The first Stolpersteine – literally stumbling blocks – to be placed in public in Augsburg attracted quite a crowd on Thursday as Cologne artist Gunter Demnig laid them into the ground, according to the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
“I am very happy that my grandparents will be thought of,” said Miriam Friedmann, grandchild of two victims killed at Auschwitz, now featured on the blocks placed on Thursday.
Demnig began the stumbling block project in 1996 as a way to honour the victims of the Holocaust, with each brass block listing the birth, death and fate of a victim, generally placed outside of where they lived or worked. There are currently more than 50,000 across Europe, though that is still a tiny fraction of the roughly six million massacred by the Nazi regime.
But the stumbling blocks have not always been welcome in places like Augsburg, where members of the local Jewish community have opposed them, arguing that it is disrespectful to victims for their names to be stepped on.
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The city of Munich has also long opposed the stumbling blocks due to similar objections by its own community organization, the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria (IKG). But this group's stance has also been contested by other members of the Bavarian capital's Jewish community.
But the city of Augsburg ultimately came to a compromise, that included a local rabbi's agreement, to place the blocks by having some Jewish victims remembered instead by “memorial bands at eye level” on lamp posts, according to broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.
Blocks laid in Augsburg by artist Gunter Demnig on Thursday. Photo: DPA.
But the city of Augsburg disagrees with his definition of victim. Of the 20 blocks that Demnig wanted to place, the city hall only approved of 12. The culture advisor Thomas Weitzel said that victims should only be considered those who died by 1945, explaining that one cannot lump everyone affected by the Nazis together. One of the blocks that was supposed to be included was for a resistance fighter who died nearly six decades after the end of the Second World War.
So for now Demnig said he would set up “place holder” stones for the ones he does not yet have permission for. Weitzel said that if Demnig went ahead and defied the city council’s wishes to place the unauthorized stones, he would deal with the artist afterwards.
Green party politician Claudia Roth welcomed the new blocks on Thursday, and said that even the place holders would stir up discussion on memory. What is most important, Roth said, is to have consent from victims’ relatives.
“The debate about the history of our city will not end today, but rather will it will gain a brand new perspective, and that is good.”