(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.