An Active-Museum and How Oral, Aural, and Visual Memory Are Taught and Can Empower Peoples
By Kevin Stoda, Wiesbaden Germany
I visited a traveling exhibition on Anne Frank at the Oranien-Memorial Church in Beibrich-Wiesbaden last month.
The traveling exhibition on Anne Frank is part of a many-month’s-long focus on improving educational delivery in schools, training, and in encouraging research related to the holocaust in the city of Wiesbaden.
Wiesbaden is one of many cities where the local Nazi regime and supporters burnt down the Synagogues and tried to erase memory of Jews in local history during the 1930s and 1940s.
One facet of the focus on Jewish persecution in Wiesbaden area has been the leadership of the Active-Museum (Aktiven Museum in Spiegelgasse), situated in Spiegel Street.
The Active Museum is actually located in one of the oldest Jewish meeting buildings left in the region.
Note: The title of the combined archive-, research-, library-, exhibition-, and educational training center as the “Active Museum Speigelgasse” (AMS) is intended ironically.
That is, most museums have been historically seen as a passive place where history was to be observed. (This compares with history as retold through books.)
This museum wanted to be different, i.e. very active and encouraging people to be more involved in history and memory.
One way that the Active Museum meets its goals is by working closely with the artist Gunter Demnig’s Stolperstein project.
The Stolperstein (“Stumbling Stones” in German.) is a reflection of more than a movement of artistic memoralization of political, individual, religious, and social memory in a lively and active way.
Alexandra Larson has experienced and written about “stumbling stones”, which she had come to know very personally on a recent visit of hers to Germany.
“Imagine a peaceful walk that is suddenly interrupted by a stumble on a stone in the middle of the pathway. Notice the small bronze plaque embedded in the stone. It reads:
in year 1895
Erna Jungbluth was my great-grandmother. Her stone is placed in the middle of the sidewalk in front of her parent’s house. The stumble and the slight throb in your toe from the encounter with the protruding stone are small echos of the past pain of the victims of the Holocaust. These stumbling stones, or “Stolpersteine,” are scattered throughout the sidewalks of Germany, immortalizing the Jewish people who were ripped from their homes during WWII. Stolpersteine are small bronze plaques placed about half an inch above the sidewalk in front of the houses of Holocaust victims. These stones were designed and installed by Gunter Demnig from Germany in 2004. He said “they are to warn against (forgetting) the cruelties committed by the Nazis against their fellow-citizens” (Stolpersteine). I believe these cruelties were allowed to come to pass because of the physical and emotional detachment of the world towards the victims of the Holocaust. In order to prevent further genocide, detachment and desensitization must be replaced with compassion and action.”
STUMBLING STONES IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD IN WIESBADEN
Just around the corner of my own flat in Wiesbaden, on Friederich Ring IN FRONT of housenumber 80 exist three such tiny square bronzed Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones).
The stones tell me [and anyone who happens upon them] of three members of the Kahn family who had lived here.
The father’s stone shares in German: ”Here lived Julius Kahn, [born] J8 1901, Deported 1942, Lublin Majdenek, murdered 28.8.1942”.
The mother’s stone states: “Here lived Erna Kahn, Born J8 1908, Deported 1942, killed in Sobibor”.
Finally, we see, “Here lived Lure Kahn, J8 1933, Deported 1942. Lublin, murdered 1942 in Sobibor.”
Once I had learned what Stolpersteine were back at a historical lecture at the end January of this year, I have found dozens of such shiny memorial stones throughout the city of Wiesbaden.
HEARING ORAL NARRATIONS AT HOME SITES of VICTIMS
Finally, I decided to take part in a tour of some of the Stumbling Stones in Wiesbaden.
Almost every week this time of year, the Active Museum in Wiesbaden is offering tours of various Stolpersteine in the city.
On Sunday May 17, 2009, I took a tour of the footprints of history and story of victims of the Holocaust in the Westend Section of town.
The center part of the Westend neighborhood in Wiesbaden is one of the older neighborhoods in the city. Upon entering it, one immediately notices that there were a large number of stores run by peoples from Arab lands, Turkey, the Balkans, India, and Eastern Europe. Looking around the neighborhood, I also observed peoples from both Africa and the Americas as well.
That Sunday afternoon some 22 visitors, including myself, showed up the Community Center Georg Buch. Inside was a short slide show for first-time tourists of Stolperstein tours of the city. On the slides, viewed photos of the stone placement ceremonies over the past several years.
Schools have been active in this.
Visitors of related Holocaust victims from Wiesbaden have arrived from the USA, the UK, Israel in recent years to take part in such history—i.e. making the history much more alive.
