My First Stolperstein


You never forget your first stolperstein. Mine was in Rome, in the Jewish ghetto. I was in a hurry to get to a restaurant to try Roman artichokes in situ, and I glanced down, stopped dead in my tracks and took this photograph;


I read the stone and felt the tug of the story. It stated  HERE LIVED,  DONATO PIAZZA, Born 1896, Arrested July 4th 1944, Deported Auschwitz, Died March 20th 1945, Natzweiler. I had to fill in the rest on my own. From this place, his home, Donato Piazza was taken at the age of 48, deported to Auschwitz and then died in a forced labor camp in what is now France. That journey of terror across Europe and almost back to Italy, lasted only 8 months.


That day I didn’t for a moment imagine that I would one day make a documentary about stolpersteine. But one thing that immediately felt wrong to me was the cigarette butt right next to the memorial stone. I flicked it away with my shoe, a small measure of respect for the victim. Among the many things I didn’t yet know about stolpersteine, including who created them, how they are made by hand and why they are outside the homes of people murdered by the Nazis, was that I could have cleaned that stone.


As one stone in what has become the world’s largest memorial, Donato’s stolperstein, in every sense belongs to us and we have a responsibility to them. There are now over 105,000 stolpersteine spread across 31 countries in Europe – the work of German artist Gunter Demnig. 


The message that resonates with me now that I have completed a film about Deming and his mighty stolpersteine project is that we all may, and arguably should, clean the stones as an act of respect for the dead and as an act of healing.


To share this idea we filmed various characters in HERE LIVED cleaning the stones of their relatives or adopted victims.  Recently we created a video to show a different way to do that –  there is no “correct” way, it’s an individual act.


As luck would have it, or as the power of Gunter Deming’s project dictates, I will be in Rome on March 20th this year, the day of Donato Piazza’s murder and I will be on my knees, rain or shine cleaning Donato’s stone. Maybe I will see you there.