazi won’t let Jews visit the other baths.
And we are not safe even in places that are just for Jews. Remember what happened last week at the concert in the synagogue? Today was just a respite from reality. We will never be truly safe as long as we are in Germany. And I believe it will only get worse. We need to leave as soon as we can.”
“I agree. Still, it was nice to feel totally safe, at least for a few hours. Hopefully, we will feel that all the time once we are in America.”

Pick up your copy of
Stumbling Stones

Bonnie Suchman

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.

Connect with Bonnie:

#HistoricalFiction #WWII #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub 


  1. I have added Stumbling Stones to my ever growing to-read list. Thank you for sharing, Team Yarde!

  2. Thank you so much for hosting Bonnie Suchman today. Much appreciated.

    Take care,
    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club


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