Since 1992, German artist Gunther Demnig has been commemorating victims of the Holocaust by creating small Stolpersteine (stumbling stones): small cobblestone-sized memorials, which are installed in front of the homes lived in by particular victims before they were deported to a death camp.
By 2013, Demnig had created 43,500 of them in more than 1,000 different cities and towns.
Stolperstein, a new documentary film in German with English subtitles, will have its North American premiere in Ottawa on November 16 at the Mayfair Theatre as part of Holocaust Education Month.
The film’s producer, Gunter Hanfgarn, will be on hand for the event.
“A couple of years ago, I decided to do a movie about the stones because they weren’t very well known,” Hanfgarn said from Germany in a telephone interview with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
The stones are “actually in front of the houses,” he said. “It’s so moving to walk across the street and see this, to see where the people were born,” he said. “I think it’s a very important thing in coming to terms with what happened, because you’re really confronted. It’s easy to have a memorial somewhere in the city that you can choose to go to or not, but you can’t ignore the stones. I understood what the artist meant with that.”
Hanfgarn said he was “thrilled” to be coming to Ottawa to show the film.
The tiny brass 10 x 10 cm square stumbling stones embedded in concrete represent individuals who were targets
of the Nazi Holocaust. The stones are real, covered in copper and cemented into the sidewalk.
“It has become an avalanche: Every day, we have requests for stumbling blocks,” said Uta Franke, the Stolpersteine project co-ordinator in an article posted at http://tinyurl.com/m9obfub.
“In many cities, towns and even villages, just the idea to set a stone starts a new wave of discussion and research about the Nazi past,” said Demnig in the article. “I know I can’t do six million stones, but if I can inspire a discussion with just one, something very important has been achieved.
“Most people say ‘it’s a great way to think of the victims and what happened to them.’ The names are in the proper places. Some of the landlords tried to fight it – they thought there might be a wrong impression – but that didn’t happen very often … It’s well regarded and well accepted … Nobody is forgotten until his name is forgotten.”
Neither artist Demnig nor producer Hanfgarn is Jewish.
“In 1998, we produced a film about the Shoah Foundation founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994,” Hanfgarn said. “It took a long time to convince them to let us do it, and we did it. We were always attracted by these historical topics.”
Demnig spends most days throughout a given year down on his right knee, tools on one side, laying the memorials that typically give the name of the Holocaust victim who lived at that address, his or her date of birth, deportation and death and the location of where they were murdered.
The Stolpersteine are located in Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Russia, Croatia, France, Poland, Slovenia, Italy, Norway, Ukraine, Switzerland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.
Stolperstein will be shown on Sunday, November 16, 7 pm, at the Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street. Admission is $10. A question and answer session with producer Gunter Hanfgarn will follow the screening.
The event is a program of the Shoah Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and is co-sponsored by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Contact Benita Siemiatycki at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-798-4644 for more information on all Holocaust Education Month programs.