‘Stumble stones’ are a soaring success
Stolpersteine are discreet, effective, inexpensive and spreading through Europe
Literally, ‘stumbling stones’, these discreet monuments have been multiplying all over Germany in the last few years. They are cobble-stone sized memorials for victims of Nazism, mostly Jews, and they are beginning to spread beyond German borders into France, Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Balkan countries and even into Scandinavia. Their numbers are estimated to be fast approaching 50,000.
The first Stolpersteine was created by German artist Gunter Demnig, who has a studio in Cologne and runs an official Stolpersteine site which can organise the installation of sponsored stones (www.stolpersteine.eu, current price €120). It was in Cologne in 1990 that he first installed an engraved brass plaque outside the town hall to commemorate the deportation of 1,000 Sinti and Roma people back in May 1940. He viewed this deportation as the dress rehearsal for the later mass transportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps.
A lot of German cities now have their own Stolpersteine websites, for example Berlin with www.stolpersteine-berlin.de, which records some 5,000 stones and counting. These organisations run their own research, fund-raising, permissions and installation, and run a list of individual stones plus some biographical materials on the individuals being remembered.
Although the stones started out by being placed outside significant civic buildings, these days they are usually placed in pavements or roadways at the location where the individual who is being commemorated used to live. Their message is simple, starting with ‘Here lived…’ plus the name, date of birth, date of death, and a brief description of his or her fate. Some Stolpersteine are being laid to commemorate flight or emigration, not just death.
Stolpersteine set out to commemorate the following: Jews, Sinti and Romani, the politically persecuted, the religiously persecuted, Jehova’s Witnesses, homosexuals, the mentally and/or physically disabled, forced labourers and deserters – ultimately all people who had to suffer under the National Socialist regime.
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