If you've been to just about any major city in central Europe, you've probably seen them. They are small, inconspicuous little brass plates placed in the sidewalks. You can easily walk over them and never have any idea what they are. We did it for months. I imagine that many of them in more well-walked parts of cities are no longer legible. Sometimes it's just one replacing an older cobble stone. Sometimes there are more, I've once seen 4 grouped together. So what are these Stolperstein and why devote an entire post to them?
These Stolperstein, German for stumbling stone, are one of the most subtle, but largest, memorials in Europe. Each one starts with ''Here lived'' and then lists a name. Usually a birth date is given. If known, two other dates are also listed: a deportation date and a murder date. In rare cases, the individual was able to escape to another country, in which case, an emigration date is given. These little brass plates, sitting flush with the pavement, easy to miss as you walk past, list the names of victims of the Holocaust. They name not only Jews, but also the Roma, Santi, Jehovah's Witness, homosexuals, those who were euthanized - many of which suffered from some sort of mental illness - and those who disagreed with National Socialism. A stolperstein is always placed at the victim's last known residence of choice. It is a symbolic and meaningful way to bring the person back to their last, freely chosen, place they lived - their home. They are a memorial so that those who suffered and lost their lives, are not forgotten. One person. One stone.
The project was first proposed by Gunter Demnig in 1993. By 1995, the first stones were laid in Cologne (250) and Berlin (55). Today, there are over 48,000 Stolperstein in over 1000 locations within Germany and 17 other countries. Each and every one is handmade. While 48,000 of these little reminders seem like a lot, with over 6 million Holocaust victims, this is less than 1% of all those that lost their lives.
Next time you are walking along, and a golden glint catches your eye, stop. Take a look. Take a moment to remember, and perhaps even say a prayer for, not only the person whose name is on the plate, but all victims. Indeed, it is in remembering them that we have the power to stop it from ever happening again.
For more information on the Stolperstein project, visit the official website. Here, you can also submit information for a Stolperstein, or make a donation to help place more.
One person. One stone. One fate.
Thank you to Sara Huggard of Sara Huggard Photography for letting me use images of Stolpersteine she took in Assen, The Netherlands.