Stolpersteine: How we remember through discovering


Cem describes how a project make so called “Stolpersteine” (stumbling blocks) of metal, engraved with names and dates of deported persons during the the Hitler regime:

They are set in front of the entrances of buildings into the pavement. Each stone has an engraving of the name of a person who had lived in that house and who was deported and killed during the years of the National Socialism. In the area were I live in Hamburg nearly every house has these stones. Some have 10-12 stumbling blocks

Franz Patzig was so kind to send me a link to his photo set of the stumbling blocks:

I like the way it is presented: Not screaming into your face (and therefor soon ignored), but silent and effective. You may have passed such blocks in the past but someday your brains starts to notice them – and make you curious.

True, “born … deported … murdered” are not words which you can consume easily. But those subtle hints allow me as a German to slowly take notice and start to be interested about it. And start to take notice of an individual instead of just the numbers we all learn in schools.

“Millions of murdered people” is an abstract number I cannot imagine and therefor only see this as “one” unit. Seeing one stone – or as Cem described it seeing sometimes 10-12 in front of a house – makes it more tangible. Makes it visible. But at the same time does not try to oversell it.

I may be the only person feeling this way, but I don’t apologize for it: If you only throw the big numbers at me, I will not notice as much as if I get presented tangible, understandable numbers, I will not continue to be reminded. As long as people try to unload on me, a 35 year old, a guilt for things which happened more than 60 years ago, I will not be touched by that.

Yes, we are in part forced to see horrible pictures at school, but you see them once and then close your eyes – because pictures of dozens of naked, starved bodies is nothing you want to keep in your memory, because it is awful. And so you forget.

You don’t spend your free time looking out for stories to get convinced that this was a bad time yada yada. Everybody else is keen to remind you but again – we forget. Because it is not presented in a manor I like to receive. It is like forcing me to take a look at a gross meal and ask me to eat it – who would? Nobody. But for the public, not to loose their face, a lot of people fake interest – and I don’t think this is a working way to remember and learn from it.

I do get occasional hate mail from the outside (as in some over a decade) but I don’t feel responsible, why should I? I also feel not responsible for helping for example Israelis to keep Israel, a country they only had for some decades. Without any other predjudice this feels awkward to me to put some people into a country and claim “this is mine”. But then again, I am quite indifferent to this.

If you read this till now, do me a favor and think for a moment. How does what I write make you feel? Angry, disappointed that i would not write something more witty or something which reflected more why other people sometimes call me smart? Disappointed by my view on the world, which in part seems very uninformed?

Well, guess what. Take a look in the mirror and tell me afterwards, that your point of view is without such flaws. Tell me, that your friends – those you really think are good people – have only views without flaws. They don’t. We – as in all humans – are not perfect.

The goal is not to be perfect, but to try to become a better person. You may think the reaction above talking about Israel was about connecting to the holocaust, but it is not. On the German conference I was this week in Munich several people from Israel where invited and I still don’t understand exactly why. They could as well have been from other European countries, but (as I later found out) Hubert Burda has friends there. But he probably also has friends in other countries, why the invite to them? Without more context, it still is awkward to me – not understandable, not tangible …

It made me aware of the hesitation I have towards the abstract concept Israel, because I have no connections, no tangible points to this country or its people. Now I have, a little. But combined with a little nagging feeling I can’t quite put my finger on. But, it got me a bit more curious. I learn through discovering small things.

I also learnt, that there is a big Russian speaking audience, because I met a very interesting TV moderator – good looking blond, 6 children and has a palm in her pocket from which she showed a video clip about herself and the pictures of her children. Great combination! :)

I learnt through her and the talks with others on that day, that they speak more Hebrew than English – of course. But how am I to discover more and learn more in case I wanted, if they speak Hebrew? I will not be able to – and will forget / not discover.

When we look for a lingua franca, it is not because we all want to speak English. But it is because we want to communicate – and this is not possible without understanding each other. And this also is probably the reason Cem wrote his entry in English – so you can discover and be reminded as well. Because what happened 60 years ago, is to be prevented in the future but also today.

