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Why Jews’ Names Are Etched Onto Sidewalks Across Europe

(Photo: wikimedia/Francisco Peralta Torrejón)

You have to look closely, but across European cities you can find small brass plates with just a bit of information – a name, a date, and a fate – that pop up between cobblestones. The plaques – which commemorate those murdered by the Nazis – are placed where the person used to live or work. They serve as a powerful reminder of the lives lost.

The lack of information underscores another absence: of the people the stones memorialize.

The Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones,” in German) were conceived by Gunter Demnig in 1996, and he placed 60 in Berlin, guerilla-style, before seeking the proper permissions. Even as the project has gone viral (in a very analog sense), with over 60,000 stones placed in 20 other countries, including Russia, Spain, and Switzerland, Demnig still finds meaning in laying some of them himself.

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