"The culture of remembrance does not just end after 70 years," remarks Julius Reichel during the annual Stolpersteine cleaning. As chairman of the Christian Democratic Student Association of Vallendar, the 20-year-old finds himself on the streets of Vallendar once again in his efforts to free the so-called “Stumbling Stones” from the dirt and the muck brought about by the passage of time. Equipped with rags and Softscrub, he is joined by his fellow students in the search for and remembrance of the tragedies that occurred in what is now the tranquil town of Vallendar.
January 27th is the official day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism as Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated 76 years ago on this date. To commemorate this, the German artist Gunter Demnig began to embed small memorial plaques in the ground throughout Germany beginning in the 1990’s. Each stone represents a person who was persecuted, deported or murdered under National Socialism. Today there are more than 70,000 such plaques in Germany, and as many Jews who were expelled or deported to concentration camps were uprooted from their homes in Vallendar itself, a number of these can be found there.
Julius believes wholeheartedly in the importance of keeping the culture of remembrance alive, even and especially after more than 70 years. Each stone represents a story and by cleaning them, one sheds light on a gruesome topic whose history and victims should not be forgotten. As he scrubs each stone, Julius pauses for a moment. Initially, the stones are illegible, and he knows not who the person may have been. As he cleans, however, he begins to learn more about the man or woman whose stone he is polishing: their name, their birthdate, and eventually the day they died. Only when the stone is free of dirt is he met with the realization that it represents a human life, and a painful wave of emotion follows.
Next year, Julius hopes to be able to clean the stumbling stones once again in a larger group. He also hopes to organize another memorial vigil not only to commemorate the victims, but also to stimulate a dialogue and openly take a stand against antisemitism together with WHU students and citizens of Vallendar. The events of that time, he states, should never be forgotten.