Nearly every minute of my walk to the grocery store I encounter a reminder of Germany’s dark past.
Not long after I leave my home, I pass these three “Stolpersteines” (German for stumbling stones) memorializing a family deported to separate concentration camps under the Nazi regime.
For the past 20 years, artist Gunter Demnig has crafted and placed these small memorials outside the last known address for victims of the Nazis reign.
The small copper and gold blocks simply state “Hier wohnte” or “Here lived” along with the name, birthdate, concentration camp they were sent, and whether the person died. According to his website, Demnig’s project has placed more than 61,000 Stolpersteines in 1200 places in Europe. It’s the largest “decentralized” memorial in the world.
It is rather sobering when you come across one along your path as it really gives you a sense of the enormity of victims.
That’s because just a minute later on my walk, I encounter two more. They’re on the sidewalk outside a restaurant, resting between two tables of happy diners enjoying a cool August evening outdoors.
As I get closer to the shopping area, there’s a water fountain with a sign that reads “Places of horror we must never forget” and the names of all of the concentration camps.
A handful of steps later, I am in the grocery store.
It’s chilling to so regularly encounter these memorials, but they also remind you daily how quickly we can find ourselves among the darkest parts of human nature when we choose not to remember the mistakes of the past.
Rhetoric may not cause violence, yet it almost always precedes it.
So does silence.
By the way, while researching this post I discovered you can sponsor a Stolpersteine for €120. You can learn more here.