Emmen resident Gerard Boels is cleaning the various ‘Stumbling Stone’ memorial installations that sit throughout the city, which commemorate victims of the Holocaust.
Translation by Thomas Ansell
As reported in the Emmer Courant, Boels has recruited a group of people to help go through the Drents city and clean up the small bronze art installations in order to preserve their message and meaning. “They shine brightly, and the text is clearly legible again”, said Gerard Boels about one of the just-cleaned ‘Stolpersteine’ in the centre of Emmen.
There are more than 80 such stones throughout the city of Emmen. They have been placed in front of houses formerly lived in by Jewish residents of the city who were transported from Drenthe to work and death camps across Europe. Every stone is 10 cm by 10 cm and commemorates a Jewish victim with a small brass plaque inscribed with the person’s name, date of birth, place of death and date of death.
The Stolperstein (‘stumble stone’ in German) memorial project was first launched in Berlin by German artist Gunter Demnig in 1997. Each one commemorates a victim of Nazi persecution, whether Jewish, Sinti, Roma, political prisoner, conscientious objector, homosexual, Jehovah’s Witness or handicapped individuals. The stumble stones are so named because they are slightly raised, and upon stumbling over them, one must lean down to read the text clearly.
“The stone monuments were becoming fairly illegible due to dirt and wear and tear”, said Boels, “which was making them somewhat difficult to find.” Boels recruited people from his local Rotary Club to help clean the memorial stones, and the group has taken up the task with gusto and cleaning supplies in hand.
After the cleaning session, one of Boels’ recruits spoke of the experience: “It is bizarre. Some of the Jewish victims were only two years old, whilst others were older than 80. Sometimes there is a group of five memorial stones, where a complete family had been sent to the camps and didn’t return – all of them systematically murdered by the Nazis. It’s terrible what normal people are capable of.”
Various cities in several countries across Europe have installed these memorial works, and the first ones were placed in Emmen around 6 years ago. In April of 2018, 18 new stumbling stones were unveiled in the city of Assen. In addition to the stones across the region, there are around 140 memorials dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland.
Jewish history of the Northern Netherlands
Jewish people existed for hundreds of years in the Netherlands before the Nazis invaded the country, and Dutch Judaism should not be exclusively defined by what happened during the war. “Jewish history of the Northern Netherlands”, a three-part series by The Northern Times, sheds light on what life was like in the Jewish quarters across the north, starting from the first Jewish settlers arriving from Germany in the 18th century, the history of the refugee and deportation camp Westerbork in Drenthe, and what the legacy of the Jewish inhabitants of the north is to this day:
Photo source: Wikipedia