She walked on top of Two Brass Plates
Embedded in the Sidewalk
Unawares that her Grandparents’ Names
Were engraved on them
It all happened on September 25, 2006 while Yvonne Harpuder from Los Angeles, California was with her husband on a trip to Berlin and Vienna. While in Berlin, she was promised by her husband a side-trip to Oranienburg, 35 km north of Berlin, to find the house her grandparents were living in and had their store before the start of the Nazi pogroms and the infamous Kristallnacht. She had no clue how to find the building except for a very small black and white photograph that showed the exterior of the store. The photo was embossed on a little red address book she got from her aunt after her uncle passed away (Figure one). The store according to her mother sold men’s clothing and hat gear, and was situated in an impressive and stately corner building adjacent to a palace (Figure two), and a few steps from the Havel River (Figure three).
Upon arrival at the train station in Oranienburg (Figure four), she showed an elderly lady shopping nearby the picture on the address book. The woman immediately recognized the area and thereafter gave Yvonne directions to the building.
After a ten-minute walk, she excitedly approached the yellow, multi-story edifice, at Bernauer Strasse 2, that looked identical to the photograph on the address book (Figure five).
After taking a few snapshots of the building and the front of the store, which is now a bicycle shop (Figure six), Yvonne walked inside and introduced herself to the friendly storekeeper. When she told him that this was her grandparent’s store, he asked the 62-year-old American to step outside the shop with him for a moment where he then pointed at two small brass plates embedded in the cobblestones on the sidewalk.
Tears began to flow down her cheeks when she read the names of her grandparents, Isidor and Hedwig Abrahm, inscribed on the plates called “Stolpersteine” (Figure seven and Figure eight). Stolpersteine are cobblestones covered with a layer of brass and an inscription commemorating a person who used to live in the house behind the stone and had been persecuted or killed by the National Socialists.
“I was overwhelmed”, she told the Oranienburger Press at the Berlin Intercontinental Hotel during an extensive interview the next day. (Figure nine). Several other local newspapers and the Internet followed the story and also began to publish her emotional experience at Bernauer Strasse (Figure ten). She has never heard about Stolpersteine, nor has been to Oranienburg. All she wanted at the time was to find the store of her grandparents, the rest was serendipity. It may be recalled that Sachsenhausen was a short distance from the mainstream of Oranienburg where in 1936 the Nazis established their first notorious concentration camp.
Yvonne was told very little by her mother, Ilse about life in Oranienburg during the Nazi period. Instead she spoke about the more carefree and happy days during her early youth while living in that city. One of the highlights she often mentioned was when as an athletic teenager she jumped off from a bridge into the Havel River already mentioned above. A cramp in her leg almost caused her to drown when luckily a fisherman pulled her out from the water. Yvonne remembered her mother’s story well while standing at that same bridge during her visit to Oranienburg (Figure11). She also remembered the palace that her mother spoke about when she was alive (Please refer back to Figure three). Both the bridge and the palace were untouched during all those years.
Looking back in years, it was 1938 when it was time to leave Germany because of the Nazi dreadful policies against Jews. Yvonne’s grandmother, Hedwig managed to leave with her children in 1938 to Amsterdam. A form had to be completed and submitted to the Nazi authorities before they left, stating the move from Germany to Amsterdam, and their religious affiliation which was crassly indicated, “Jude”. It was then cancelled with the Swastika and Nazi eagle (Figure 12).
Later that year Hedwig failed to secure a visa to America and therefore, had to remain in Amsterdam while her children (Yvonne’s parents) continued with their emigration to America. Yvonne’s grandfather, Isidor immigrated with his son to Shanghai. The son’s address in Shanghai along with Hedwig’s address in Amsterdam is shown on the same page in the little red address book mentioned above (Figure 13).
Yvonne’s grandmother, Hedwig died in Amsterdam at an unknown date. Isidor, Yvonne’s grandfather, survived the war but died shortly after in February 1946 while he was still in Shanghai (Figure 14).
How did Oranienburg get its Stolperstein? The best way to answer this question is to quote part of a letter written in German that yours truly received from a high school teacher in Oranienburg by the name of Silke Schroeder (Figure 15):
“When I had the opportunity to address the parent-teacher association at the Rungegymnasium in Oranienburg where I am a teacher and my son a student, I made a suggestion to raise money for a Stolperstein in our city by having a bake sale. The parents and students agreed, hence the children and mothers began to bake thirty delicious cakes that were sold to everyone in the school. When I came to the school in the afternoon, all the students were very enthusiastically involved with the project. A few gathered the crumbs from the cake while the other students counted the money from the bake sale. It was something for everyone to see. Yes, we have reached our goal and thus we had enough money for a Stolperstein.
On May 10, 2006 Guenter Demnig laid the brass plated cobblestone into the pavement at Bernauer Strasse (in front of Yvonne’s former grand-parents store). All the students including the school principal took part in the ceremony. Now, the name Hedwig and Isidor Abraham will be remembered by the students that participated in this meaningful undertaking.”
Mrs. Schroeder added in her letter:
“For our youth that are now between thirteen and fourteen years old, it was very important for them to become involved in this heartwarming and inspiring project.”
If the name Guenter Demnig* does not mean anything today, it will in the future. An artist with a social conscience and big heart, he will be known for having created a unique way to commemorate people that became victim of National Socialism (Nazism). “A person is only forgotten when his name is forgotten” declared Demnig, a Berlin born 58 year old non-Jew.
As a result of his strong desire to honor and memorialize every human life lost in the Holocaust, he embedded by the end of 2005 four-thousand Stolpersteine in pavement in almost all the cities of Germany with the beginning phrase, “Here Lived”; 1,450 in Cologne, 800 in Berlin, 960 in Hamburg, and the rest in other German cities and with more to come.**
* To learn more about Guenter Demnig or to make a charitable contribution, go to his Website: www.stolpersteine.com
**Jewish Tribune, Canada, September 22, 2005
Photos and documents, courtesy Ralph and YvonneHarpuder