News / Europe

Berlin Cobblestones Memorializing Murdered Jews Multiply

A rose lies beside a memorial stone commemorating Holocaust victim Rosa Lesser in front of her former home, Berlin, Nov. 9, 2013.
A rose lies beside a memorial stone commemorating Holocaust victim Rosa Lesser in front of her former home, Berlin, Nov. 9, 2013.
Reuters
Veronika Houboi watched as a man in a cowboy hat and clogs wielded a sledgehammer to smash up and remove a dozen small cobblestones from a Berlin pavement.

He quickly filled the resulting hole with two identical blocks of concrete capped with inscribed square brass plates.

The blocks, called “Stolpersteine” or “stumbling blocks,” read: “Here lived Dr. Erich Blumenthal, born 1883, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz. Here lived Helene Blumenthal, born 1888, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz.”

In Berlin, the blocks have become part of the fabric of the city, their plates glinting amid the gray paving on residential streets and stopping both locals and tourists in their tracks.

Houboi and her husband sponsored the Blumenthals' blocks, traveling across Germany to see them laid in the northeast Berlin neighborhood where Houboi, now 71, grew up in the 1940s.

As a child, she had been moved by a story about the family's local doctor, who had defied Nazi laws banning Jewish medics from treating non-Jews to care for her critically ill brother.

Unable to find the name of that doctor, Houboi decided to symbolically honor him by commissioning blocks for another local Jewish doctor, Dr. Blumenthal, and his wife.

The man behind the stumbling blocks is Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig, who in 1996 illegally laid the first 41 in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, having found the names in a local history book about the area's Jewish population.

Three months later, the city granted Demnig permission to legally proceed with the project. Today there are 45,000 “Stolpersteine” in Germany and 16 other European countries. Berlin alone has 5,500 of them.

Rising demand

After working on an art project commemorating the Nazi deportation of Cologne's Sinti and Roma itinerants, Demnig became determined to show how victims of the Holocaust had been an integral part of German and European society before the war.

“The idea was to bring back the names [of the deported] in front of the houses where they had lived,” Demnig said. He added that Germans today had a greater desire to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust than when he was a child.

“In my school, history stopped with the Weimar Republic, because the teacher wasn't interested ... but now young people really want to know,” said Demnig, who was born in 1947.

Demand for the stones has been steadily rising in recent years, as the project has become better known abroad. Demnig's team installs on average 5,000 to 6,000 stumbling blocks a year across Europe, the majority of them in Berlin.

The stones are commissioned based on requests by relatives of victims or by neighbors present and past, like Houboi.

At 120 euros ($170) a stumbling block, Demnig's business is booming. Customers often have to wait up to a year, he said.

Demnig denies accusations he is profiting from the enterprise. “One cannot say it's a business. It's a piece of art ... Artists have to live from their work,” Demnig said.

The project is largely privately financed. In Berlin, an independent coordinating agency funded by the city works with volunteer groups and museums to field requests and do historical research on victims like the Blumenthals.

Also at the installation with Houboi was Colonel Erez Katz, the Israeli defense attaché to Germany and Austria. Katz has been moved by Demnig's work and planned to spend the day with the artist as he installed stones at 12 different Berlin sites.

Katz said he took every Israeli military delegation that visits Germany to view the stumbling blocks.

“How German people remember the Holocaust surprised and impressed me. Every street has these stones. They take responsibility,” Katz said.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid