Berlin Holocaust plaques, or Stolpersteine

by on July 8, 2010 at 1:21 am in Current Affairs, History, Travels | Permalink

There are small sidewalk-affixed plaques in many locations in Berlin, including on my street.  Here are some visual examples and here are many more.  They sit by the victim's former home and list the victim's name, the date he or she was taken away, and date and place he or she was murdered.  The word given is the more brutal "murdered" (ermordet), not "killed."  

Most plaques refer to Holocaust victims, although one nearby plaque is for a German general who apparently disliked the Nazis (and vice versa) and others are for gypsies, gays, and resistance fighters.  Here are further sites on the plaques, including in German.  Here is Wikipedia on the plaques; some homeowners do fear price depreciation.  Since the plaques are placed in public space, the homeowner has no veto rights.

The plaques are the brainchild of Gunther Demnig, a sculptor from Cologne who has made them his life's work.  A plaque costs 95 euros and a sponsor, often a relative or former friend, commissions Demnig to make a "Stolperstein," as he calls them in German, or a "stone to stumble upon."  The story of the origin of the plaques is here.  Demnig's parents were ardent Nazis, which he reports caused him to feel some responsibility for what happened.  He relies on records collected by the Gestapo itself. 

The first Stolpersteine he laid illegally in the mid 1990s.  As of April of this year, Demnig himself has installed over 22,000 of the plaques.  Here is Demnig's home page.

The city of Munich has since relented in its ban, and now it allows the plaques.

Stolpersteine01

Ryan July 8, 2010 at 2:56 am

or in English, “a stumbling block”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein

Aristid July 8, 2010 at 5:34 am

The correct word is “ermordet”, not “ermordert”.

Aristid July 8, 2010 at 6:25 am

@not_scottbot: It’s OK, Tyler made the same mistake. :-D

Tom T. July 8, 2010 at 7:11 am

Frankly, this guy sounds like a major narcissist. “Look at the highly public way I expiate the racial guilt I ostentatiously feel, while shifting the costs of my doing so onto others.”

anon July 8, 2010 at 8:02 am

Frankly, this guy sounds like a major narcissist.

Hahahahahaha!

Frankly, you sound like a guy who makes up quotes for other people. Are you a journalist or a PR flack?

not_scottbot July 8, 2010 at 9:07 am

‘The city of Munich has since relented in its ban, and now it allows the plaques.’

Only to satisfy the whims of a major narcissist, right Tom T.? Or maybe, just maybe, because the reality that Germans killed their fellow, no longer considered German, citizens still disturbs those who have to stare that truth in the face? Simply ignoring the subject, hoping it will go away, is the best way to deal with the evil of the past?

Or to put it a bit differently, assuming Tom T. is American, how and where should the Commonwealth of Virginia mark the places where blacks used to live, before they were lynched for such official crimes as acting above their station? Remember, a good non-narcissistic answer is expected, one that actually respects the historical accuracy of a state whose adopted in 1940 official song (until 1997, which means after the election of the first black state governor in the south since Reconstruction) included such lyrics as ‘There’s where I labored so hard for old massa’ and ‘There’s where this old darkey’s heart am long’d to go.’ Good luck – and do remember, that state song with its nostalgic lyrics for slavery was adopted 75 years after the effective end of slavery in the U.S.

Moshe July 8, 2010 at 10:07 am

“Most plaques refer to Holocaust victims, although †¦ others are for gypsies, gays, and resistance fighters.”

Does victims include “gypsies, gays, and resistance fighters” or is it a neutral way of referring to the Jewishness of those victims?

Ed July 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

I agree with some extent with David Wright, but more with Chris. It helps to remember that the victims of the Nazis included some decorated German veterans of World War I. And “murdered” is the right word for dragooning people into some camp in order to gas them or work them to death.

I think this would be a good idea in other countries where the government instituted a policy of murdering its own citizens, and there is enough documentation to memorialize the victims.

Peter Gordon July 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Some years ago, touring the then new Jewish Museum in Berlin, I noted that they used “murdered” instead of “killed” in many of the photo descriptions. I immediately wondered why so many others still use “killed” when discussing Holocaust victims.

Mark July 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm

As many of you surely know, there are similar plaques in Buenos Aires for people killed during the repression there. In Buenos Aires, in my opinion, they seemed to work very well – unobtrusive yet clear – and localized – reminders of the history.

It’s important to remember.

not_scottbot July 9, 2010 at 12:12 am

‘Yes, not_scottbot, it takes exceptional moral courage for a man to get up in his neighbors’ faces and tell them that Nazis and slavery are bad, doesn’t it?’
You really need to read the story of the nasty girl who wouldn’t actually disagree with the point that yes, it does take exceptional moral courage. Though she would have never thought so when accessing her first archival material. So here is an update of how her life has gone since as a student, she discovered the reality of her hometown and many of its citizens -
‘ IT WAS late in the evening and the aggressive intent in the voice on the other end of the line was unmistakable. ‘We are going to do something to you that you will never forget,’ it growled. ‘We are going to shut you up once and for all.’

Anna Rosmus is used to such calls. That was her second that night. They have been going on now for more than a decade. Sometimes the callers simply warn of attacks against her; sometimes they talk of smashing up her house; the worst threaten to abduct her two daughters, Nadine, 11, and Salome, 8.

‘I do not get spat at in the streets anymore, but I still get the death threats,’ said Ms Rosmus. ‘On average I receive about two a week. They do not frighten me as much as they used to. But I still have to be very careful.’
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/bad-girl-of-passau-keeps-the-holocaust-wounds-wide-open-adrian-bridge-in-berlin-finds-that-despite-death-threats-and-a-legal-setback-anna-rosmus-continues-to-expose-german-war-crimes-1461154.html

People don’t want to hear what happened – a Lutheran priest I know around here is often one of the last people an older dying person will talk to, and many of the older men will begin to talk to him about the war, finally speaking the truth of their experiences. What strikes him most is the reaction on the part of any family in the vicinity, which is very often to tell the dying person to shut up, or to leave the room.

‘just how much righteousness you feel’
Nope – disgust is generally what I feel.

Linda July 9, 2010 at 8:27 pm

My father was imprsioned by the Nazis from 1936 to 1937. My parents, grandmother and aunt were fortunate enough to escape in 1937 after my father completed his jail term. Is our family entitled to a “stolperstein” at their former place of residence in Berlin?

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