They are square (ten by ten centimeters) and made from a brass plate fused with a concrete block underneath. They have been all over Europe since 1997. Usually, they are engraved with the name and birthdate of a person. And with a date that tells passers-by about their fate. They are not random persons; their identity became their horrible fate. Each Stolperstein (pronounce ‘shtolpah-shtine, meaning stumbling stone) is an admonition never to let murder through prejudice happen again.
Stolperstein is another Germanism in the English language. I think the term must be an allusion to “Stein des Anstoßes” (pronounce shtine dass ‘Un-shto-cess, stone of offence), which in English is a stumbling block. Also, “Anstoß“ means stimulus for thought.
German artist Gunter Demnig came up with this project that by now has become the world’s largest decentralized memorial. The stones commemorate anybody who didn’t fit into the concept of the Third Reich’s National Socialism and was, therefore, murdered.
As we are walking through places all over Europe, we stumble across such Stolpersteine although we are not literally stumbling (they are integrated levelly into their surroundings). They are meant to make us pause and ponder. Each Stolperstein is financed by donations; each is crafted by hand.
Opinions about the Stolperstein concept differ, though. To some it seems that embedding them in the pavement enables others to step on and to denigrate the victims even further. Whereas others probably compare it to tombstones inside ancient cathedral floors. In order to avoid conflict, the city of Munich e.g., has foregone to be part of the Stolperstein project and instead places plaques on houses.
Meanwhile, Stolperschwellen (pronounce ‘shtolpah-shvellan, meaning stumbling thresholds), which are part of the Stolperstein project, commemorate entire groups of victims, places of deportation, and places where the hellish ideas for mass murder were hatched.
The German Rapper Trettmann has created a song called “Stolpersteine”:
His lyrics remind us how people were simply standing and watching as the abysmal happened – the brutality, the arrest, the deportation of people who were their neighbors.
November 9 is a fateful date in German history. Among others it is the anniversary of the Kristallnacht aka Crystal Night (1938), a night as of which the full hatred of the Nazi regime poured out against the Jews more openly than ever.
Stolpersteine. They are everywhere in my German town of birth, Stuttgart, in the suburbs where I lived. The organization Stolpersteine Stuttgart shows a map on their website: https://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/kartenueberblick/, and only a couple of days ago, another Stolperstein was added to the shocking picture.
I have come past plaques and Stolpersteine through my entire European life. And I keep wondering how, with such a map as the one above, a humungous number of people still claims “it” never happened. Maybe because looking the other way is so much easier? And what one doesn’t see doesn’t exist?
Stumble with me, please, and ponder …