Cobblestones to remember murdered Jews multiply in Berlin

Thu May 1, 2014 2:36am EDT
 
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By christopher alessi

BERLIN, April 30 (Reuters) - Veronika Houboi watched as a man in a cowboy hat and clogs wielded a sledge hammer to smash up and remove a dozen small cobblestones from a Berlin pavement.

He quickly filled the resulting hole with two identical blocks of concrete capped with inscribed square brass plates.

The blocks, called "Stolpersteine" or "stumbling blocks," read: "Here lived Dr. Erich Blumenthal, born 1883, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz. Here lived Helene Blumenthal, born 1888, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz."

In Berlin, the blocks have become part of the fabric of the city, their plates glinting amid the gray paving on residential streets and stopping both locals and tourists in their tracks.

Houboi and her husband sponsored the Blumenthals' blocks, traveling across Germany to see them laid in the northeast Berlin neighborhood where Houboi, now 71, grew up in the 1940s.

As a child, she had been moved by a story about the family's local doctor, who had defied Nazi laws banning Jewish medics from treating non-Jews to care for her critically ill brother.

Unable to find the name of that doctor, Houboi decided to symbolically honor him by commissioning blocks for another local Jewish doctor, Dr. Blumenthal, and his wife.

The man behind the stumbling blocks is Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig, who in 1996 illegally laid the first 41 in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, having found the names in a local history book about the area's Jewish population.   Continued...

 
So-called 'Stolpersteine' (stumbling blocks), memorial pavement plaques commemorating German Jews who died in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Theresienstadt, are pictured in Berlin's Wilmersdorf district November 7, 2008. German artist Gunter Demnig has embedded into pavements across Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Netherlands where Jews were living during the Nazi era.        REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY) - RTXAD55