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Stewart Florsheim: Stolpersteine and the Holocaust

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A German initiative to remember victims of the Holocaust has Stewart Florsheim conflicted.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to engage in the Stolpersteine program, the initiative to place stones in front of the homes of victims and survivors of the Holocaust. The stones, covered in brass, bear the names of the family members who lived there, and where and when they perished, or when they fled. The intent is for passersby to notice the stones, and reflect on the lives of the people who lived there.

My mother and her family were survivors of Hitler’s Germany. My grandfather was deported to Dachau during Kristallnacht in 1938. Luckily, he was released after a few months, once my grandmother got the visas to immigrate to the US.

I was surprised when my mother decided to engage in a program called Wiedergutmachung, (or, “to make amends”), when some German cities invited survivors back to their hometowns to express their remorse. I didn’t support the visit and, for the same reason, I was reluctant to join a program that might relieve the Germans of their accountability. I was also aware of the controversy about the stones. Since they’re placed in the ground, passersby can easily step on them.

I had a change of heart when a few friends told me about their positive experiences with the program. They were pleased to have the chance to memorialize their families. I decided to engage with that simple goal in mind.


My mother used to say the Holocaust affected me more than her—partly because I never stopped probing her about it. I felt like I was living in two worlds: a world inhabited by the ghosts, in the context of our comfortable life. I was always trying to reconcile the two, which morphed into an activism to defend human rights and support refugees.

I was happy that I could honor my family. And now, when I go to Europe, I may want to stop in Frankfurt to visit the stones, and reflect—not only on my family—but on the continuing urgency to protect the innocent and welcome the stranger.

With a Perspective, I’m Stewart Florsheim.

Stewart Florsheim is a writer and content strategist living in the East Bay.

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