Saturday, August 29, 2015


A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.”                                                                              -the Talmud

     Our friend, Dave, heard that we were going to Germany and asked if we were familiar with stolpersteines (stumbling blocks). We had never heard of them, but his description was fascinating. The project was started by artist Gunter Demnig in 1994. It commemorates victims of Nazi persecution with brass-plated plaques. They are placed in front of each individuals last chosen place of residence or employment.

     We planned to spend the last three days of our spring European trip in Constance, Germany. This sounded like a good opportunity to search for them.
On our first day in Constance, we headed out to explore the city and casually looked for the stones with no luck. That night I searched the internet and found a “List of Stolpersteines in Konstanz.” It included all 138 plaques located here along with the address, name, inscription and a photo—just as they appear on the street where they are placed. This made the search a lot easier. We discovered that they are quite small (3.9 inches x 3.9 inches) and blend in with the other cobblestones in such a way that they are not particularly noticeable, especially if you are not looking for them. Many of the residences had more than one stone in front to represent each of the family members that occupied the home.
Hier lived, Helmut Spiegel, Born 1909
Deported 1940 Gurs (internment camp in southern France)
Murdered in Auschwitz

     Each epitaph begins with the words: HIER WOHNTE (here lived), followed by details of the individual: their name, year of birth and fate, which often involved the dates of deportation and death. To read the inscription and see the last place someone lived a normal life before persecution makes this sad time in history more memorable. Some indicated that a child escaped safely to another country and the parents and other siblings were later deported.

     Since 1996, over 48,000 stolpersteines have been laid in 18 countries in Europe, making the project the world's largest memorial. The majority commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust—however, others have been placed for gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, black people, and Christians opposed to the Nazis.

     The project is not without criticism. Munich has rejected stolpersteines, following objections raised by Munich's Jewish Community's president Charlotte Knobloch. Her argument is that no respectful memorial can be placed on the ground where it can be walked on or easily vandalized. In other cities, permission was preceded by long, sometimes emotional discussions. I found it interesting that when I had asked at the Constance tourist office for help in finding the stones, they didn't have any information on them.

     The cost of the stolpersteines is covered by donations, collections, individual citizens, contemporary witnesses, school classes, or communities. The blocks are still made by hand in Demnig's Cologne studio which produces 450 per month. He still installs many of them himself. For 120 anyone can sponsor a stone, however, there is at least a six-month waiting list.

Escaped 1938 Argentina, Survived

Constance, Germany

Constance, Germany




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