Reconciling With the Past - The Diffusion of "Stolpersteine" in Europe and Beyond

Authors: Michael G. Noll*, Valdosta State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Historical Geography
Keywords: Holocaust, reconciliation, memorial landscapes, Confederate monuments
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the 1990s the artist Gunter Demnig started installing “Stolpersteine” (stumbling stones) in the streets of Germany. What started with a painted line across Cologne's cityscape, to indicate the trail of deportation for Sinti and Roma, eventually led to the inception of the stumbling stones project in Berlin, to remember victims of the Holocaust, and to indicate their last known address of choice. Since then Demnig's commemorative brass plaques have diffused through Germany and into countries like France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary. By October 2017 more than 64,000 “Stolpersteine” had been placed into the pavement and sidewalks of approximately 1,200 towns in Europe.

This paper examines the diffusion of “Stolpersteine” throughout Europe and discusses their effectiveness in remembering the National Socialist history of a continent. In addition, it takes a closer look at similar reconciliation projects in the United States, which were either inspired by Demnig's idea in the form of "Witness Stones" or "Stopping Stones", or which resemble other forms of "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" as utilized by organizations like the "Equal Justice Initiative". Finally, this paper asks the question of whether or not our society needs to explore new ways of coming to terms with our own past, to address the recent emergence of racial tension, and to help our society to form a more perfect union.

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