During my childhood, my family spent many Sunday afternoons with my father’s parents, and their friends from Nuremberg, Germany, in a lovely public park in Kew Gardens. Only German was spoken and the two American children were expected to remain silent and listen. Over time, we came to understand that they shared memories about growing up in Nuremberg in the years before Hitler came to power: falling in love, getting married and having children; foods they enjoyed; holidays they shared; musical concerts they attended; and skiing and curling and sledding activities they sought to master. Our American-born mother, who learned German so she could join these conversations, regularly asked why the family stayed in Germany once restrictions began to be imposed on German Jews. “We were Germans,” replied my Oma Sophie, who continued, “My family had been in Germany for 400 years. Why would we think we should leave our homes?” When our mother persisted, the answer was always the same: we never thought our friends, neighbors and professional colleagues would turn against us.
But that is exactly what happened. My father and his parents, his aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, were no different from other German families in the buildings where they lived: they were raised in Nuremberg, educated in Nuremberg, shared the culture of Nuremberg, and enjoyed the foods of Nuremberg (and Bavaria). And it was their neighbors, their friends, and their business colleagues in their city, their neighborhood, and their apartment buildings who saw the terror starting in their city but either turned a blind eye or willingly facilitated the Nazi brutalities.
Large Holocaust memorials in Germany and elsewhere focus on the enormity of the genocide, not on the tragedies of the individuals affected by it. When I learned about the Stolpersteine project, I recognized that these stumbling stones made individual victims of the Holocaust impossible to forget. As children and their parents step over each stumbling stone day after day, they would read the name of the individual who lived at that address until forced to leave. That small stone personalizes the Holocaust down to the individual level and makes certain that these family members – mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, who loved and were loved – are not forgotten.
Close relatives opposed participation in the Stolpersteine project. One found the placement of Stolpersteine underfoot to be unacceptable. Walking on a Stolperstein, went the argument, amounted to Jews being stomped on, all over again. Anxieties were voiced that Stolpersteine would be vandalized by those who felt the Nazis had not murdered a large enough number of Jews.
While I respect those views, I wanted a small urban remembrance in Nuremberg to honor the lives of Fritz Prager, Sophie Prager Wertheimer, Erich Zacharias Wertheimer and Franz Wertheimer, so that they would not be forgotten by the only home they had ever known but were forced to flee.