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December 10, 2015: Stolpersteine, Berlin, Germany


One day I took a walking tour of Berlin.  My guide pointed out something that I often overlook on a busy vacation schedule...take in your surroundings, but also pay attention to what is underfoot.  Case in point, Stolpersteine (English translation: Stumbling Stones). 

Stolpersteine are a type of monument created by artist Gunter Demnig to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression, including the Holocaust.  Stolpersteine are small, cobblestone-sized memorials (approximately four inches square) for individual victims of Nazism. They commemorate individuals – both those who died and survivors – who were consigned by the Nazis to prisons, euthanasia facilities, sterilization clinics, concentration camps, and extermination camps, as well as those who responded to persecution by emigrating or committing suicide. 

While the vast majority of Stolpersteine commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust, others have been placed for Sinti and Romani people (also called gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, black people, Christians (both Protestants and Catholics) opposed to the Nazis, members of the Communist Party and the anti-Nazi Resistance, military deserters, and the physically and mentally disabled.


The Stolpersteine are concrete cubes which are  covered with a sheet of brass.  They are embedded into sidewalks / walkways (as seen in the foreground of the picture above) and tell the casual walker that in the house (or crumbling tenement, park (where a home or apartment used to be), or a newly yuppified apartment block) that they are  standing outside of once had people living there who were rounded up and taken away to be murdered because of their ethnicity, religion, politics or sexual persuasion. 

Each sheet of brass is stamped with "Hier Wohnte" (English translation: Here lived), followed by the details of the individual: their name, year of birth and their fate, as well as the dates of deportation and death, if known.  Since their inception in 1992, there are over 50,000 Stolpersteine in more than 700 European cities and towns occupying eight countries formerly under Nazi control or occupied by Nazi Germany. 

It is interesting to note that when the Stolpersteine were first unveiled, some critics commented that it was a disgrace to have people step upon these memorials; However, Gunter Demnig pointed out that as people walk upon the stones, their shoes will polish the inscribed brass sheets, making the memory of the victims shine on forever.


Images (2)
  • Stolpersteine (seen in foreground) embedded into walkway.: Berlin, Germany
  • Stolpersteine: Berlin, Germany

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I have to admire the Germans for looking at their historic atrocities full on and not sugar coating anything.  These stones use the word "Ermordet", which means "Murdered".   I wonder how many other nations in the world would say that about their past actions?

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

Few indeed, and it's a change (a controversial one for many) from earlier years when it was difficult to find anyone in Germany who acknowledged having even been there. There was a great deal of that in the late 50s when we lived there. Perhaps what is significant is that the recognition was NOT at the moment of defeat, but only after struggle and reflection.

If you're interested, there's an official German site for Sites of Remembrance 1933-1945 at with many links and more information as well as a handsome print booklet which can be downloaded or requested in English and other languages.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Last edited by Paul Heymont
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