It became clear by the accents of some of those attending that I was not the only foreigner in the group that afternoon. There were some Eastern Europeans and Turkish visitors, too.
Shortly, after a quarter-past-two, we headed out of the center to visit the “first family” Baum.
This Baum family had three members killed in the Holocaust. We were shown pictures of the family—including some members who had managed to survive the persecution of the Nazis.
The Baums had lived at Weissenburg Street 6. They had lived there for half a century.
They had run the children’s clothing store at one of the snazziest corners of town. They had done financially quite well till the Nazis took over.
The matriarch, Emile Baum, survived in Teresienstadt till 1944.
However, both her daughter and son-in-law were dead in Auschwitz by 1942.
We then moved a few houses up the street on the same side of the block to Weissenburg Street 10.
SEVEN STUMBLING STONES
Here we found seven tiny Stumbling Stones, reminding us that the Rosner family had lived here until they were forced into ghetto-like buildings late in the 1930s.
In the period around the horrible burning of synagogues in 1938, the father in the house had actually managed to flee with two sons to Antwerp, Belgium.
These two Rosner sons later made it to Israel, however, the father was recaptured in Belgium after the Germans invaded in 1940. The father, too, then was soon killed in a camp–as his daughters and wives would shortly do.
At this address, we were shown many photos collected from the surviving sons.
The tour audience observed at Weissenburg Street 10, a very poor housing situation for the era. The Rosners were not wealthy and had done financially poorly in the decade before the Nazis had taken over.
We also learned that once Jewish children were no longer permitted to go to public schools in the 1930s, the Wiesbaden Jewish community had created their own school on Mainzer Street, where a large Walmart-like store is now located.
One of the photos showed more than a dozen Jewish boys and girls in shorts and t-shirts who had taken part in a sports competition with a similar Jewish school in Darmstadt.
Only one of those dozen children in the photo actually survived the war.
THE FOCUS ON PLACE AND EVENTS WITH NARRATION
Since the 1970s and 1980s, German educators have focused on getting local students across the country doing first hand research and oral histories of the Holocaust and WWII.
The Stumbling Stone movement is part of this.
As we interested visitors moved through the neighborhood to five more locations where Jews who were killed in the Holocaust had once lived, we were provided at times photos or copies of letters and postcards from those who had lived there.
Such stories are gathered as part-and-parcel to the Stumbling Stone project. The idea, as envisioned by the grounders of the movement, is that before any bronzed stone is placed, school children and adult researchers need to undertake intensive research over the history of the affected Jewish family.
This means that history is narrated very authentically in the place where history was lived.
Photos and regalia are sought out overe months and years on end.
Our guide this very day shared his relationship to affected family members of victims of the Shoah in this neighborhood.
It was clear that the guide and historian had developed these relationships over decades of research at places such as the Active Museum.
WHAT? No PHOTOS?
It was, therefore, very disconcerting when, for example, sometimes no pictures of the victims could be found after years of research.
In short, although their stories could be shared on the place or location where the victims had once lived and carried out their daily activities (shopping, playing children’s games, etc.), it was depressing that we came to recognize that too often photos of many Holocaust children victims had never been made or had disappeared with their parents.
In short, unlike Anne Frank, who was born in nearby Frankfurt but whose family had fled to Amsterdam in 1933, there are no photos of many of the smallest victims of the Holocaust here in Wiesbaden and elsewhere.
Nonetheless, it is certainly and honor to have given the victims voices and names through such on-site visits of Holocaust victims’ home sites and old neighborhoods in Wiesbaden.
“THE STOCK CHILDREN MEMORIAL” PLACE
We stopped at the location on Wallram Street where the Stock Family had lived.
For we Wiesbaden residents, the names of these Shoah victims were already well-known. This is because in Wiesbaden’s center is a cul-de-sac name Stock Siblings’ Place with a bus stop on the main East to West road.
At the location is a memorial made specifically to memorialize all those children-victims of the Holocaust. It is named after the faceless Stock children.
It is at Wallram Street 31 that we find that the Stock family–and another Family Straus–had always lived crammed into a poor man’s neck-of-the-woods in Wiesbaden.
In short, many of the victims of the holocaust were poor—even before the Nazis took over. The family was jammed into an attic in a backroom upstairs apartment even before brownshirts took over the landscape of all of Germany.
On the other hand, many Jews had been shop owners—including owners of a butcher shop on Wellritzer Street 16.
Here it was reported that the father, Moritz, of “the second” Baum Family (we had visited that day) who lived at this address was one of the first victims of the holocaust in the neighborhood of Jews.
It was reported to us that in Wiesbaden 10% of the butchers in the early 1930s were Jewish and the Baum family in Wellritzer Street had relatives running a total of five such establishments—all which were very hard hit by the Jewish boycotts after 1933.
