• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Pressure mounts to allow 'Stolpersteine' in Munich

AFP · 21 Jan 2015, 10:04

Published: 21 Jan 2015 10:04 GMT+01:00

Ernst Grube, a sprightly 82-year-old Munich native with a ready smile, has had enough.

Seventy years after surviving a Nazi concentration camp and losing several close family members to the gas chambers in German-occupied Poland, Grube said the time had come for relatives to be allowed to choose their own way of remembering their dead.

Grube's hometown, however, levelled an official ban more than a decade ago on what has become the most personal and popular Holocaust memorial project in Europe today, known as Stolpersteine ("stumbling blocks").

For nearly 20 years, pedestrians have been stumbling across the names of Nazi-era victims on coaster-sized brass plaques embedded in the pavement in front of their last known addresses.

The 50,000th Stolperstein was laid this month, ahead of the 70th anniversary on Tuesday of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, and they can now be found in more than 1,000 cities and towns throughout Europe.

Sculptor Gunter Demnig started the project in 1996 to bring the unfathomable dimensions of the Holocaust down to a human scale. 

Each Stolperstein bears a stark text, with the name of the victim, birthdate, date of deportation and, if known, date and place of death. 

However Munich, which was the historical home of the Nazi movement, is the only major German metropolis to outlaw the blocks in public places.

The strongest opposition came from an unexpected place: the leader of Munich's 4,000-strong Jewish community, Charlotte Knobloch, who argued that victims' memories would be desecrated once more when passers-by walked on the plaques.

The ban was so sweeping that two Stolpersteine, for Jewish art dealers Siegfried and Paula Jordan, were dug up again soon after the 2004 decision. 

"It was as if my parents were deported a second time," their son, 91-year-old Peter Jordan, wrote to city officials.

Tide turning?

Grube says he respects Knobloch, who survived the Nazi period in hiding with a Catholic family, but he called her de facto veto outdated and unjust. 

"I am 82, Frau Knobloch is 82, I was persecuted as a child, Frau Knobloch was persecuted as a child," he said. "Why does her experience count more than mine?"

Grube noted that beyond the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust, groups including resistance members, gays, the disabled, Sinti and Roma and Jehovah's Witnesses were also targeted for extermination. Their descendants have now lent their voices to Munich's pro-Stolpersteine campaign.

Knobloch declined an interview but said in a statement sent by email that she maintained her stance.

"People murdered in the Holocaust deserve better than a plaque in the dust, street dirt and even worse filth," she said.

Knobloch suggested "alternatives" including a single memorial with the names of all Munich victims installed at a Nazi party documentation centre due to open in April.

The tide, however, may well be turning in favour of the Stolpersteine since the election last year of a new mayor who backs the project, joining proponents including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israel's Yad Vashem memorial.

An initiative lobbying for Stolpersteine in Munich led by Terry Swartzberg, an energetic American Jew who has lived in Germany for nearly four decades, believes it now has a majority on the city council to overturn the ban as soon as next month.

Swartzberg, 61, said he often receives fervent letters of support from the grandchildren of Holocaust victims in Israel and the United States.

"They say 'we need Stolpersteine, we want to visit the places where our families lived before they were dragged off to Treblinka, to Auschwitz'," he said.

'Lightning rod' 

Swartzberg said that after deadly attacks on Jews in Paris and Brussels and the troubling rise of a right-wing populist group in the eastern German city of Dresden, the Stolpersteine could serve as a "lightning rod".

"In other words, if Stolpersteine started to be desecrated by neo-Nazis or Muslims we would know that Germany is facing an anti-Semitism issue," he said. 

In the meantime, Swartzberg's group has installed more than two dozen Stolpersteine on private property, beyond the reach of city authorities, and has around 300 blocks in a cellar ready to be laid.

Story continues below…

Bernhard Purin, director of Munich's eight-year-old Jewish Museum, said the city had long lagged behind in owning up to its past.

He said the Stolpersteine represented a "new, democratic" type of memorial, particularly appealing to younger people.

"Those who don't approve should perhaps be a little more tolerant," said Purin, 51.

Many in Munich admit the emotional debate around the Stolpersteine has forced the city to address painful questions.

Rudolf Saller, a 59-year-old civil servant, insisted Knobloch's views should prevail given her stature.

"She was democratically elected by her community," he said. "The people who are most affected should have their say."

Yet many in Munich seemed to have embraced the project already, said patent office employee Martin Müller.

"Soon all the survivors will be dead," said Müller, 48. "We need a way of remembering that stays with us in everyday life."

SEE ALSO: App creates virtual Holocaust memorials 

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Lion shot dead at Leipzig Zoo after breaking out of cage
Motshegetsi (l) und Majo. Photo: DPA

A young male lion was shot dead at Leipzig Zoo on Thursday afternoon after he broke out of his enclosure.

EU takes Germany to court for 'discriminatory' foreigner toll
A sign that reads "toll" along the Autobahn by Rostock. Photo: DPA.

The European Commission on Thursday said it is taking Germany to the EU Court of Justice because of the country's plan to impose a road toll that would mainly charge foreign drivers.

After 3-year trial, suspected neo-Nazi terrorist speaks out
Beate Zschäpe. Photo: DPA

Beate Zschäpe, the only living member of an underground neo-Nazi cell accused of murdering ten people, has spoken to the court in Munich after three years of silence.

Green party wants only e-cars on Autobahn by 2030
Photo: DPA.

The environmentalist Green party has an ambitious plan for German cars to be petrol- and diesel-free within the next 15 years.

Commerzbank to make one in five staff redundant by 2020
Photo: DPA

Germany's second largest lender Commerzbank said on Thursday it plans to cut 9,600 jobs by 2020 and withhold dividends to pay for a €1.1 billion restructuring.

Germany's favourite smoker wins battle against eviction
Photo: DPA

How a pensioner with a serious smoking habit won a years-long fight for his right to keep his home - and his favourite pastime.

Thousands evacuated after WWII bomb found in Cologne
File photo of a Second World War bomb: DPA

Several thousands people were being evacuated from a district of Cologne just north of the old town on Thursday morning, after a Second World War bomb was found in a parking lot.

Kidnapped German journalist and her baby freed in Syria
File photo of a Syrian soldier: SANA/DPA.

A German woman who was kidnapped in Syria last year while she was pregnant has been freed along with her baby, the German Foreign Office said on Wednesday.

Air Berlin to cut 1,200 jobs and halve airline fleet
Photo: DPA.

Struggling Air Berlin, Germany's second-largest airline, announced on Wednesday a major restructuring plan that shrinks its fleet and cuts 1,200 jobs.

Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
Photo: Thomas Wolf/Wikimedia Commons.

From stunning chalk-white cliffs to fairy tale castles, Germany has some breathtaking sights to see, perfect for social media.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
Lifestyle
10 German films you have to watch before you die
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
6,623
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd