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Embedded Memories
In Germany, Holocaust memorials hit close to home (For photographs of the Wolf family and Stolpersteine, see this month's magazine)

On Saturday, December 6, 1941, Nazis ordered the Wolf family onto a train. From their home in Hamburg, Germany, two-year-old Dan and his mother, Olga, and Olga's mother, Fanny Berlin, were deported to a concentration camp in Riga, Latvia, 600 miles (965 kilometers) away. There, they were killed—three out of roughly six million Jews who perished in the genocidal fury of Hitler's final solution.
 
Sixty years after the D-Day invasion turned the tide of war against Hitler, the names of Dan, Olga, and Fanny have been returned to Hamburg, etched on brass plaques embedded in the sidewalk outside Eppendorfer Baum 10, where the Wolfs lived. The markers are part of a Holocaust memorial project conceived by Gunter Demnig, a 56-year-old sculptor from Cologne who became concerned that some Germans were losing sight of crimes committed in their backyards.
 
"You can open a book and read that the Nazis killed six million Jews, along with five million others, but you still cannot fully realize what happened," says Demnig. "But if you learn the fate of one man or one woman who lived in one particular house—it's very different."

Demnig calls his plaques stolpersteine, or stumbling stones, because pedestrians who notice them have their memories tripped: A stroll down an ordinary city street is suddenly transformed into a walk across the stage of history.

Since 1997 Demnig has installed 3,300 brass plaques in 30 German cities—and in the process has clearly struck a nerve. Students have volunteered to conduct the archival research that's required before each plaque can be etched and put in place. Who lived where? When were they born? Where did they die? Other people have requested stolpersteine for friends or family members. The price, 95 euros ($118 U.S.), barely covers the cost of a plaque's creation and installation. Despite 300 back orders, Demnig has expanded the project to Austria and France.

Yet some Germans want no part of it. According to Demnig, one man in Cologne went to court to prevent installation of stolpersteine outside his house because, he argued, the plaques would decrease the property value by 100,000 euros. In Munich Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Israelite Congregation, objects to the stolpersteine for other reasons. "Given the fact that Jewish people have been kicked with boots in the past," she says she doesn't want to see "their names again kicked with boots and made dirty."
 
Despite the objections, Demnig pushes on with the project. "For some people in Israel and elsewhere the stolpersteine are the first reason they've revisited their former homes in Germany," he says. Unlike Berlin's five-acre (two-hectare) Holocaust memorial, which will capture the staggering scale of the Nazi genocide when it opens next year, the stolpersteine give mourners a place to remember an individual life.
 
For 28-year-old Dan Wolf—namesake and nephew of the two-year-old boy taken in 1941—his family's stolpersteine were one stop in a rediscovery of his Hamburg roots. His great-grandfather Leopold and great-granduncle, Ludwig Wolf, were part of a cabaret trio whose songs and shtick were the rage in Hamburg in the early 1900s. "My grandmother never told me I came from a long line of showbiz people," says Dan, a rap singer and actor himself. 
 
"History feels safer when we put it in a museum," he says. "But in Germany the Holocaust happened in the streets, in the marketplace. It wasn't centralized. Any spot might be an unmarked grave."
 
—Alan Mairson


Web Links

Stolpersteine (in German)
www.stolpersteine.com
If you have loved ones, family, or friends you would like to memorialize with a stolperstein, visit Gunter Demnig's homepage. Though the page is in German, (and has been experiencing some technical difficulties of late), Demnig is happy to receive requests for information in English. If the website is not working, you can contact the stolpersteine project administrator, Uta Franke, at this email address: uta.franke@arcor.de.

Gebrüder Wolf (in German)
www.gebruederwolf.de
Interested in Gebrüder Wolf, the performance group of the Wolf brothers? This is the website of the documentary Return of the Tüdelband-Gebrüder Wolf Story by Jens Huckeriede. The film tells of the Wolf brothers' musical career and their influence on 28-year-old Dan Wolf, the Wolf brothers' actor and rap singer relative, as he begins to search for his roots in Hamburg. The site includes more information about the film, pictures, and a brief history.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
www.ushmm.org
Learn more about the Holocaust through personal histories, online exhibits, collections, and much more. This site is teeming with information covering many different aspects of the Holocaust, including education, research capabilities, history, conscience, and remembrance. Survivors are encouraged to register and share their memories.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
www.holocaust-mahnmal.de/
If you are planning a trip to Berlin, make sure to visit this new Holocaust memorial. Learn all about this five-acre memorial with 2,751 stelae commemorating the victims of genocide during the Holocaust. The Field of Stelae and the information center are scheduled to open in May 2005.

Jewish Life in Jungfernhof Concentration Camp
www.rrz.uni-hamburg.de/rz3a035/jungfern.html
Not for the weak-hearted, this site tells about the daily life at Jungfernhof concentration camp (where the Wolfs were taken) through the eyes of several survivors. Focusing on the role that Chief Rabbi Dr. Joseph Carlebach had in the camp, the article shows the amazing capability of selflessness, and how one man can make such a large difference to so many people during such a desperate time.


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