Stolpersteine

I have only seen the National Memorial for Peace and Justice on television and the web. As you probably know, it is a memorial to the over four thousand African Americans who were killed between 1877 and 1950 for the crime of having dark skins. It is certainly overpowering to see the stones representing every single victim whose death could be documented.

Last summer, while walking the streets of Würzburg, Germany, we saw a more prosaic, but just as heart-gripping, memorial to victims of a different Holocaust. Gunter Demnig, a German artist, created Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks), brass plaques cemented on cobblestones. The plaques are engraved with the details of the victims – name, birthdate, date of death, location (concentration camp) of death – who might be Jews, Roma, homosexuals, or mentally or physically handicapped persons. The stumbling blocks are set into the pavement in front of the former homes of the victims, so a stroll down the street is a reminder of what and where it happened.

While a trip to the various Holocaust Museums leaves a person with a profound feeling of rage at those who perpetrated these crimes against humanity, it may be forgotten with the passage of time and a return to one’s daily life. I have the feeling that the Stolpersteine may have a more subtle effect on people, in their pervasiveness throughout the cities where they were installed. I wonder if Demnig or someone else might be encouraged to do the same with those four thousand victims of racism, showing how pervasive and widespread it was throughout this country.

Author: Mike Maltz

Michael D. Maltz is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice and of Information and Decision Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently an adjunct professor of sociology at the Ohio State University His formal training is in electrical engineering (BEE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1959; MS & PhD Stanford University, 1961, 1963), and he spent seven years in that field. He then joined the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (now National Institute of Justice), where he became a criminologist of sorts. After three years with NIJ, he spent thirty years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, during which time he was a part-time Visiting Fellow at the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Maltz is the author of Recidivism, coauthor of Mapping Crime in Its Community Setting, and coeditor of Envisioning Criminology.

4 thoughts on “Stolpersteine”

  1. The National Memorial does have a similar program. From their site (https://eji.org/national-lynching-memorial): "In the six-acre park surrounding the memorial is a field of identical monuments, waiting to be claimed and installed in the counties they represent. Over time, the national memorial will serve as a report on which parts of the country have confronted the truth of this terror and which have not."

  2. Or, y'know, maybe statues/plaques memorializing places in the US where slaves were kept . But then, that would be *everywhere* in the 13 original colonies, I guess. <sigh> It was with some dismay that I read of the atrocities committed in New York City against enslaved Americans, back when it was legal in the North.

  3. The first thought that comes to me on considering this is how big an ongoing budget you would need to repair or replace stones that were vandalized or removed/destroyed. I have no idea whether there are part of germany where stolpersteine don't get placed (the one for my grandfather is in a "nice" neighborhood).

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