The artist Gunter Demnig has laid more than 6,000 Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks, stumbling stones) in Hamburg to date (as of June 2021). They commemorate people who became victims of the Nazi tyranny: Over 90 percent bear the names of Jews, others those of “euthanasia” victims, political opponents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or other persecuted persons. The Stolpersteine enable decentralized commemoration in everyday life, far away from the ritualized days of remembrance and central memorials.
An initiative group around Peter Hess from Hamburg has been organizing the laying of the stumbling stones on a voluntary basis. He has been recruiting the sponsorships (and thus the costs for the stones) from “run-of-the-mill” residents of the city. In this way, the Stolpersteine commemorate past injustice, but they also reflect the activities of people today who, for personal, political, educational, religious or other reasons, are concerned with the fate of people who at the end of their lives became victims of the regime of injustice.
Even though the Stolpersteine publicly preserve the names of those murdered and provide basic data on their lives, deaths or place of activity, further information is usually not known or at least not readily accessible. Therefore, the idea arose to research these biographies and to publish them by way of books as well as a website. The Hamburg State Center for Civic Education (Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Hamburg – LZfPB) and the IGdJ therefore approached interested parties, history workshops, and district initiatives throughout Hamburg in 2006 to carry out such a project – under expert guidance – within the next few years. Until 2018, the project was led by Dr. Rita Bake (LZ) and Dr. Beate Meyer (IGdJ). Since both retired, Maria Koser and Ingo Wille have assumed coordination of the project as its spokespersons.
The biographical search is currently ongoing in its fifteenth year. More than 4,300 biographies have already been researched and can be read (as of June 2021), and more than 1,700 are still waiting for research to begin...
The book series entitled Stolpersteine in Hamburg – Biographische Spurensuche (“Stumbling Blocks in Hamburg – Biographical Search for Traces”), published by the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Hamburg (LZ) and the IGdJ, is now almost complete, comprising 23 volumes (a list of the publications can be found here). The volumes are available at the Infoladen of the LZ (Dammtorwall 1, 20354 Hamburg, for opening hours call: +49 (0)40 42823-4802).
All of Hamburg’s mayors have contributed opening words to the books since 2007, emphasizing how important the biographical search for traces is for the city’s history. In 2018, the project was honored with a Senate reception.
The brochure published on this occasion is available online here.
The biographies researched to date can be accessed on the website www.stolpersteine-hamburg.de. Approximately 40 of them have been acoustically prepared by two female editors (students at the time) as audio stumbling blocks, which can be listened to via the website.
Thanks to a generous donation from the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, the biographies were translated into English and have thus become accessible worldwide. The access figures and the feedback to the authors of the biographies show that there is great interest in the life stories: On average, more than 8,000 users per 7-day week accessed the website, mostly several times, the majority from Germany, about 30 % from abroad.
Those involved in the project also present the biographies at events in Hamburg, offering to accompany family member traveling to Hamburg on their search for family traces, and they also provide tours of the Stolpersteine to interested Hamburg residents.