Because it can happen to everybody, you just need to be on the wrong side, have the wrong thoughts, have the wrong skin color, believe in the wrong things. Or have the wrong name – in which case it does not even bother some people that you are a baby.

Look at those Stolpersteine, be reminded that it is about single people, about families – and about you. In the end, it is all connecting back to you as well, whether you like it or not.

People who know me know that I love quotes (but do not connect to literature as well), because they very often hold a power through their words. One of my favorites is “First they came” for which there is a Wikipedia entry.

Unknown before to me, Hue and Cry did a song where they quote this poem in the following way:

When they came for the Jews and the blacks, I turned away
When they came for the writers and the thinkers and the radicals and the protestors, I turned away
When they came for the gays, and the minorities, and the utopians, and the dancers, I turned away
And when they came for me, I turned around and around, and there was nobody left…

We turn away, all day from so many things. Stolpersteine make us notice, that we may be turning in the wrong direction, notice our steps. This poem, each time I hear it, reminds me to be aware of what happens – and also to make you aware that if you want to change things, you need to sell it to them.

Not just force them to look, but make them interested. Relate it to them, so they have a genuine interested and not a forced one. Or one out of guilt. Because that is not working, never has and if ever only will for short time – with most of the people.


4 Responses to “Stolpersteine: How we remember through discovering”

  1. Sasha says:

    You say “I also feel not responsible for helping for example Israelis to keep Israel, a country they only had for some decades.”.

    Israeli’s – and Jews – see the nation as the practical manifestation of a homeland, and a place to live where they are welcomed. We just spent the last 2,000 some odd years being persecuted the world over. In Britain, France, Germany, you name it. If you don’t wish to be responsible for helping as you put it, then at least you and the rest of Europe should get out of the way and allow the Israeli’s to defend themselves.

    As recently as the 1930’s and 1940’s millions of Jews died because they had no where to go and no one willing to take them in. Now there is a place called Israel that will open it’s arms to the Diaspora if such times befall us again.

    Keep this in mind when you next question the existence of Israel. Also, perhaps you can recommend where exactly the Jewish homeland is if not Israel? Surely not the blood-drenched lands of Europe.

  2. Nicole says:

    Sasha, I am not going to get into a discussion about Israel in this simplified ways of yours. The world is not black and white, and there is more to it than just your personal views on what should or should not happen.

    And no, this is not pointed towards jews and israel but very general towards the world and the society.

    Btw, next time, try at least to pay attention to the topic and content of such a posting and not just pick one part and try to spin on it – and expect an answer on that.

  3. Sasha says:

    Well well Nicole – you have done a terrific job of censorship. I responded to you yesterday here in these pages, but you removed my comments.

    I guess you only print the comments that you see fit to print. Anything that challenges your worldview you remove huh? Perhaps you should take a look again at your own quote:

    “Smooth-tongued responses are for the timid ones, and if there are no challenges, there is nothing to gain either”

    Hypocrite. Even if no one else sees this or my previous post, at least you did before removing my previous comment (and this one too).

    Remember me when you so non-nonchalantly invalidate the existence of an entire nation in one of your future posts.

  4. Nicole says:

    Sasha, I only remove Spam comments and I have not removed any of your comments.

    It is higly likely you ran into one of the spam block words and got displayed “is not able to safe due to spam”.

    I will close comments to an entry – previous examples of this include a run wild Harry-Potter thread where people misused my entry as a forum – if the conversation runs into a direction which has nothing to do with the entry itself.

    To be clear: I have no interest talking with you about your personal agenda in which you already show that there is only one truth for you. I do not know you, nor do I care about you. Which you don’t either.

    But again: I have not “censored” any comment. The only hurdle to comments in here is spam protection.

    I will close this entry for comments though; if you want a plattform to push your own agenda there are enough places where you can do so.