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TitleLetters of stone
AuthorRobins, Steven Lance
SubjectCreative writing
TypeThesis / Dissertation
AbstractIncludes bibliographical references.
AbstractAs a young boy growing up in Port Elizabeth in the 1960s and 1970s, Steven Robins was haunted by an old postcard-size photograph of three unknown women on the mantelpiece. Only later did he learn that the women were his father’s mother and sisters, photographed in Berlin in 1937, before they were killed in the Holocaust. Having changed his name from Robinski to Robins, Steven’s father communicated nothing about his European past, and he said nothing about his flight from Nazi Germany or the fate of his family who remained there, until Steven, now a young anthropologist, interviewed him in the year before he died. Steven became obsessed with finding out what happened to the women in the photograph, but the information from his father was scant. The first breakthrough came when he discovered facts about their fates in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and the Landesarchiv in Berlin, and the second when he discovered over a hundred letters sent to his father and uncle from the family in Berlin from 1936 to 1943. Steven was finally able to read the words of the women who before had been unnamed faces in a photograph. Letters of Stone tracks Steven’s journey of discovery about the lives and fates of the Robinski family. It is also a book about geographical journeys: to the Karoo town of Williston, where his father’s uncle settled in the late nineteenth century and became mayor; to Berlin, where Steven laid ‘Stumbling Stones’ (Stolpersteine) in commemoration of his family who were victims of the Holocaust; to Auschwitz, where his father’s siblings perished. It also explores the complicity of Steven’s discipline of anthropology through the story of Eugen Fischer, who studied the “Basters” who moved from the Karoo to Rehoboth in German South West Africa, providing the foundation for Nazi racial science; through the ways in which a mixture of nationalism and eugenics resulted in Jews being refused entry to South Africa and other countries in the 1930s; and via disturbing discoveries concerning the discipline of Volkekunde (Ethnology) at Steven’s own university Stellenbosch. Most of all, this book is a poignant reconstruction of a family trapped in an increasingly terrifying and deadly Nazi state, and about the immense pressure on Steven’s father in faraway South Africa, which forced him to retreat into silence.
PublisherUniversity of Cape Town
PublisherFaculty of Humanities
PublisherDepartment of English Language and Literature
IdentifierRobins, S. 2015. Letters of stone. University of Cape Town.