Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue

Silent as a Stone is a children’s book about a community of rescuers in Nazi-occupied Paris. The central figure is Mother Maria Skobtsova, an unconventional nun who choose to emerge herself in urban life and the urgent needs of her neighbors.

Confronting the horror of Nazi brutality, Mother Maria devised an ingenious plan to save Jewish children destined for extermination camps: Paris garbage collectors, upon her urging, hid the children in trash cans. They were later taken to safe havens outside the city.

For her selfless rescue activities, Mother Maria perished in a gas chamber in Ravensbrück camp in Germany in 1945. Today, she is among the “righteous gentiles” honored by Israel and a canonized saint in the Orthodox Church.

The book includes a three-page afterword for older children, parents and educators with more information about the life of Mother Maria and her collaborators.

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Mother Maria is a saint of our day and for our day; a woman of flesh and blood possessed by the love of God, who stood face to face with the problems of this century.” — +Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

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Silent as a Stone captured the attention of my little ones from the moment we began reading the beautiful story together. The rich prose and artwork combine seamlessly to tell a captivating story of survival, hope, and the deepest faith in God’s power to provide for those who call upon him in earnest. Part holocaust history lesson, part hagiography, part inspirational tale, the book illumines this brief chapter in Mother Maria Skobstoba’s life in a way that will cause readers young and old alike to crave more stories about this wonderful modern saint.

— Heather Zydek, author of Basil’s Search for Miracles

In the spirit of Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey and Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt, Silent as a Stone conveys the hope and heartbreak of life in a bite-size form that children can manage. Stunningly illustrated and tenderly told, Silent as a Stone tells the story of three unforgettable lives and the countless lives they touched. Mother Maria, Yuri, and Fr. Dimitri serve as examples to us all — and especially to our children — who must find the path of love through our broken world.”

— Jenny Schroedel, author of The Blackbird’s Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland and The Everything Saints Book.

Silent as a Stone is an incredible resource for the Orthodox Christian community to learn about the heroic and courageous deeds of Mother Maria. Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press should be commended for bringing this story to light and honoring Mother Maria with such a beautifully illustrated and inspiring book.

— Rachel Kamin, Director, Temple Israel Libraries & Media Center

sample pages

Jim Forest has brought us many wonderful books about the spiritual life, looks at icons and praying with them, a recent exceptional vision of pilgrimage as a way of life: The Road to Emmaus, his fine biography of Thomas Merton, Living with Wisdom, and The Ladder of the Beatitudes, to cite only a few. This children’s book takes the reader into a terrible time, one in which whole families were swept up, put into horrendous conditions of imprisonment in concentration camps, the result for most being disease and death. In the midst of such darkness we encounter the light and hope and goodness of a woman honored after her own death as “Righteous among the Gentiles.” This is the new saint, Mother Maria Skobtsova, a fascinating, unusual example of holiness in our time. Jim Forest weaves his lovely, spare text with Dasha Pacheshnaya’s extraordinary color drawings, most based on historical photos fo Mother Maria, Fr. Dmitri Klepinine, the hostel at Rue de Lourmel in the 15th arrondisment of Paris and the cycling stadium, Vel d’Hiver, where the French Jews were held. The story though turned into a narrative is based on first hand accounts of what Mother Maria was able to do in her visits to the stadium in th sweltering June days of 1942, as those rounded up awaited transport to the camps. Not only children but all of us need images of goodness in the face of great despair and evil. This wonderful story provide just that.

–Michael Plekon, author of Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church

“No matter how much love you give, you never have less.” Mother Maria said long ago. Mother Maria shows this in the book, Silent as a Stone. When Mother Maria of Paris finds out that the Nazi soldiers are going to send Jewish men, women, and children to concentration camps, she is crushed. When she goes to comfort all of the Jewish people, almost all of them have one request, to save their children. She knows she must help in some way. So, she constructs a plan with her garbage collecting friend, Pierre, to put Jewish children in trash cans. There, they must be silent as a stone.

Dasha Pancheshnaya really did a wonderful job with the illustrations in this book. She showed how characters felt in her drawings. Everyone and everything looks so realistically drawn, especially the detail work. Her drawings complete the story.

My absolute favorite part was the historical note. It tells you a lot about how Elizaveta Plenko came to be Mother Maria. She grew up in an Orthodox Christian home with her parents in Latvia. She was known a Liza by her friends and family. Liza’s father died when she was fourteen, and she didn’t believe in God for a period of time. It was a while until she believed again. By that time, she was in Paris and had a family. When her daughter died of influenza, she became devastated, and turned to God for help. Then, her eyes were opened, and she now knew her purpose in life was to help people and teach the way of God. It was then she became Mother Maria.

Over all, I give this book five stars. The book left me speechless. I was enthralled by Jim Forest’s writing. Dasha Pancheshnaya’s colored pencil drawings are amazing. If you like historical fiction and vivid pictures, Silent as a Stone is for you!

— Review written for Jacob’s Well by Elisabeth Graham, a sixth-grade student in New Jersey

Silent as Stone is based on the real life of Mother Maria, a Russian woman who immigrated to Paris during the Revolution, and later became a nun. During World War II, Mother Maria was a beacon of hope for many people, including French Jews. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of how she managed to save Jewish children during the war. In 1942, when the Jews of Paris were herded into a stadium, Mother Maria went there to see what comfort she could provide. Seeing the fear and misery all around her, she plotted with the French trash collectors working there to smuggle out Jewish children in trash cans.

She worked tirelessly to save as many people as she could until she was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where she later died.

This inspiring story demonstrates that anyone can choose to do the right thing, even in the face of the worst kind of danger. It is a story of hope, courage and faith that is a welcome addition for any library.

— Nancy Austein, in recommending the book for the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award given by the Association of Jewish Libraries

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The Author: Journalism and peace work have been major ingredients in author Jim Forest’s life. He is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, In Communion. He is a recipient of the Peacemaker Award from Notre Dame University’s Institute for International Peace Studies. He is a prolific writer of inspirational, historical, and bio-graphical books, most recently of The Wormwood File: E-Mail from Hell. Jim makes his home in Alkmaar, Holland, near Amsterdam. He is father to six children and grandfather to four. Silent as a Stone is his third children’s book.

The illustrator: Dasha Pancheshnaya was born in Moscow, Russia in 1980 and immigrated to the United States with her family in 1991. She holds a BFA in Illustration from the Fashion Institute of Technology and presently participates in various disciplines of visual art including graphic design and illustration. Influenced by Russian artists of the nineteenth century, masters of the Italian Renaissance, and Art Nouveau, she currently is a student of the Prosopon School of Iconology.

ISBN 978-088141-314

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