Today is November 9. In Germany, this day is called Schicksaltag (Day of Fate). This day holds great significance in modern (and not so modern) German history; namely, it’s the day the Berlin Wall fell (1990), the day the emperor was overthrown (1918), and the day of Kristallnacht (1938).
Today, in Bielefeld, thousands have marched in protest to a Neonazi demonstration in the city. (The Neonazis march in Bielefeld every year on the 9th of November to protest the imprisonment of Holocaust denier Ursula Haverbeck. She is 91.)
The city, businesses, and people, are speaking out against Nazism. Everywhere in Bielefeld, you will find anti-nazi, pro-unity, and (my favorite) “Bielefeld ist Bunt” signs. (you can follow the events on Instagram with #bi0911)
Stumbling into History
Throughout Europe, if you look closely, you might find a shimmer of brass in the cobbled streets. When you’re walking, you’ll feel a difference if you step on it. A smooth square of brass, etched with someone’s name, sitting in front of a house. These are Stolpersteine (stumbling stones), a memorial project to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.
Since 2018, 70,000 stones have been laid. Bielefeld is home to 153.
Every stone has the same information: The person’s name, birthdate, their “charges” against them, and most of the time, their date of death.
It is not what is written [on the stolpersteine] which intrigues, because the inscription is insufficient to conjure a person. It is the emptiness, void, lack of information, the maw of the forgotten, which gives the monuments their power and lifts them from the banality of a statistic.Joseph Pearson, Historian.
These stones are not just commemorating the Jewish people that were murdered during Hitler’s Reich, but any person that was marginalized by, or spoke out against the Nazi Socialist Party. Many of the stones in Bielefeld are for people that committed “high treason” and were subsequently executed.
For Richard Otto Senkel, his crime was marrying a Jewish woman. He and his wife were arrested, separated, and eventually murdered.
With the Stolpersteine, the people of Germany remember the horrors of the second world war and march to prevent it from happening again.
Remember when Nazis were bad?
One of my favorite parts about living in Germany is seeing how they remember their country’s darkest history. It’s a culture of remembrance, but also a culture of action. Yes, clearly there are still issues of racism and anti-semitism in Germany (and around the globe), but Bielefeld, and cities all over Germany are doing things to fight against repeating history.
What are you doing?