As of 2010, there are 22,000 Stolpersteine placed in various countries in Europe. That number grows as more cities and countries get involved in the effort to honor and remember all those whom Hitler tried so hard to erase. I must confess I had not heard of this project until the summer when my children returned from Germany. During their time in Berlin their teacher pointed them out to them and told them about the project. There are currently about 3000 of these markers in Berlin.
What exactly are these Stolpersteine or Stumbling Blocks that are being placed in so many places in Europe? They are markers which allow us to remember an individual who was taken from their home, arrested, deported and murdered. They are not actually stumbling blocks, as that would be dangerous to have that where people walk. They are a 4" x 4" shiny brass looking plaques affixed to a brick in the walkway. They say, Hier Wohnte (here lived), then a person's name, their date of birth, their deportation date, the date of their murder, and which camp it took place. The intention is to grab your eye, in the glimmering sun of day, to remember. Remember what took place in that spot, who that person was.
Part of the German culture class that the students have taken this semester included a scheduled tour of these Stolpersteine in Lubeck. There is a Stolpersteine on the street where the student apartments are. The original building was destroyed in the Palm Sunday bombing of Lubeck in 1942. The two blocks there belong to Fanny Aronsohn and her niece Flora Hess. They died in Riga.
In Lubeck from their website, the stones of the persons from Fischstrasse.
The artist Gunter Demnig began this project in 1993. His idea was that "When another Stumbling Stone is laid in a sidewalk, the name of the former citizen becomes visible in front of the place where he or she last lived of his or her own free will. As a result the individual (in a sense) moves back to the city and the neighbourhood from which he or she was town and is memorialized."
Some interesting things about the project in Lubeck are that it has relatively few blocks places thus far, the project just began in Lubeck in 2002. There was a desire to fill in the blanks regarding the period of National Socialism on behalf of the victims, the effort to fill in the gaps of the history of that time became more important and perhaps more urgent. The project has accomplished approximately 85 placements. The placements are carefully researched by a group of historians, and relatives notified if there are any found. This is done to obtain more information and permission to honor their family member. They notify the current property owners that the placement will take place. Once the stone is ready to be placed the building department is contacted of the city and once placed is it the property of the city.
This artistic project by Gunter Demnig is an effort to memorialize the victims of National Socialism, and in so doing that effort, has become the world's largest memorial.
The world is sustained by art. It's conscious is eased by artistic expression and remembrance. Do not doubt for one minute your purpose as an artist on this earth, whether you are a writer, a painter, a comedian, an actor, how every you make your expression, your work has value in the world. Without us, those who think, create, there would not be the beauty, the remembrance, the exercise to understand, to process, to heal the things that man does to man, that we do to one another. While this cannot help be a sad process here, for a very sad time in history, we know that even now it is offering closure, remembrance, a chance to restore in some small way a part of a whole that was once wrenched away. Does it bring significant relief of guilt to those who still might live from that time, or does it provide a cautionary reminder of what once was and what must never be again. I will leave you to be the judge of that.
This group in Lubeck does not specifically request donations from people outside of Lubeck, they want to involve local people. I think that says a lot right there. I do invite you visit the website and that I have listed and learn more about the project. As it is taking place in many parts of Europe, you might have a personal connection to the project and I urge you to participate. There is still so much healing to be gained by memorializing those who were lost.
“In order to read the names of the victims we have to bow down before them.”
Here is a very precise explanation from those who translated the web page for the Lubeck Stolpersteine project. It is worth sharing here.
*Translator’s Note: Stumbling Stones is a literal translation of the German word Stolpersteine. Stolpersteine are paving or cobblestones that cause a person to trip or stumble because they are higher than all the other cobblestones in a street. In turn they set off a person’s natural reaction to look down to discover what caused one to stumble in the first place. In this case Gunter Demnig’s Stumbling Stones are not higher than the other sidewalk paving stones for that would be dangerous but it is hoped that the brass plaque causes one metaphorically to stumble by stopping in order to read the plaque.
Translation: Martin Harnisch and Glenn Sellick, 2009