Remembering in Munich

Posted on February 17, 2014

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Terry Swartzberg is a nice Jewish boy from Wisconsin who has found himself loving life in Munich, Germany these last twenty-five years or so. Active with the Reform congregation in that city, Terry also spends many waking hours advocating on behalf of the Stolpersteine initiative.

Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) are those small brass bricks that typically are placed in public sidewalks directly in front of the last residence of those imprisoned or murdered by the Nazis. Mark Schwartz (a nice Jewish boy from Oklahoma!) recently placed several Stolpersteine at Wielandstrasse 15 in Berlin to commemorate his relatives Peter, Leon, and Jenny Yasgur Driller. (Jenny survived, so her stone bears that information.)

Mark has also been working to get a Stolperstein placed in memory of Christoph Probst. The initiative is not limited to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Roma, Sinti, LGBT, Jehovah’s Witness, Communists/Socialists, anyone in the resistance – people who were arrested and imprisoned, or murdered/executed, for political or racial reasons qualify for a Stolperstein to be placed before the house where they lived before their arrest. Or, if the house no longer stands, before their final workplace.

Munich is a different animal altogether. While Stolpersteine exist in nearly every German city, and many others across Europe, Munich continues to resist. Surprisingly, the primary resistance has come from Munich’s Orthodox Jewish community, specifically from Charlotte Knobloch, former president of the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany). She fears that these small memorials are too easily vandalized and desecrated. So in Munich, the only Stolpersteine that have been placed to date have been laid on private property.

Terry and most people in Munich point to the larger Holocaust memorials as even more susceptible to vandalism. Additionally, in the few incidents of defacing Stolpersteine to date, the act of the hooligans has been met with community-wide efforts to restore the stones. In effect, the vandalism serves to remind people why we must remember and brings neighbors together on a common mission.

Terry asked us to spread the word. Mrs. Knobloch’s position has recently relented somewhat, and Munich’s Mayor and City Council will soon be reconsidering the matter. Terry noted that Munich’s leaders truly do care what the rest of the world thinks about how the city remembers the Holocaust. “Letters from America are worth their weight in gold!”

To help, all you need to do is send an email. Address it to Christian Ude, Mayor of Munich, Germany. Use the email address initiative@stolpersteine-muenchen.de. Keep your message short and sweet. Briefly tell Mr. Ude who you are (student, accountant, historian), where you work or study, and why you think this is important. Sign it with your full name and address to prove you are a real person. Be respectful.

Terry and his Stolpersteine colleagues will then collect all your emails and hand-deliver them to the next city council meeting where the matter will be voted upon.

Please share this post on your Facebook page. Tweet it. Email it to the members of your synagogue, mosque, or church. Get your German Club or Hillel involved. We can make a difference. We can ensure that these people – people who were friends, family, thinkers, doers, doctors, teachers, people whose only crime was their ethnicity or their sexual orientation or their political views – we can ensure that these people are remembered every time someone walks down their street to catch a street car, pick up groceries, or go to the theater.

We can make a difference.

PS: Check out the Stolpersteine Munich Facebook page!

-Denise Heap