FaithWorld

Germans atone for Holocaust with “stumble stones”

stolpersteine 1 (Photo: “Stumble stones” in Berlin’s Wilmersdorf district November 7, 2008/Fabrizio Bensch)

The metal plaques, called Stolpersteine, or “stumble stones,” are set into the ground at my father’s ancestral home in this picturesque village south of Frankfurt.

The squares, 10 cm by 10 cm (4 inches by 4 inches), are barely conspicuous, but the words etched in brass seem to cry out for memory of the home’s last five Jewish inhabitants.

As autumn sunlight bounces off the plaques, I recall a time nearly 75 years ago when the five, all relatives including my father, were driven from here by Nazi anti-Semitism. Four fled Germany; the fifth died in a concentration camp.

The creation of Cologne artist Gunter Demnig, the Stolpersteine are set at homes of victims of Nazi prejudice. They aim to trip the memories of passers-by of long-gone targets of discrimination, mainly Jews but also homosexuals, the disabled, dissidents and Gypsies.

By tying a victim’s fate to a capsule biography, told in a kind of Haiku, the “stumble stones” seek to reduce the epic scale of the Holocaust to a more comprehensible human story.

Cardinal Martino does it again

Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a “big concentration camp” is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn’t stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,” he said at the time.

The “treated like a cow” remark was heard around the world and, needless to say, was not very appreciated in the White House. The Vatican had opposed the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March of that year. In fact, a certain chill developed between Martino and then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran who later went on to become Bush’s Secretary for Veteran Affairs.

Berlin fights to save work of anti-Nazi theologian

Germany is launching an appeal to save thousands of valuable letters and manuscripts which had belonged to Protestant theologian and Nazi resistance fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer by digitalising them. (Photo: 1995 German stamp honouring Bonhoeffer)

The Berlin state library says it needs 40,000 euros to save the documents which it counts as one of its most prized collections. It wants to put about 6,200 pages of his work on the Internet to make them more widely available.

The papers include the farewell letter Bonhoeffer wrote to his parents before his execution in a concentration camp in 1945, just days before the end of World War Two, for opposing Hitler. He was 39.