“A very direct and personal form of commemoration”
Historic speech on the Stolpersteine by Dr. Josef Schuster
Dr. Josef Schuster is one of the most respected figures in world Judaism. An internist by profession, he is the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and of the European Jewish Congress.
Dr. Josef Schuster has long been an ardent advocate of the Stolpersteine. It is thanks to his support that Schuster’s home town of Würzburg (in northwestern Bavaria) has 650 Stolpersteine – and that Stolpersteine are found in 1200 cities in Germany.
Forty Stolpersteine will be placed tomorrow, March 19th, in front of Würzburg‘s Jewish Hospital (commissioned in 1885) and of the „Pfründnerhaus“ (1892), which was the premises of the Jewish old age home, and in which 32 senior citizens had lived. Also being placed tomorrow for residents of Würzburg will be a „Stolperschwelle“ (a long plaque in which many names of victims have been engraved).
Thanks to these placements, Würzburg has more of these commemorative plaques than any other city in the state of Bavaria.
The number of these small brass plaques is less important than what is on each of them: the inscription. It tells about the victim, that he or she once had been a neighbor, that she or he had once lived or worked in this building, or had been treated here, in this Jewish hospital, in this Jewish old age home, that it had been from here that she or he had been sent to her or his death.
The Nazis murdered the people who had lived in these buildings, which are found on the corner of Würzburg‘s Dürerstraße and Konradstraße. The Nazis killed them in Theresienstadt, in Treblinka, in the vicinity of Lublin, in Auschwitz, and in Riga. The Nazis used the Jewish hospital as a “house of concentration”. They drove the victims into the building, and forced them to wait, tightly packed, for their being transported to their deaths.
A component of the Stolpersteine project of commemoration and art is comprised of the research preceding the placement of each individual stone. Fortunately, Gunter Demnig, the artist who created the Stolpersteine, does not make it easy for those wishing to commemorate the victims. Rather, he leaves the often exhaustive research for those wishing to donate the Stolpersteine. This research answers the questions: who lived in this buildings. Where were they deported to? Did family members survive, and, if so, where did they go?
This research constitutes an investigation of the era in which the Nazis ruled, an investigation, involvement whose intensity is scarcely to be matched or imagined. This is a direct and very personal form of commemoration. It renders the “neighbor who disappeared”, the fate of the person who lived and died palpable and moving.
Passersby who wish to read the inscription on a Stolperstein have to bend down. In doing so, they bow to this person, to the person who once lived here, to the person who was robbed of her or his rights, and persecuted to their deaths. All for a single reason: because she or he was a Jew.
We are marking in the year 2021 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany. In 321 A.D., in the first such mentioning of our people in Germany, the Roman Emperor Constantine decreed that Jews would be able to hold public office in the Cologne of those days.
In their 12 years in power, the Nazis strove to destroy the lives of the Jews in Germany and in Europe. They murdered six million of us – among them the 40 persons whose lives and deaths will be commemorated by tomorrow’s placement of Stolpersteine.
Over the last 30 years, more than 100,000 Jews have settled in Germany. Jewish life is flourishing and diverse, as our congregations. Notwithstanding this, our synagogues, schools and other facilities have to be protected by the police. And Antisemitism has attained a scope that the very few survivors of the Shoa, the ones who refounded in the era after 1945 Jewish congregations in Germany, would have ever expected.
I am greatly gratified by the majority of our society’s vehemently rejecting and combating Antisemitism, and doing such in words and deeds. The remembrance of the neighbors and other people living in our city who were subjected to persecution and murder is thus of vital importance. The placement of Stolpersteine constitutes one of the many way in which we join to remember and commemorate the victims of the Nazis.
On the Stolpersteine
The world’s project of Holocaust commemoration
80,000 Stolpersteine in 1,600 cities in 26 countries – placed by 1,600 local organizations, each staffed by volunteers. It adds up to the largest, most inclusive and democratic project of commemoration that the world has ever seen.
Each Stolperstein (“stumbling block”) commemorates a victim of the Shoah – Jew, Sinti or Roma, homosexual, persons persecuted for religious or political views or due to supposed disability (“euthanasia”).
Each Stolperstein is placed in the sidewalk in front of the building in which the victim lived before being dragged off by the Nazis to be murdered.
Each is commissioned by persons who have dedicated themselves to commemorating their family members, friends, neighbors.
Each Stolperstein is manufactured by hand and installed in the sidewalk by Gunter Demnig, the Cologne-based artist who launched this movement in 1994.
Each Stolperstein thus enables passersby to get to know and remember one of the 11 million people killed in the Holocaust.
The Stolpersteine thus constitute “the palpable atlas of Jewish life and suffering” – in the words of Galit Noga-Bonai, professor of religious art at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
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