A Haunting Reminder of Berlin’s Past: The Stolpersteine

On many streets in Berlin, you can find gold stones fitted into the ground with writing on them. If you look closely, you can see a name, with a date of birth, a date of death, and the place of death. These stones were placed outside the residences of victims of the Holocaust. Most of them were Jewish, and most of the previous residents of Berlin died in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp in southern Poland. Auschwitz was responsible for the death of more than 1.1 million deaths of Jews, Poles, Romani, and Soviet prisoners of war. It played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

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A German artist, Gunter Demnig, placed the first stones in May of 1996, right here in Berlin. Today, there are more than 60,000 Stolperstein, or “stumbling stones”, all over Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Norway, and Ukraine.

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The point of the stone is to stumble upon them while walking on the street, thus drawing attention to the people who lived there not so long ago. Each stone has the name of the resident and there are often groups of Stolpersteine together, because of families living together. The artist, Gunter Demnig, says, “A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.” Every time I see the golden stones, I take a moment to read them and reflect.

Last October, Stolpersteine was placed, for the first time ever, outside of Europe. A school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, placed them outside their campus. This act was done to honor the children who fled from Europe, leaving their lives and often their families behind.

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My friends in Austria have told me that those in Vienna have been scratched out and even have had acid thrown on them. Of course, anti-semitism still exists today, and many of these golden monuments have been defaced by neo-Nazis and sympathizers.

What I find quite nice is that anyone can sponsor a stone.  If you know of a resident who you personally you would like to be remembered, you can pay for the manufacture and installment. It’s a modest price at 120 euros.

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The Stolpersteine is an important reminder of Berlin, and Europe’s, past. Everywhere you go, you are forced to remember that tragedies that took place during Hitler’s reign. I find them even more important today, as neo-Nazis and sympathizers have become more present in our news. Especially after the Nazi gathering in Charlottesville, which left one person dead.

I am very much in support of the Stolpersteine and commend Mr. Demnig for his work. It is a beautiful way to honor the people who so violently lost their lives. For those of you who live or spend time in Europe, I request that you keep an eye out for these stones.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the famous Elie Wiesel, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

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