Episode 285 – Stumbling Onto The Past

I was recently reading in an archived article from 2019 in The Guardian that “Monuments of remembrance are ubiquitous in Berlin. The city has at least 20 memorials to victims of the Holocaust – most notably Peter Eisenman’s vast 19,000-sq metre Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.”

That memorial is an incredibly impactful one that we visited in 2016, and will likely revisit this month, but today we experienced a much different kind of memorial.

Stolpersteine, which translates as “stumbling stones”, is a project first conceived by artist Gunter Demnig in Cologne in 1992 as part of an initiative commemorating Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust. He installed the first Berlin Stolperstein four years later in 1996. Each stone commemorates an individual who was persecuted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. As Abby, one of my literary acquaintances, said, “Memory is a form of [retroactive] justice.”

Here lived
ELLA KARMA
Born Friedländer
circa 1886
Deported 15.6.1944
Auschwitz
Liberated
Died 26.3.1945

Stolpersteine are 10x10cm concrete blocks which are laid into the pavement in front of the last freely chosen place of residence of victims of the Nazis. Each block is topped with a brass plate into which the residents’ names and fate are engraved. By 2019 there had been more than 70,000 stolpersteine laid in more than 1,200 cities and towns across Europe and Russia, constituting the largest decentralised monument in the world. Now there are more than 90,000.

The project is ongoing as new information comes to light, with stones being placed for “Jews, Sinti and Roma, people from the political or religious resistance, victims of the euthanasia murders, homosexuals, Jehovahs Witnesses and for people who were persecuted for being declared to be „asocial“.” Stones are only placed after any remaining members of the victim’s family agree to allow it.

One of the most moving statements for me from the 2019 Guardian article was “For Michael Friedrichs-Friedländer, 69, the craftsman who makes each Stolperstein, [any] criticism of the project is unwarranted. “I can’t think of a better form of remembrance,” he says. “If you want to read the stone, you must bow before the victim.”

Berlin’s Stolpersteine project has its own website which includes an interactive map. Finding Stolpersteine | Stolpersteine in Berlin

The interactive map (overview above) of where the stones are located in the greater Berlin area (8745 of them so far, with 935 in the borough of Mitte alone ) allowed us to zoom in and find Ella Karma’s stone right around the corner from us at 24 Albrechtstraße.

Just imagine what a wonderful world we could have if we only honoured other’s uniquenesses during their lifetimes. Hopefully meaningful memorials like stolpersteine will serve as a reminder not to repeat the past.

ADDENDUM: I read after initially posting this that one should say the name of the person when coming upon a stone, since in Jewish tradition a person dies twice: once when their heart stops beating, and again when there is no one left who says their name. We searched out several more stones and read them out loud.

As we searched out stones, I noticed a curious thing: stones that were in somewhat “protected” areas were dark and hard to read, whereas stones in higher traffic areas became shinier as they were walked on. One of the objections to the stones (as was the case in Munich, where the objection was supported by the Jewish Council there) was that they devalued the victims by allowing people to tread on their names. In a strange twist of fate, it turns out that being walked on only makes them shine brighter and attract more eyes.

Here lived
MAX KESSLER born 1882, deported 9.12.1942, killed in Auschwitz.
PHILIPP KESSLER born 1918, deported 9.12.1942, killed in Auschwitz. ROSALIE KESSLER nee Sommerfeld, born 1889, deported 9.12.1942, killed in Auschwitz.
MAX SOMMERFELD born 18k5, deported 27.11.1941 to Riga. Killed 30.11.1941. JOHANNA SCHÖNEBERG nee Oestreich, born 1895, deported 1.2.1943, killed in Auschwitz.
Here lived SALOME HOXTER, nee Perla, born 1888, deported 1843 to Majdanek, fate unknown.
Here lived and worked DR. ERNST SILTEN born 1868, humiliated/disenfranchised before deportation, escaped to death 5.3.1943. Here lived MARTA SILTEN born 1877, fled to Holland 1938, interned in Westerbork, escaped to death 7.7.1943

And if there is any scale on which a tragedy of this magnitude can be understood, the family grouping below was a shocking reminder of the depth to which human cruelty can descend. Look at that last date. (these 3 were very dark and needed to be rubbed a bit to make them readable)

Here lived KURT HOPPE born 1896, deported 12.3.1943, killed in Auschwitz. EDITH HOPPE, nee Rubinsten, born 1899, deported 12.3.1943, killed in Auschwitz.
TANA HOPPE born 1941, deported 12.3.1943, killed in Auschwitz.

9 comments

  1. What a lovely tribute to the project& the people❤️ I guess the first step in not repeating history is actually learning it!
    Ps Sometimes the Stolpersteine website doesn’t even have an image of a plaque & you can send them a pic to upload (have contributed 1 in Wiesbaden).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that suggestion. We photographed several more today, and “polished” three. Interestingly, if they are not walked on they oxidize and darken – walked on by many feet they become shiny and more obvious .

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  2. I first became aware of stolpersteine when I read “Keep Saying Their Names” by Simon Stranger. It introduced me to the Jewish idea that a person dies twice – when his or her heart stops beating and then again when no one says their name or thinks of them in memory. He emphasized the importance of actually saying the person’s name when coming upon the stones. The book is a mixture of fact and fiction set in World War II Norway. You might want to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I saw the stones in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. So very moving! My mother was born in Berlin 1-8-25. Her home was in east Berlin. Her aunt lived in a home for handicapped people…needless to say she disappeared. I enjoy your blog so much! Stay safe.

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  4. ROSE: Thank you for the education.  I had never heard of stolpersteine and was not familiar with the terms Sinti and Roma.  I hope you are right that the reminders will serve to keep us from repeating the mistakes of the past. Al

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