Germany Inside Out - Cologne - Stumbling stones

"Stumbling stones" as memorial of the Holocaust

Stumbling stone The word German "Stolperstein" - literally stumbling stone - means an obstacle in your path, preventing you from reaching your desired goal. In Cologne, however, some stumbling stones have come to take on a very different meaning - a way of reaching the goal of historical understanding and remembrance.

Artist Gunter Demnig has created a series of Stolpersteine that commemorate thousands of Cologne's residents who died in the Holocaust, including 15,000 Jews. His project involves replacing the ordinary cobblestones on the pavements of the city, putting in their place stones bearing a simple inscription - name, date of birth and the date and place of death, if known. The stones are positioned outside the houses of Jews, gypsies and others who were murdered by the Nazi regime. The simplicity of the concept is one of its most effective aspects. Many passers-by stop to look at and discuss the inscriptions on the ground beneath their feet. These stones are indeed something that you can almost physically stumble over.

In the years after 1945, there was little inclination in Germany to examine the Holocaust. History books ignored the subject entirely or concentrated only on the suffering of Germans themselves during the Second World War. Many history teachers were themselves tainted by the Nazi era and found it was easier to pass over the subject in silence.

Now, by contrast, the horrors of the Holocaust are a constant theme in school subjects - from history and religion to literature. Teachers, such as Albert Deckers, are faced with the task of introducing the subject to young teenagers. He says: "As a German in Germany, you can't get past the subject."

For his class, learning about the Nazi past is not just a duty. His pupils have been actively involved in supporting Gunter Demnig's Stolperstein project by raising money for dozens of the stumbling stones, each with its own name, to be placed outside the house of the person named on the miniature plaque. Several members of the class attend the hammering into place of the stones. The simple inscription reads: "Here lived Engelbert Brinker, tortured and murdered by the Gestapo in 1944."

Links:

Stolpersteine
More on the "stumbling stones" and the possibility to become a patron of one of them. In German.

Jewish Museum, Berlin
Opened in 2001, the Jewish Museum in Berlin is witnessing 2000 years of Jewish-German history. In English and German.

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