• Sheryl Gwyther

#11 Berlin...the stumbling stone stories

Anyone with a sense of history would feel the stories as they walked Berlin's stone cobbles and pavements. From the 1930s, this city was the seat of Hitler's power. The Nazis goosestepped through these streets. The sturmabteilung (literally, the Storm Detachment) or Brown Shirts burned the books of the intelligentsia, the thinkers; carried out their terror raids on Jewish houses, smashing shop windows and rounding up Berlin's Jewish citizens for detainment, and worse.

Here in Berlin, there are monuments in many places about the Holocaust - from the stunning Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, to simple inscriptions on walls.

There is a term here, "German collective guilt". It refers to the notion of collective guilt attributed to Germany and the German people for perpetrating the Holocaust and starting World War II.

After the war, the British and US occupation forces promoted shame and guilt with a publicity campaign, which included posters depicting concentration camps with slogans such as "These Atrocities: Your Fault!" (Diese Schandtaten: Eure Schuld!)

And yet, a 2012 poll found that half of German schoolchildren do not know Third Reich was a dictatorship - or that East Germany was Communist. Sounds familiar? Yes, like Japan. And even in Australia high school students can choose whether they learn history or not. Yep...“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

Anyway, aside from all that ... on the pavement outside The Margrit, our hotelpension is a simple, brass plaque.

It is a stolperstein, a STUMBLING STONE - cobblestone-size brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination. The stolperstein art project was initiated by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992, and over 50,000 stolpersteine have been laid in 18 European countries, making the stolperstein project the world's largest decentralized memorial.

There are also stones for the Romani people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, black people, members of the Christians opposition (both Protestants and Catholics), the Communist Party and the European anti-Nazi Resistance, military deserters, and the physically or mentally disabled who were killed by the fascist regime.

It aims to commemorate individual persons at exactly their last place of residency—or, sometimes, work—which was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror, euthanasia, eugenics, was deported to a concentration or extermination camp, or escaped persecution by emigration or suicide.

So, in our leafy suburb of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, from this pretty art-deco building where we are staying, Max and Anna Brilling were taken from their home and deported to Auschwitz. They died on 16th May, 1942. How can one not help feeling part of history when you are reminded every day?

#StumblingStones #history