Stumbling Blocks: A Decentralized Memorial to Holocaust Victims

  • Michael Imort


A key question at the heart of the process of public memorialization is how we as citizens ‘learn’ what to forget and what to remember about our collective past. One of the ways in which we can learn about the ‘rules of engagement’ for public remembering is by interpreting memorials and monuments in public space: through their location, form, material, inscription, and many other aspects they instruct us what, how, and when to remember. In fact, that is arguably the sole reason for their existence. Most public monuments are unique objects whose signification is created by a combination of historically connotative location and distinctive symbolic design. By contrast, this chapter discusses a monument that exists in thousands of almost identical repetitions that are dispersed, and at the same time interconnected, over countless locations. Called Stumbling Blocks (in German Stolpersteine), these small, affordable, and easily transportable monuments make it possible for everyone to commission their own memorial for individual victims of the Holocaust and to site them in everyday locations. As a decentralized, collective monument that is initiated and sustained by individuals, rather than the state or institutions, the Stumbling Blocks are thus democratizing public memorialization.2 At the same time, this downscaling, multiplication, and dispersal of Holocaust monuments is also re-invigorating the public discourse over the aims and methods of Holocaust memorialization in Germany just as the debates over the central Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin are beginning to fade.


Jewish Community City Council Local Council Municipal Council Identical Repetition 
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© Michael Imort 2010

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  • Michael Imort

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