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German students give Holocaust victims a voice

Rebecca Staudenmaier
December 8, 2018

"Stolperstein" memorials across Germany serve as quiet, daily reminders of the millions persecuted and murdered by the Nazis. Students in Hagen are now bringing the stones to life with an online project.

A person takes a picture of the Stolperstein memorials in Hamburg, Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/U. Perrey

A group of students in the western German city of Hagen is helping give Holocaust victims a voice through digitization and geo-data.

The project, unveiled on Friday, provides an online guide to the city's "Stolperstein" memorials (stumbling stones in English). The small plaques, which are in many German towns and cities as well as in other countries, are placed in front of the former homes of people who were persecuted and killed by the Nazis. The memorials list a person's name and, when known, fate.

The students, who attend the Rahel-Varnhagen-Kolleg school, have mapped the Hagen's "Stolperstein" memorials as part of the city's geospatial data website.

After carefully researching the victims, the students then upload audio recordings of their stories to the site as well as pictures and additional information about their lives as well as their deaths.

"Sometimes history can be very dry and boring, but through this project it digs a lot deeper. The people also gain personalities — even if we don't know them personally," student Anne Asshauer told local public broadcaster WDR.

Read more: My Europe: Remembering people, not nations, in discussing the Holocaust

Bringing the past to life

On Friday, seven new Stolpersteine memorials were installed in Hagen — including one for Catholic priest Heinrich König, who was a curate in the Hagen district of Emst before he was arrested in 1941 by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police.

"He died in 1942 as a victim of human experimentation. His body was cremated. The funeral mass in Ernst was under surveillance by the Gestapo," a young woman says in a steady voice.

The audio recordings of König's story are provided in German, English and Dutch.

Read more: Forced abortions and medical experiments: Last survivors of Nazi women's camp tell their horror stories

An additional document on the site provides a transcript of the recording, as well as gives a face to the victim — including pictures of König, the home where he lived in Emst, as well as the crematorium at the Dachau concentration camp.

Many of the Hagen memorials marked on the website do not yet have additional audio or visual stories, but the students are continuing to work on researching and painting a more detailed picture of the victims where they can.

One of the students, Svenja Brücker told WDR that it is "definitely moving" when people listen to the recordings of the victims' stories.

"It's something different than if you just hear numbers about how many people died or if you listen to individual stories," she added.

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Looking after Stolpersteine