How to Remember the Holocaust in Munich
By Terry Swartzberg – an American-born, Munich-based “ethical campaigner”
Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”) are 10 cm x 10 cm cubes inscribed with the names and life dates of victims of Nazi persecution. The stones are placed in front of the former homes of Nazi victims and can be found in 1,600 cities and 26 countries across Europe.
Each Stolperstein commemorates a victim of the Nazi and currently, the 76,000 Stolpersteine constitute the largest physical project of Holocaust commemoration that the world has ever seen.
In one shining, horrifying moment, the Holocaust became absolutely personal and real to me. And because of this moment – and the many that have followed – I have spent much of the last eleven years working for the Stolpersteine.
The moment came on rainy evening in 2008 – in a deserted neighborhood in an industrial city in Germany. Something gold and shiny caused me to glance down at the sidewalk. There I saw a brass plaque. I read the name – Dr. Anton Wetzlar – on it and his fate “murdered in Auschwitz in 1944”.
It was at that moment that the absolute, indescribable enormity of the Holocaust was conveyed to me: there were six million Anton Wetzlars. Six million Jews who were living lives as normal as ours today but are now gone as victims of Nazi atrocities.
It was at that moment that I decided to help Gunter Demnig, the artist who created the Stolpersteine, realize his vision of placing them for each and every victim. Amongst the victims and stones were 69 members of my grandfather’s family, who were murdered in Slutsk (now Belarus) between October 27 and November 8th, 1941.
In addition to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Stolpersteine also commemorate other victims of the Shoah – Sinti or Roma, homosexual, persons persecuted for religious or political views or due to supposed disability (“euthanasia”).
Each Stolperstein thus enables passersby to get to know and remember one of the 11 million people killed in the Holocaust and in the words Galit Noga-Bonai (Professor of Religious Art at Hebrew University) create a “palpable Atlas of Jewish life and suffering.”