German 4 Stolpersteine project offers remembrance
February 7, 2023
“A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.”
This quote, originally written in the Talmud, an important Jewish religious text, is frequented by Guter Denmig, the creator of the Stolpersteine project.
This January, the German 4 class designed Stolpersteine memorials for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which took place Jan. 27. Stolpersteine, which means “stumbling stones” in German, are small, brass stones installed into the streets of more than 1000 European and Russian cities. Each stone commemorates a life lost during the Holocaust at the victim’s last freely-chosen address.
The Stolpersteine project is often referred to as the largest decentralized monument in the world and has honored more than 90,000 victims, inscribed in 20 languages across 24 countries.
US German teacher Rachel Ruddick brought the Stolpersteine to the language wing for the first time this year.
“I was already familiar with the idea of Stolpersteine from the time I spent in Europe,” she said. “I’ve seen several of them.”
She got the idea of bringing the “stumbling stones” into school from German colleagues.
“I thought this was an activity where we can approach the topic in a little bit more of a hands-on way,” Ruddick said. “They all took it seriously.”
It’s nice to know that [the victims are] getting at least some recognition when they’d otherwise be forgotten.
— Luca Endorf
Freshman Carsten Bauer said that “[making the Stolpersteine] felt good. It was interesting to make one on my own.” Each student chose a member of the resistance against the Nazis who was killed and spent a few classes researching their story before putting up the memorials on Jan. 27.
SPA’s Stolpersteine honors ten victims–each student and Ruddick made one memorial–on small pieces of gold paper taped to the walls of the World Language hallway. Each Stolpersteine starts with “Hier wohnte” (here lived) and then contains the victim’s name, birthdate, and date of arrest or death, hand-written in German. In addition, the German class typed a four-page English description of the project and victims of the Holocaust, with the title “Niemals vergessen!” which means “never forget.”
“A lot of [the project] was reading about how the person suffered…the stuff they faced,” junior Luca Endorf said, “and that was not as enjoyable but it’s nice to know that they’re getting at least some recognition when they’d otherwise be forgotten.”
The Stolpersteine memorials help to prevent Holocaust victims’ names and stories from being forgotten.
The German class’s Stolpersteine is currently on display in the World Language hallway, and everyone is encouraged to view them while they can.
Endorf said, “I do hope people are seeing them…I hope people are at least reading [the explanation of the project] and learning more.”
History of the Stolpersteinne
Guter Denmig installed the first memorial of the Stolpersteine project in Kreuzberg in 1996. He continues to manage the creation of each stone alongside craftsman Michael Freidrichs-Friedlander, who joined the project in 2005 and inscribes each stone by hand.
Unlike other Holocaust memorials, each Stolpersteine stone gives attention to an individual victim. In this way, the memorials feel more personal, as each stone includes the name, birth date, and cause of death (whether directly due to the Nazis–internment, deportation, exile, or murder–or indirectly–suicide or illness).
In addition, since the memorials are placed at the victim’s last known home, each memorial honors a person in the place they lived, instead of where they died. Furthermore, the Stolpersteinne is primarily a local project. Groups of students, neighbors, or other organizers can work together to research victims killed in the area or sponsor the creation of a memorial, since each stone costs 120 euros, about $130 USD, to design. The process involves finding and receiving permission from the victim’s family and inviting descendants to attend the installation ceremony.
The reception of the Stolpersteine has been mostly positive, but some survivors of the Holocaust and their families object to the idea that people walk on the memorials without paying attention to the victim. The approach of the Stolpersteine memorials, placing the stones on streets and sidewalks in everyday places, is viewed by some critics as disrespectful to the victim’s memories.
On the other hand, Michael Freidrichs-Friedlander believes that the Stolpersteine memorials are important now more than ever, as anti-Semitism has steadily increased over recent years. In 2021, the American Defense League reported the highest number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States since the organization started recording these attacks in 1979. There were 2,717 anti-Semitic incidents in 2021, including harassment, assault, and vandalism, and anti-Semitic assaults increased by 167 percent.