27 January 2020

Remembering Holocaust
Memorial Day 75 years after
the liberation of Auschwitz

Four ‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ on Rosenthaler strasse in Berlin by Gunther Demnig commemorate the Salinger family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops on 27 January 1945.

Throughout Europe, I regularly come across the Stolpersteine or ‘Stumbling Stones’ by the German artist Gunter Demnig.

These Stolpersteine are memorials to the victims of Nazi persecution, including Jews, homosexuals, Romani and the disabled.

‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ on the pavement on Vassilisis Olgas Avenue in Thessaloniki by Gunther Demnig commemorate Greek Jews deported to Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

His project places engraved brass stones in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims who were deported and murdered by Nazi Germany. This project began in Germany and has since spread across Europe.

Demnig’s Stolpersteine are small, cobblestone-sized brass memorials set into the pavement or footpath in front of these apartments or houses, calling attention both to the individual victim and the scope of the Nazi war crimes.

So far, at least 61,000 Stolpersteine have been laid in almost two dozen countries across Europe, making this dispersed project the world’s largest memorial. The cities where I have seen them include Berlin, Bratislava, Prague, Thessaloniki, Venice and Vienna.

Three ‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ in Prague by Gunther Demnig commemorate members of the Bergmann family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

El Malei Rachamim (‘God full of compassion’) is a prayer for the departed that asks for comfort and everlasting care of the deceased. It is said at Jewish funeral services, but different versions exist for different moments.

The version for the Shoah (Holocaust) is found in the Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah:

Fully compassionate God on high:
To our six million brothers and sisters
murdered because they were Jews,
grant clear and certain rest with You
in the lofty heights of the sacred and pure
whose brightness shines like the very glow of heaven.

Source of mercy:
Forever enfold them in the embrace of Your wings;
secure their souls in eternity.
Adonai: they are Yours.
They will rest in peace. Amen.

Four ‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ in the Ghetto in Venice by Gunther Demnig remember people deported to Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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