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On Tuesday (April 11) project coordinators of the "Stolpersteine" project visited the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Israel. Dr. Anne Thomas and Anna Warda gave a closer look into the project initiated by the German artist Gunter Demnig. Stolperstein (stumbling blocks) are small, brass-made monuments reminiscent of the victims of the Holocaust. They are placed in front of the last self-elected house of the Nazi victims in the sidewalk.

At the beginning of the evening, Deputy Head of KAS Israel, Dr. Joachim Rother welcomed the audience and introduced the speakers. Ms. Warda, who manages the project in Germany gave a rough overview of the project and explained that Stolpersteine can be found throughout Europe in more than 20 countries (as of April 2018). With over 68,000 stones, they form the largest decentralized Holocaust memorial in the world. Every single stone honors a person persecuted by the Nazis. These include, in particular, Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, People of Color, Christians, members of the Communist Party, deserters, the physically and mentally handicapped, and people who were labeled as "anti-social" by the Nazis. Each stone usually gives the name, year of birth, date of arrest and deportation, internment and concentration camp, and information about the person's fate. During this time, Ms. Warda emphasized the political significance of the stones. That they are identified as a "grassroots movement" and are closely linked to the democratic principles and human rights. As an omnipresent confrontation with the history of Nazi Germany, they form an important part in keeping the memory of the Holocaust.

Later, Ms. Warda went into the history of the Stolpersteine. The first stone was laid in 1995 in Cologne. Each stone is laid by the artist himself. This is meant to be a symbolic contrast to the mass destruction practiced by the Nazis. Demnig lays about 400 stones a month. Inspired by Joseph Beuys, Demnig's primary goal was - and still is - to get people to pause for a moment and reflect on the past. One stumbles in a sense with his head and his heart.

In conclusion, Ms. Warda revealed some difficulties and criticisms associated with the stumbling blocks. The worries of stigmatizing the victims and their homes or that one could mistakenly perceive the present inhabitants as perpetrators. Due to the multitude of memorials and memorials in Germany, another project could quickly lose its symbolic value and "go under" in the mass. The criticism is concentrated especially in the right party spectrum. The alternative for Germany (AfD) accuses the Stolpersteine foundation from profiting from the project.

Dr. Thomas, the international coordinator for the Stolpersteine project continued the presentation but in countries outside of Germany. After a short presentation, she explained Demnig's future plans, that being that he plans to lay his first Stolpersteine in Moldova, Latvia and Finland and with Sweden to follow suit the following year. Two countries that are more reluctant to the project are Poland and France. Dr. Thomas explained that in both countries, there are only a few stumbling blocks and none in the respective capitals. Most likely because these countries are more critical of commemoration than elsewhere.

As an audiovisual background, Dr. Thomas provided the audience with a video about the production of the stumbling blocks. Demnig himself spends most of his time laying stumbling blocks in Germany and Europe and he is on the road for 300 days a year. The production is therefore handled by Michael Friedrichs-Friedländer - each month he produces between 400 and 500 bricks.

The lecture ended with an open question and answer session from the audience. The session discussed the right wing criticism of the project and the desecration of the Stolpersteine in different cities which ultimately resulted in more public and financial support of the project. Dr. Thomas and Ms. Warda ended the session discussing how a researcher revealed than 1 in 10 people people stopped to read and understand the significance of this unique project.

Author: Charlotte Göbel Translation: Susi Doring Preston

About this Serial

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, its educational institutions, centres and foreign offices, offer several thousand events on various subjects each year. We provide up to date and exclusive reports on selected conferences, events and symposia at www.kas.de. In addition to a summary of the contents, you can also find additional material such as pictures, speeches, videos or audio clips.

Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.

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