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Stumbling stones, Stolpersteine

‘Stumbling stones’ (or Stolpersteine in German) is the name of the world’s largest Holocaust memorial project in terms of territorial extension.
Stumblingstones are 4 inch² brass plaques, that indicate in the local language
the Holocaust victim’s name, date of birth, date of arrest, camp(s) deported to and fate.
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Most of the Stumbling stones are situated in front of the last house the victim had unforcibly lived in.
On my daily Jewish Amsterdam Tour which I operate as a guide, I always pass by such stones. They are situated right at the back of Amsterdam’s Portuguese Synagogue.
I’ve noticed that they arouse my clients’ interest particularly. Many people are actually unfamiliar with the Stumblingstones. That’s why I decided to write about this theme.
The Stumbling stones project was initiated by a non-Jew from Germany, Gunter Demnig, in 1994. Initially he aimed to commemorate the Roma and Sinti Holocaust victims.
Soon he would encompass all Nazi persecuted categories. Today, most Stumblingstones are dedicated to Jews.
The plaques are located in more than 1000 towns and cities in an area that extends from Norway in the North to Italy in the South and from The Netherlands in the West to Ukraine in the East.
The name ‘Stumbling stone’ refers to an antisemitic German saying that was used even before the Shoah. Whenever a non-Jew stumbled over a protruding stone the person would say: “Probably a Jew was buried here”. Gunter Demnig interprets the name figuratively. One stumbles over the stone with his heart.
The information for the Stumblingstones is provided by schools, relatives, individuals and various organizations. Their research is based on interviews with witnesses, local archives and, mostly, on the database of the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Authority Yad Vashem.
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As this is an ongoing project, anyone can sponsor a stone for only €120. Gunter Demnig receives many requests for the installation of new Stumbling stones. Therefore, the current waiting period is at least six months. It also takes time for the local authorities to release the required licences.
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I think the Stumbing stones project is of major importance. Not only are the stones the only dignant symbol of perpetual memory for the victims without a tomb. Their widespread presence in a daily life context confronts ever more people with the past of Nazi atrocities. We must stumble to get up again. Hopefully more aware now. Aware that it may not happen again.

by Naomi Koopmans