Commemoration: Stolpersteine

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‘A monument against forgetting’

This description is applied to film director Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 work Shoah.

The Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection, comprising 185 hours of interview outtakes and 35 hours of location filming is owned by two of the world’s most important Holocaust memorials, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, Israel.

Lanzmann’s film may be described as monumental. But perhaps there as many Holocaust monuments as memories.

These monuments are physical or existing beyond time and space in words, images, music, carried across generations.

They can be international and national as the above institutions in Washington and Jerusalem, as well as more recently in Berlin and Vienna or proposed in London.

London (impression)

The form of these physical spaces varies, the intent and impact of their design debated. A third generation member of my family described to me her feeling of overwhelm inside the ‘Voids’ of the Libeskind installation in central Berlin. Recalling the memory of visiting the memorial caused her distress.

Berlin

In Judenplatz Vienna British sculptor Rachel Whiteread describes her memorial, a silent library, as designed to challenge and provoke thought.

Vienna

Monuments and memorials transcend international, national and local, as those at sites of history itself, for example Mauthausen. (Mauthausen-memorial.org)

The monuments may be huge, state-centric or of a different scale, personally initiated.  Artist Gunter Demnig started the Stolpersteine project in 1992 aiming to commemorate individuals at exactly their last free place of residency (‘Hier wohnte..’) before being attacked by Nazis.

The hand engraved stones are deliberately raised, impacting the consciousness of all those who pass by.

Stolpersteine.eu

What is your own experience of physical Holocaust monuments and memorials? Have you completed a Stolpersteine journey or plan to do so? Will Holocaust memorialization change as the First Generation passes? Where should such monuments be located, how should the inscription read. Or even, to quote Rilke’s dictum, ‘erect no monuments.’

Go to the members area of our web site (www.secondgeneration.org.uk) to contribute to this theme linked to the Second Generation Network online discussion 8 September 2020 – Commemoration: to lay Stolpersteine or not to lay Stolperstein? That is the question…

John King

Second Generation Voices

johnking@secondgeneration.org.uk

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2 Replies to “Commemoration: Stolpersteine”

  1. My first invitation to lay a Stolperstein came via an evangelical church group in Magdeburg to place a stone for a relative I never knew about.
    Since then I’ve initiated and placed stones for my paternal grandmother in Vienna and my maternal grandmother and uncle in Berlin. And I’ve been invited to participate in placing stones in Westfalen where my maternal ancestors had lived for 300 years.
    It has always been a lesson in humility to be present with Gunther Demnig. And a further lesson in understanding the huge efforts people in Germany are making towards reconciling themselves with their past, a past of which they themselves are simply inheritors, just as I am an inheritor.

  2. Several years ago I attended the placing of a Stolpersteine with a cousin and I know how positive she and many others have found the experience. I am also aware that many people are opposed to Stolpersteine because they consider our people have been walked on enough. I definitely see both sides of the argument. Personally I think that anything that can help everyone to remember our families who were killed in the Holocaust is beneficial. However, what makes me cross is where our family member’s history is reduced to simply a paragraph in a Stolpersteine booklet.

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