Researching die Stolpersteine in London

Greetings from sunny (and surprisingly not rainy) London, England.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will be researching Gunter Demnig’s die Stolpersteine, a unique method of Shoah (Holocaust) memorialization that has spread across Europe in the past twenty or so years.  Stolpersteine (literally, “stumble stones”) are small brass plaques set into the pavement in front of the last recorded residences of victims of the Shoah (I plan on dedicating a later entry solely to the discussion of why I would urge us to refer to the mass extermination perpetuated by the Nazis as the Shoah rather than the Holocaust). Each Stolperstein bears the words HERE LIVED and records the victim’s name, the date of their deportation and the place (usually a camp) where they perished. Sometimes, one may find a Stolperstein in front of the victim’s place of work (although it is far more common to find them before a victim’s home). Today, Stolpersteine are found in over 500 localities across several European countries (Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, The Netherlands,  etc.). Shortly, I’ll be posting a visual aid I’ve created to lead you through the anatomy, so to speak, of a Stolperstein.

I first discovered these street-level memorials when I spent the month of June 2009 studying German in Freiburg (a small town at the edge of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany).  At first, I had no idea what they were—my German was and still is pitiful. It wasn’t until I inspected one of them during an afternoon walk after class during my second week that I came to realize—by piecing together what few words I could recognize—what these stones might very well mean. A conversation moments later with the shop owner in front of whose business I had stopped opened up a world to me. Since then, I have been fascinated by them.

The goal of my project is to situate die Stolpersteine in the larger effort of Shoah memorialization while thinking through their effect on public consciousness (in comparison to and over and against more traditional methods of memorialization).

My project will take the following shape:  I’ll be visiting and working out of The Wiener  Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London’s Russell Square from July 15-19. I’ve lucked out as the director of the library, Mr. Ben Barkow, is not only a big admirer of the stumbling-stone project but has also published on the subject. I look forward to spending time in this marvelous institution and getting the chance to speak with and learn from Mr. Barkow.

The following week will take me to the city of Tilburg in The Netherlands where I will be attending a graduate seminar on the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas entitled “Levinas—Ethics, Politics and the Problem of Violence.” This seminar will be led by the philosopher Dr. Simon Critchley of New York City’s The New School for Social Research. My favorite part of this seminar? In order to get around Tilburg, we’ve all been urged to invest the €7 a day necessary for renting a bike. Most importantly, while at the University of Tilburg, I’ll have the chance to present my research from the week before in London and see what the other participants think about my attempt to think through die Stolpersteine by way of Levinas’s theory of inverted intentionality (do not worry—I shall explain what that even means in a short while!).

More soon! Wishing everyone all the good stuff…

–David

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