On the sidewalk outside our Airbnb at Prinz Eugen Strasse 18, there’s a bronze plaque. It says, “Here lived Maria von Newlinski (born May 13, 1869) until April 28, 1944 when she was deported to Theresienstadt and died on January 21, 1945.”
The bronze plaque is one of 67,000 stolpersteine or “stumbling stones” in Europe. It’s part of a memorial project started in 1992 by German artist Gunter Demnig, and is still ongoing.
The stolpersteine commemorate Jewish and sometimes other victims of the Holocaust. The plaques are usually embedded in the sidewalks in front of a victim’s last known home, before their arrest by the Nazis.
In Vienna, about 1,000 stolpersteine have been laid so far.
The Nazis deported 65,000 Jews from the city between 1938 and 1945. Most died in the concentration camps.
According to the stolperstein outside our Airbnb, Maria von Newlinski was 74 when the Nazis arrested her and sent her to Theresienstadt. She survived eight months.
Maria was one of the 15,000 Austrian Jews the Nazis deported to Theresienstadt, in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. It was a deadly place — hunger and disease, and a typhus epidemic that started in 1944.
Most of the six million victims of the Holocaust disappeared without a trace. There are no cemeteries for them, or headstones. The stolpersteine now serve as grave markers for some. A type of “homecoming,” the organizers say.
When new stolpersteine are laid, family members sometimes come. Some are themselves Holocaust survivors.
At a stolperstein installation ceremony for his parents in Vienna last month, Paul Spielmann was there. He said he was born in Vienna and is now 86 years old.
He was an only child. His grandparents and mother were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. His father died in 1945 at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Spielmann himself, barely a teenager, was alone in Gunskirchen, a subcamp of Mauthausen in Austria. “Basically, it was the last death station,” he said. “I was malnourished, apathetic to my fate, and near the end of my days.”
“On May 5th , the miracle happened,” he said.
“We saw SS people guarding the camp panicking, and we heard canons and firearms coming closer. We thought they had come to kill all of us.”
“To our astonishment, an American armored unit appeared, which tore down the fences of the camp.”
Spielmann said, “Today I am the proud father of seven children, 18 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. In them I see my personal victory over the Nazi monster.”
There’s more about the stolpersteine project here.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.