January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The ending of the Holocaust, the beginning of the remembering. Not everyone was on board with that process, not then. And not even now.
I personally think remembrance and education around this topic is very important. Teaching my children about what has happened across Europe historically is meaningful to me. One way in which I start that conversation is by seeking out ‘stolpersteine’ when we are travelling.
The Stolpersteine Project
I didn’t hear about Stolpersteine, or ‘stumbling stones’, until we lived in Germany . Perfectly understandable, and actually something to be proud of in the sense that you will not find these small brass plaques anywhere in the UK.
Because each one commemorates an individual persecuted or killed by the Nazi regime. They are placed on the street at the last known address where the individual lived of their own free will.
A Stolperstein is a four inch square brass plate set in the ground. Each represents one person. One name, one stolpersteine. The aim of the project is to commemorate individuals.
The Nazi regime employed mass extermination, reduced people to numbers and wanted to erase them. The laying of a ‘stumbling stone’ seeks to create the opposite effect and create an act of remembrance around an individual.
The Stolpersteine is an ongoing project created by German Artist Gunter Demnig. Inspired by an idea from the Talmud that, ‘A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten’, the original plaques were designed as part of a one off exhibition. The idea was so well received by relatives of Holocaust victims that the idea grew.
Today you will find Stolpersteine in twenty four European countries and in at least 1200 locations across Germany.
Do these unobtrusive squares scattered across the streets of Europe really work? I think so. You spot them, you stop. Read the name, consider the dates. Think about the person… who they were, how they lived, what were their passions?.
I can visit a memorial and be reminded of dates and historical events. I have stood in front of a pile of suitcases at Auschwitz and felt overwhelmed, but it’s difficult to draw out of that recognition for an individual.
The stolpersteine quietly call on you to remember just one person. And that is powerful.
There is so much more to this project than I can possibly do justice to in a blog post but you’ll find a wealth of information on the Stolpersteine homepage.
If you found this post interesting, you might also enjoy reading about The Museum of Resistance & Persecution, Dortmund.
I have never heard of Stolpersteine before, as you mentioned it’s not known in the UK, but what a fabulous concept. And what a poignant way of remembering so many of those that suffered. Wonderful project. Be great to find a couple one day.
When we first came back to the UK, I’d find myself looking for them. I’m sure you will find one on your travels, especially as the project takes on greater scale.
Hope so, we’ll certainly look out for them now as it’s a great project.
I remember seeing these in Berlin but I didn’t know they grew out of one artist’s project, or that they were so widespread. A poignant and effective memorial for all the reasons you mention.
They are beautifully understated but very effective.
Wow, I didn’t know about this project! I have never heard about that but I am happy that you told me this! Holocaust is something very, very painful and we need to remember it, so not to do it again! Thank you for sharing this post! I will now check the Stolpersteine homepage.
Thankyou for introducing me to Stolpersteine and the thought behind it . Sometimes memorials need not be grand gestures, simplicity works just as well. Amazing post!
Thank you so much, it’s a topic I’m very passionate about. And yes, sometimes you just need a simple, thought provoking gesture.