BERLIN (JTA) – The German town of Plettenberg will get new “stumbling stone” Holocaust memorials after a telecommunications subcontractor accidentally disposed of them.
The memorials, small bronze plaques set into the sidewalk on Alte Markt 3, were dedicated to a Jewish family – Helene and Alex Heilbronn and their three young children, Egon, Jenni and Hannelore – who were deported from Plettenberg in 1942 and murdered by the Nazis.
Workers on behalf of Deutsche Telekom AG removed the five blocks along with the surrounding cobblestones last spring during street work for an urban renewal project, then took them to a town dump, according to recent news reports.
The bronze stones had been donated in 2015 by the trade union IG Metall and by students from the nearby Gertrud Bäumer vocational college. Deutsche Telekom will replace them, at a cost of about $300 each.
Plettenberg Mayor Ulrich Schulte said at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony last week that he found the incident “very annoying.”
City building director Sebastian Jülich said he had advised contractors numerous times to take care that the memorials be carefully stowed during reconstruction. In other cases, this instruction had not been heeded, he told local news media.
The Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones,” project by Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig launched in 2003 and has extended across 26 European Union member countries. There are currently 75,000 such memorials across Germany — 13 of them in Plettenberg — and a backlog of applications for new stones, which are meant to widen attention to the Holocaust and symbolically restore those murdered by the Nazis to their homes.
Some critics — including Jewish leaders in Munich — object to the blocks because it is too easy to step on the names of murdered Jews, and because the memorials have been targeted for vandalism. Demnig recently personally replaced 20 blocks that had been stolen from downtown Rome.