Memorial to victims of Nazi Germany

First “stumbling stones” to be laid in Hungary

Since 1995 they have become a familiar sight in many German cities, and they may also catch your eye in Austria, Italy and the Netherlands: the stumbling stones (Stolpersteine) of the Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig are plaques to commemorate individual victims of the Nazis. This week the first brass stones, which are intended to trip people’s memory, will be embedded in the pavements of Budapest.

The plaques, which are laid in the pavement in front of the last home of the victim, read “Here lived”, followed by the name, year of birth, and fate, which in most cases means the date of deportation or death. The dates are researched by civil organisations, schools, and surviving members of the victims’ families. Private individuals or organisations finance the stones at a cost of EUR 95 each.
Some see the stumbling stones as a fitting memorial to the victims, whilst others criticise the fact that they mean the names of these people will be trampled on every day. Demnig, however, stresses that the stones allow individual people, who disappeared without trace between 1941 and 1945, or who were deported and murdered in concentration camps, to be remembered. “A person is forgotten only once their name is forgotten,” he says. The project so far has led to 11,000 stones being laid in more than 190 towns.
On Friday, the first stones will be embedded in the pavement of Budapest. The initiative is led by the Nazi Documentation Centre in Cologne and Gallery 2B in Budapest, where Demnig will open an exhibition on Friday showing the project documentation, two original stumbling stones and other works by the artist.
The project will be introduced on Thursday at 6pm, when Demnig will give a talk at the Goethe Institute on the history of the stumbling stones, followed by a panel discussion on this form of memorial. Then from 3.30pm on Friday Demnig will lay three stones on Ráday utca: for the unemployed public official Béla Rónai outside number 5, the shoe repair and textile dealer Oszkár Vidor (Weisz) outside number 25 and for spice dealer Imre Pollák outside number 31. Ágnes Berger, who is leading the project, chose these three victims since their last homes were on Ráday utca, where both the Goethe Institute and the Gallery 2B are situated.
In June and August, 50 more stones will be laid throughout Hungary, particularly in the provinces. “We thought it was very important to place stones not only in Budapest, but also in as many smaller places in Hungary as possible, in areas where the Jewish population was almost completely wiped out, and where today only synagogues show that there was once a large Jewish community,” explained Berger.
In Hungary, one of the criteria for choosing victims to be commemorated was that they should have no surviving relatives. According to Berger: “In this way we can use state support to commemorate those victims, whom possibly nobody remembers any more, and for whom there is nobody left to donate a stone.” Since the pavements are public property, the permission of the authorities had to be sought. “In contrast to Germany, where the process in some cases dragged on for years, amazingly we had no such problem here. The local governments welcomed us with open arms and genuine interest,” she said.

Goethe Institute
District IX, Ráday utca 58
Tel.: 374 4070

Galerie 2B
District IX, Ráday utca 56
Tel.: 215-4899

Runs until 2 June
Open Mon to Fri from 2pm to 6pm and Sat from 11am to 4pm

Lysann Heller
April 23, 2007