“Stolpersteine is now the largest social sculpture in the world,” says Gunter Demnig as he walks through the garden of the Goethe Institute. He says it softly, in a mixture of German and English. When he puts down a stone, he says absolutely nothing. Silently puts Stolperstein in the dock. “I want other people to talk about it. During the unveiling it’s about the family and other people involved, and then the passers-by, the kids, the students. It gives a whole different connection to history when you know what happened in your neighborhood, with kids who were probably the same age as you. This conversation is the most important part of This decentralized monument.
Amsterdam is now the city with the most Stolpersteine in the Netherlands, since 2009 more than a thousand have been placed, now about two a week. Stolpersteine or stumbling block are concrete stones covered with copper plate placed on the pavement in front of the last house to be chosen by a victim of National Socialism. A year ago, stone numbers 999 and 1000 were laid in Amsterdam for antiques dealer Louis Lamm, who lived and worked in Amstel 3, a house that no longer exists, and his daughter, Ruth Fanny Lamm. brass hammer:
They are deported
Gunther Deming (Berlin, 1947) is often in Amsterdam, although he no longer lays most of the bricks here himself. This is now being done by street workers from the municipality. Slabs for the Benelux were also made no longer in Germany, as in other countries, but in Amsterdam, which shortened the waiting time by years for stone installation (now it is 12-18 months).
Since 2020, a log house stands in the garden of the Goethe-Institut in Herringracht, where Deming’s employee and curator of the Benelux Alexander Stockenberg lettering on copper plates sits on a workbench designed by Demnig. “It has to be done carefully, by hand. Not in a factory. The other places where the pictures were taken are Berlin and Elpenrode, where Deming lives – when he’s at home. He still travels across Europe by bus 18 days a month. It still goes for first place in the Church.” There are now stones in 30 countries. I expect to make Stolberstein’s 100,000 list in June 2023.” The cost of putting a stumbling block in the Netherlands is 150 euros.
In November, Deming was in Holland laying bricks, receiving the Bronze Medal of Honor from Gouda, and giving a lecture at the Goethe-Institut. During that lecture and in the subsequent public interview with cultural historian David Wertheim, the artist refuted some assumptions about the stones. It is dedicated to all victims of Nazism and Jewish victims, but also by example to Sinti and Roma, with whom the project began in Cologne in the early 1990s. The first official stone-breaking took place in Austria for two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “They were the sons of farmers, who were beheaded in Berlin’s Plötzensee prison,” says Demnig.
Stones were also placed on political prisoners, conscientious objectors, people with mental or physical disabilities, homosexuals, and resistance fighters. It is not necessary that the victims died during the war.
Two Jewish girls
Stones were recently laid on Beethoven Street for Jews Edgar and Great Will who had fled Germany. Edgar Weil was killed in 1941 in the Mauthausen concentration camp. The writer Great Will survived the war and died in 1999 in Grunwald near Munich, when the first stumbling blocks had already been laid. There are even stumbling blocks for those who are still alive. Deming tells of two Jewish girls who left Germany in the 1930s with the Kindertransport. One grew up in Colombia and the other in Scotland. “They saw each other again for the first time when Stolperstein was installed,” says the artist the day after his lecture in the garden of the Goethe-Institut. And they both also got a stone. They formed a family that was torn apart by the Nazis. Families should be together.”
Demnig started with Stolpersteine as a conceptual project, in keeping with his artistic practice at the time. One of his first acts was to display the American flag in the window of his Berlin home with stars replaced by skulls. It was in 1968, in protest of the Vietnam War. Then he made a number of projects in which he printed tracks on the streets while walking long distances, for example from Kassel to Paris or London. The project that would become Stolpersteine began in 1990 in Cologne with the text “Mai 1940 – 1000 Roma und Sinti”, referring to the first deportation of Roma and Sinti from Cologne, stamped hundreds of times. “When I started in the ’90s,” he now says of Stolpersteine, “I never imagined it would get so big.”
Now he sees it as his life’s work. However, there are still cities where Stolpersteine is hardly present, including Munich and Paris. “There are people who find stones disrespectful,” says Demnig. “They don’t want people’s names to be crossed. But the Stolpersteine is not a tombstone. You can think of it as a cornerstone. You don’t stumble in real life, but in your head and in your heart,” a student once told me. When the first stones were laid In Cologne I noticed that people stopped reading. They had to bend their knees to do it. You can see that as a bow.”
Stones are sometimes requested by next of kin, less often by past or current residents of the home, or by historical societies. “The stones belonging to Fanny and Louis Lamm had been ordered by the Oorthuys, neighbors of the Lamms during the war.” Photographer Cass Orthoiz was one of the foremen of the illegal hide-camera group. Building this from the bottom up, Deming believes, is the great strength of his social scholarship. “Monuments erected by the government arise mainly from anxiety. Once there, they are quickly forgotten. You can accidentally encounter Stolpersteine everywhere. They commemorate individuals. They are set before individuals, not groups, as a counterweight to mass destruction” . Deming often quotes a famous saying from the Talmud: “A man does not forget until he forgets his own name.”
The biggest resistance Demnig faced was stones for people with intellectual disabilities. Hundreds of thousands of disabled people were killed in Germany during the Third Reich. According to Demnig, there has been a ban on that for a long time. “Family members fear that people will think the condition is hereditary.” But that stigma is now also diminishing. More and more Stolpersteine is added more quickly; Copper snow globe. A map can be found online showing the distribution of stones throughout the Benelux. Demnig: “Sometimes someone says: There is a Stolpersteine in front of the neighbors’ house, and now we want them too.” As far as Demnig is concerned, it does not end at a hundred thousand. He put his life’s work at the foundation. “It can continue even after I’m gone.”