Everyone knows them: The small "Stolpersteine" in the sidewalk, which commemorate victims of National Socialism. The "Art Project for Europe" was invented by Gunter Demnig. Now the 70-year-old has Stolperstein number 70.000 relocated.
"A person is not forgotten until his name is forgotten," says the Talmud. Artist Gunter Demnig fights against this forgetting with trowel and mortar – and by laying "stumbling stones" for victims of the National Socialists.
The ten-square-centimeter brass plaques in the sidewalk commemorate Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, the disabled, and the politically and religiously persecuted. "Stumbling blocks" have already been laid in 24 countries. On Tuesday followed stone number 70.000.
No cause for joy
He does not want to speak of a cause for joy about the round number, said Demnig on Tuesday at our site. "Because in the end, 70.000 stones 70.000 too many."At least the Stolperstein now laid in Frankfurt shows a certain change: the small cuboid commemorates Willy Zimmerer, who was murdered as a disabled person by the National Socialists in the Hessian "Kotungsanstalt Hadamar" in 1944 – just like some 14.500 others gassed or injected to death there between 1941 and 1945.
"Everywhere where disabled people were murdered, there are now stones," Demnig told our site. "It was very difficult at first because clinics also stonewalled, not wanting to admit that something like this happened. 'But this is getting better,' observes Demnig, who turns 71 on Saturday.
It all began for the Berlin native in Cologne. In 1990, he designed the "Trail of Memories" there to commemorate the deportation of 1.000 Roma and Sinti in 1940 by the Nazis. That's when a woman claimed "Gypsies" had never lived here, he tells Catholic News Agency (KNA). "My chin dropped when she said that," recalls the man in the floppy hat. "Then it was clear to me: I have to go on."
World's largest decentralized memorial
Thus Demnig lays for over 25 years before the last free-chosen dwellings of Nazi victims small cuboids from concrete and brass with the life data of the concerning. It had its unofficial premiere in December 1992 in front of the Historic City Hall in Cologne. Over the years, the Stolpersteine have developed into the world's largest decentralized memorial site. A team around the sculptor, who studied art and art education in Berlin and Kassel, supports him in research and production of the Stolpersteine.
The Hamburg Institute for the History of German Jews researches each victim and publishes testimonies in several languages.
Apps and entire books document the project. An academic conference "On the role of the Stolperstein project in contemporary memory conflicts" is planned for February in Berlin. And a foundation established by Demnig is to ensure the continuation of his mission.
In the meantime, the project even radiates beyond Europe: Since October 2017, stumbling blocks in front of a school in Buenos Aires have commemorated the children who had to flee Europe between 1933 and 1945.
Initiative comes from citizens
It is important to Gunter Demnig that the initiative for the relocations does not come from him, but from the citizens. Most of the time, historical societies inquire, but in the meantime the great-grandchildren of Nazi victims living in the USA, Australia or Israel also approach him.
120 euros costs a stone. Dates for relocations are booked up for months. Demnig has received many awards for his commitment to the many new memorial sites – "low-threshold" in the literal sense of the word.
But the greatest satisfaction for him is the interest of the younger generation, he emphasizes. The young people wondered "how something like this could happen in the land of poets and thinkers". Demnig: "I notice that something comes back, which is a really great experience."
The fact that the project also provokes tangible resistance is something its inventor can live with. Hundreds of times Stolpersteine have been smeared, glued or torn out. Demnig counters the criticism from Jewish circles that people trample on the memory of the victims when they walk over the Stumbling Stones by saying that this makes the stones all the more shiny. And: "Anyone who wants to read an inscription on a Stolperstein must automatically bow to the victims."