Munich Council Upholds Ban on Holocaust ‘Stumbling Stones’

Stolperstein, or stumbling stones, embedded in a sidewalk. (Aktives Museum Spiegelgasse)
Stolperstein, or stumbling stones, embedded in a sidewalk. (Aktives Museum Spiegelgasse)

Munich’s city council has refused to lift a ban on so-called “stumbling stones,” tiny plaques embedded in sidewalks to commemorate Holocaust victims outside their former homes, which are a common sight elsewhere in Germany.

The opposition Green party and a smaller group on the council had sought to clear the way for the stones carrying Holocaust victims’ names to be laid, something that councilors first rejected in 2004.

However, the majority of councilors voted against on Wednesday. Opponents of the stones — who include Jewish leaders in Munich — object to them on the grounds that they allow victims’ names to be trampled on.

“Should neo-Nazis be able to wipe their dirt from their combat boots on the stones?” asked Marian Offman, a member of the city council and the board of the Jewish Cultural Center of Munich and Upper Bavaria, during the debate, reported Deutche Welle.

Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Cultural Center, said she found it “unbearable” that people would be “stepping all over” the names of murdered Jews, although she said the project was “well meant” and she could understand those who were of a different opinion.

“When my family discovered the stone that was placed in our grandmother’s memory by the Jewish museum in Wiesbaden we were very moved by it,” said a Lakewood resident who asked not to be named. “For her and millions of others that were murdered in the camps, this is the closest thing that they will ever have to a matzeivah. It is obviously not where they are buried, but is at their place of residence, which is meaningful and it is individualized, unlike most memorials.”

While he said that he did understand the feelings of objectors, the Lakewood resident responded that “unfortunately, many Jewish cemeteries in Europe are also trampled, neglected, and targeted; does that mean that they shouldn’t be established?”

The plaques, called stolperstein, are the brainchild of Gunter Demnig, a German artist. In the early 1990s, against the backdrop of an increasing number of large Holocaust memorials, he sought a method that would focus on individual victims. The small brass plaques, imbedded in a stone, bears the name, birthdate and fate of the person to whom they are dedicated. Some are dedicated to survivors who were forced to flee, but most end with the date and location of their deaths, usually a Nazi camp. They are privately sponsored.

The project has attracted controversy. Some cities such as Munich saw the memorial as disrespectful, but they have gradually spread.

According to the Stolpersteine organization, 48,000 have been installed in over 1,000 cities and towns throughout Germany, as well as in 17 other European countries.

(With Reporting from Associated Press)