Our trip was divided into two parts. The first half was in Norway, the second half was in Austria. But some things stood out to me not necessarily in chronological order so I have chosen to share parts of the trip randomly.
We found these small, 10 cm or 4” square, brass covered plaques on the sidewalks in Vienna and in Salzburg but I have since learned that they can be found in many European countries and cities and although they number about 45,000 at the present time more and more of them are being added as the necessary information is collected. What are they? They are call Stolpersteine, literally "stumbling stones" in English, and are monuments created by Gunter Demnig to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. They are most often placed in the sidewalks by the houses or apartments where the victims lived before they were arrested, imprisoned and often later killed but some of the plaques also identify victims who survived. The individuals named were consigned by the Nazis to prisons, euthanasia facilities, sterilization clinics, concentration camps and extermination camps. The majority of people represented were Jewish but there were also Sinti and Romani people, sometimes called gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, black people, Christians who opposed the Nazis, the mentally and physically disabled and military deserters.
Each square contains the name, year of birth and fate, dates of deportation and death if known. The top line “Hier wohnte” “here lived” can be found on most of the memorials though some of them are installed at places of employment rather than a residence. Each memorial costs €120 or about $163 as of 2012 with donations by collections, individuals, school classes, witnesses and communities to cover the cost of each square. It is hard to describe the feeling when first noticing them. We found these small memorials to be so extremely moving and poignant, more so because of their size and location, than a larger memorial might seem. It made the people whose names appeared on them come alive. Each time we saw one we stopped and read the names. On one morning walk we saw where someone had placed fresh flowers by a brass square. Another apartment building had multiple squares indicating that an entire family had been arrested, separated and sent to different camps, all had perished. I only took photos of a few of them but we saw perhaps 100 or more with many of them clustered in certain neighborhoods.
Gunter Demnig started the project in 1992, 50 years after the decree to deport gypsies to extermination camps was signed by Heinrich Himmler. It has been a private project that has grown and is still growing with help from other individuals. Much of the information for the stones comes from schools, relatives, various organizations and the data base of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. One thing I thought was interesting was the reason behind the name of the cobblestone sized plaques. It used to be the custom in Germany for non-Jews to say, when they stumbled over a protruding stone: “There must be a Jew buried here.” Joseph Pearson a Cambridge historian also observed that “It is not what is written on the stolpersteine which intrigues . . . it is the emptiness, void, lack of information, the maw of the forgotten, which gives the monuments their power and lifts them from the banality of a statistic."