If you ever take the time to look down at the ground, which, if you are like any of others in the Millennial Generation, than you are already looking down at your phone. However, if you take time to look past the latest video of kittens on Facebook, you will see one of the largest and possibly underappreciated art projects in Europe.
The ‘Stolperstein’ is a small engraved, bronze, memorial stone placed at the addresses of victims of Nazi oppression. They commemorate those who have died and survived consignments by the Nazis including prisons, euthanizing, sterilization and concentration or extermination camps. The stones also include those who decided to flee, emigrate or commit suicide instead of submitting to persecution.
The project of placing the memorials was started by Gunter Demnig on Dec. 16, 1992 in Cologne as a commemoration of the first deportation by Nazi’s to an extermination camp. The project then caught on in other cities and eventually he was granted permission to continue his work in cities and towns all across Germany and Europe.
The memorial art project has spread to multiple countries and hundreds of cities and towns throughout Europe who fell victim to the Nazi regime. The Stolpersteins do not just commemorate jewish people that were persecuted, but also gypsies, homosexuals, blacks, communists and the mentally and physically disabled.
Thankfully, due to the stereotypically true thoroughness of the German people, detailed records of the victims were kept. However, there is an emptiness to reading about a person’s entire life through a spreadsheet, being referenced by only a number.
The memorials make you not only think of that person, but the background of that city – the normality of Nazis pulling their friends and neighbors from their homes in the 1930’s/40’s. It made me realize how widespread and palpable the persecutions were because they happened everywhere imaginable. However, it also made me appreciate their willingness to acknowledge what they did to those who perished at their hand.
Specifically, the stone is engraved with the following applicable information – name, birth, year deported and how, when and where they were killed. The now over 50,000 stones, only measuring 10cm x 10cm, make up one of the smallest, yet largest memorials in the world.