The guide noted that the other butchers had enjoyed the disappearance of their competition with a demonstration of horror.
At one point, all of the Jewish butchers were rounded up and marched through the city. When they arrived at the police station, they were harshly beaten.
Moritz Baum was shot fleeing his beating at the police station.
Our group of historical tourists is shown a picture of the father-less family a year or so later.
As in many of the photos, the boys in the Father-less Baum photo are wearing the classic navy uniform that German boys of an earlier era war—i.e. before the brownshirts and Hitler youth programs were formed.
DOGS AND GARBAGE CANS?—DISRESPECT?
Two negative views of this insightful tour are left in my memory.
First, at one of the locations, we arrived to find seven Stolpersteine covered in dog shit.
That was at Hellmund Street 52.
I grabbed a newspaper from the tattered street and cleaned up the scene as the guide stated, “That is horrible. . . . and you missed a spot.”
We looked around and found no clue of anti-semitism in the neighborhood’s graffiti filled walls.
Perhaps it was an anti-Semitic German Shepherd or St. Bernard.???
Later, at Bertram Street 21, the group led by the Active Museum’s volunteer guide discovered that a garbage dumpster now covered up the Stumbling Stone of Chaja Keh (born Berglas).
Chaja keh had fled with her husband and family to Belgium in 1939, but she was captured and died soon thereafter in a concentration camp.
Again, it did not seem to be a sign of disrespect that the Stolpersteine had been covered up by the local facility’s manager.
The dumpster was now empty and had likely been placed there away from the street by the garbage. They had likely not seen the bronze stone. They had simply made room so that pedestrians would not have to walk around the large garbage container.
A GYPSY TWIST
All along our tour, Arabs, Turks, Croats, Africans, and peoples of other nationalities or regions of the globe were interested in what our tour of tiny stone memorials to Jewish victims of the Holocaust was doing–as we made our way through the Westend.
Some knew what we up to, i.e. especially those who lived in buildings behind the Stolpersteine. Some had to ask to pass through as we blocked the door.
Others had only a vague ide–or no idea at all.
As our group began to disband for the afternoon a youth came up to me and asked what we were doing. I explained about the stones, but he seemed to have barely any interest.
However, suddenly a woman whom was wearing a nice Sunday dress in white and brown came up to me.
I realized that I had seen her in Hellmund Street.
She had been standing near us, too, in Wellritzer Street.
This woman, too, asked what we were up to.
I started to explain again to her in detail what we had been up to as a tour.
I explained in German that we had been interested in following the steps of some of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust who had once lived here in Wiesbaden.
This Eastern European woman then spoke to me in very good German. “We are gypsies. You know what that means, don’t you?”
The woman continued, “My mother continues to suffer to this very day because of what the Nazi Germans did to her family.”
“We have never gotten a penny from the German government. The government has given us nothing.”
Finally, the women asked, ”Do you know how to help us get what we deserve from the government?”
I looked around.
The guide (and all other members of the group I had been with for the previous two hours) were gone.
I explained, “I am just “somewhat”of a historian and am new here in Wiesbaden. . . . However, perhaps someone at the Active Museum in Spiegelgasse could help? I gave her a brochure of our tour with telephone, fax and email to the Active Museum.”
I then encouraged her to follow up.
MY FOLLOW UP
I then decided to look some help up on the internet.
A 2004 report notes: “The first ever report specifically analyzing the situation of Sinti and Roma women in Germany has found that women of this minority group face intersectional discrimination, cumulating the effects of both gender and ethnic or racial discrimination.”
“According to the report’s conclusions, Sinti and Roma women in Germany are clearly disadvantaged in a number of key areas such as education, employment, health care, and participation in public and political life, and have not enjoyed the progress that other German women have achieved in recent years. Foreign Romani women are particularly disadvantaged.”
I then wrote several e-mails to the Active Museum in Spiegel Street.*
It sounds like the Active Museum in Wiesbaden might still need to expand its work into recognizing the other victims of Nazism in their midst to this date. Otherwise, it is doing an important job in integrating culture, memory, history, and education into the lives of the Wiesbaden, German community.
Aktiven Museum Speigelbild,
Gestern habe ich an einem Stolpersteintur im Westend teilgenommen, aber anschliessend hat eine (Sinti/Romer )Frau gefragt, ob Jemand ihnen hilfen koennen.
Ich wende Sie an Ihnen.
Die Frau hat erklaert, dass seit 1946 ist ihr Familien aus Polen hierher ausgeewandert.
Sie meinte, dass Der Regierung hat ihrer Familie nichts gegeben, obwohl ihre Mutter noch von der Verfolgung sehr leidet.
Kevin A. Stoda