Today, 80 years ago, the Kristallnacht (night of the broken glass) happened. Nazis showed the world their plans, destroyed Jewish businesses, Synagogues, burned books by Jewish authors and started arresting Jews, beating and killing others.
Last year, I started telling our family’s story in order to not have my children and grandchildren forget history… our history… A collective story of awareness of families who had to flee their homes and/or were murdered during the Holocaust is also being told through the Stolperstein Project.
The Stolpersteine project, initiated by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992, aims to commemorate individuals at exactly the last place of residency—or, sometimes, work—which was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror, euthanasia, eugenics, was deported to a concentration or extermination camp, or escaped persecution by emigration or suicide. As of 29 March 2018, over 67,000 Stolpersteine have been laid in 22 countries, making the Stolpersteine project the world’s largest decentralized memorial
There is a new chapter to tell in the story. What began with an email from David Jany in 2016 to inquiry if I was a descendent of Max Rosenthal, a firefighter from his town in Germany, he was researching as part of the history of the volunteer firefighters’ association and their relationship to the Jewish comrades during the rise and reign of the Nazis, turned into the discovery of many unknowns and missing pieces in our family’s history. It also unleashed many new questions. Questions we might never find the answers to.
After David completed his research, he applied to become a sponsor for a Stolperstein in my great-grandfather’s honor. On September 14th, 2018, it was placed into the sidewalk in front of Max’s house in Wattenscheid, Germany by the artist himself, Gunter Demnig. My youngest daughter, Leah, my step-mother and I were able to travel to Germany to be part of the ceremony that day.
The plaque reads:
Here lived and worked
Year born 1859
Humiliated and Disenfranchised
I had never been in the town of Wattenscheid, nor have I seen the house my grandparents and great-grandparents lived in. Somehow my grandfather and father never found it necessary, important or interesting enough to go back and take us, as children, with them. It seemed that that chapter of family history was closed and they were reluctant to open it up again.
It was a curious feeling to be looking at the house, the last official residence of my family in Germany. The house, the Nazis, knocked at the door to take my grandfather Siegfried to a concentration camp, today 80 years ago (!!!) on November 9, 1938. The house, where for the last time my family was “rooted” as in a being home, before they and their descendants became global nomads, never to feel rooted again to a residence, a hometown or a specific country.
Timo Gilke, a journalist, who we met at the day of the setting of the Stolperstein, contacted me a couple of weeks afterwards with even more new information. Max seemed to have had brothers (which we knew nothing of) and one of his sister-in-laws died within 15 minutes of him in the same hospital. Coincidence? Orchestrated?