Stolpersteine: resources for development and social change? A case study in Vienna

University essay from Malmö universitet/Kultur och samhälle

Abstract: The Stolpersteine memorial art project commemorates individual Holocaust victims by placing small brass plates outside the last known place they freely lived or worked. To date around 70,000 of these ‘stones’ have been laid across 24 countries, making it the largest decentralised monument in the world. The work grows by virtue of community action from relatives, neighbours and activists. This paper examines how the memorial form functions in a specific context. An ‘unofficial' version has been running in Vienna since 2005, termed Stones of Remembrance. It shares key characteristics with Stolpersteine but the approach in the Austrian capital is distinctly different, with local interpretations. This case study into the Vienna experience investigates public response to these stones drawing on research material that includes interviews with specific stakeholders and the general public who encounter them on a day to day basis. It highlights Austria’s role in the Holocaust, and struggle to belatedly come to terms with its complicity in what happened on local streets. Key questions are whether placing history at a neighbourhood level engages the public more actively than centralised state actions? How do people understand and engage with these pieces and are they effective sites of memory, reflection or imagining? Public response in Vienna suggests that memorial stones might be valuable communication tools not only for remembering the past, but for the present too - as reminders of past abuses that can serve as warnings for the future. As an example of a participatory approach to memory work Stones of Remembrance / Stolpersteine can have relevance as a communication for development and social change tool, with potential application in other post conflict contexts.

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