She placed her unbandaged left hand over his on the table top. “Don’t think I’m only a cynic. If I lost my faith in nations, I find huge bravery and kindness in individuals. I kept my faith – and how can that be, after what religion did to my country? But I did. I believe in God. You saved my life so I am saved again. It’s more than a woman could hope for.” She squeezed his hand. “How long do you stay in Stuttgart?”
For the first time his regret about leaving had to do with a person and not with his phobia. “I should take a train tomorrow. Actually, I’m scared to fly,” Guy admitted. “I was in a forced landing once. I’m afraid of being in another.”
“Why fear a statistic chance? Why worry about an abstraction?” Nadia’s shoulders rose and fell in the Eastern European’s shrug, a slow, weary movement that expressed the futility of every question. “Think about the poor people who are in tsunamis. Or a war zone, where real fear is to think, how do you keep walking on the street as a rocket hits somewhere near, or you hear thwack!, and the person in front of you falls down? First you think, this time it isn’t me. It took years for me to stop looking over my shoulder. Stuttgart is civilized, but even here I stumble over Stolpersteine.”
Guy shook his head. “Never heard of it.”
“Them. Come, I will show you. There are some up around the corner.” Nadia refused to explain further.
She insisted on paying the bill and tucked her arm in his as the two of them headed up the Königstrasse. She led him to a stop in front of a store. “What do you see?”
Guy saw Europeans out Christmas shopping, happy people laughing and drinking glühwein, store windows filled with beautifully displayed consumer goods. Was it something special about the storefront? He shifted his weight and his heel came down on an uneven spot in the cement. When he glanced down, Guy saw gold cubes embedded in the sidewalk. He squatted to get a better look. Königstrasse 60, a stone with the name of Clothilde Mannheimer, another beside it for Jakob Mannheimer.
Nadia crouched down next to him. “The Mannheimers lived in this building. They were moved by train to Theresienstadt and died in the concentration camp there,” she translated. “These are their Stolpersteine, their stumbling stones. Wherever we go, we stumble over reminders of the past. The stones make sure we don’t forget the dead, these make sure that people today can’t push the dead from our memories.”
Guy traced the imprint of the names. The little golden cubes were weightier than their size. “Are there more?”
“All over Germany. Other countries, too. The Stolpersteine groups wish to mark the last free place where the persons lived, not where they were sent. Sometimes a family asks for a stumbling block; sometimes a local group did research for victims. And Stolpersteine are for everyone. Especially the Jews, but also the Behinderte, the ones with handicaps,” she corrected herself, “the mentally slow or physically handicapped. And gypsies, Communists. All were killed or did have to leave.”
“Knowing all this it wasn’t hard for you to become a German citizen?”
She gave another slow Eastern European shrug. “I gave up my old passport a decade ago. It was less hard than I expected. My home country is one in the heart.”
– from my chapter “What A Guy” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com. This link will get you there. I will post more on this extraordinary street art project shortly.
NOTES: Photo Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell.