There are 48,000+ Stolpersteine (“Stumble Stones”/”Stumbling Blocks”) in Europe. Each one commemorates a victim of the Holocaust – a Jew, Roma, Sinti, black person, homosexual, disabled person, Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witness, Communist, Resistance fighter, military deserter or any other human being that the Nazis decided to condemn.
The project is the brainchild of the modern artist, Gunter Demnig.
“Before the Shoah, it used to be the custom in Germany for non-Jews to say, when they stumbled over a protruding stone: “There must be a Jew buried here.”*
Demnig turned this phrase on its head by producing small, square stones covered in brass.
“Despite the name, no one stumbles over these stones; they are no higher than sidewalk level. Asked about this, Demnig likes to quote a schoolboy who once participated: “No, no, nobody stumbles and falls, you stumble with your mind and with your heart.” Demnig feels that even the bending needed to read the messages on the stones is, in a way, a symbolic bow of quiet respect to those whose names he wishes to rescue from forgetfulness.”**
The inscription is deliberately sparse. It starts with the phrase, Hier Wohnte (“Here Lived”) or a variation (“Here Studied,” “Here Worked,” etc.) and lists the person’s year of birth, date of deportation, and place and date of death.
As many have pointed out, this stark inscription often prompts 21st century readers to try and learn more about the individual.
Known as Brother Coelestin, Jakob Förtsch was a convent servant in the St. Peter Monastery and refectory attendant at St. Benedict College. In 1942, he was forced to leave the monastery after the Nazis expelled the monks. He returned to his hometown in Bavaria, but refused to stay silent. This led to his deportation to Dachau concentration camp in 1943, and shortly after to Ravensbrueck. He was slaughtered in the Barth satellite camp in February 1944.
Gottfried Neunhäuserer, known as Father Romauld, was a Benedictine priest at St. Peter Monastery. After an 11-year career in the church, he became a patient at the Salzburg-Lehen mental hospital in 1920. He was deported to Hartheim in April 1941 and murdered there one month later.
* See “Jude” als Schimpfwort” (in German).
** See “Stumble Stones in Germany“ by Victor Grossman (12/4/13).
Salzburg residents conducted a bücherverbrennung (“book burning”) in the Residenzplatz in 1938. This was one in a series of vicious antisemitic acts. After the Anschluss, Nazi sympathizers also burned the city’s synagogue, placed Jewish citizens in Salzburg under Nuremberg laws, and beat Jewish men on the street.
Southern Germany is just over the border from the city, and Hitler found a lot of strong support from Austrians. In his memoir, Stefan Zweig tells stories of terrified Jewish refugees streaming across the border from Bavaria in the early 1930s. As a Jew, Zweig quickly saw the writing on the wall. On his last visit to Salzburg, in 1936, he conducted his own burning:
“For two days the incinerator smoked from an auto-da-fé of letters and innumerable papers. Stefan stood there watching the flames which seemed to liberate something inside him.”*
After wandering through a series of Allied countries, Zweig moved to Brazil. He and his wife committed suicide in 1942.
Sound of Music Bonus: The scene after Maria and Captain Von Trapp’s wedding shows Nazi troops goose-stepping across the Residenzplatz and a Swastika flag hanging from the wall of the Residenz palace. Apparently, when 20th Century Fox approached city officials for permission to film this scene, they received resistance.
“Oh no,” city officials were said to have protested, “we can’t have that.” (Remember that this conversation took place only 20 years after the end of World War II.)
“We quite understand,” the studio soothed, “we’ll just use historical footage instead.”
At which point, the city officials gladly agreed to the filmmaker’s demands. If the studio had used real-life footage in the movie, you would have seen hundreds of Salzburg residents cheering on the Nazis as they entered the city. In the final version, the square is empty.**
* See The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World by George Prochnik.
** See The Sound of Music FAQ by Barry Monash.
Schloss Mirabell (“Mirabell Palace”) began as a love nest.
Originally called Altenau and now known as the “Taj Mahal of Salzburg,” the palace was created by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau for his mistress, Salomé Alt. He had 15 children with Salomé, an exhausting routine for any monarch but Wolf Dietrich. After all, this is the man who tackled the Residenzplatz, the Dom, the Residenz, and still found time to please the Capuchins and the Augustinians.
Wolf Dietrich overreached himself in 1611, when he rumbled with Bavaria over the salt trade. His order to occupy the territory of the abbey of Berchtesgaden led to Bavarian troops storming Salzburg. Wolf Dietrich was imprisoned in the Festung and Salomé and her brood were banished to Weis.
The garden itself has undergone a series of reincarnations. Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach created the initial design in 1689 (his vases still stand on the marble railing of the Grand Parterre) and Franz Anton Danreiter altered it in 1730. In the 19th century, areas such as the Dwarf Garden were destroyed.
Sound of Music Bonus: Maria and the Von Trapp children practice “Do Re Mi” on the steps of the rose garden and run down the hedge arcade next to the Grand Parterre.
The Marble Hall in the Mirabell Palace is used for concerts and civil wedding ceremonies. Although a devastating fire in 1818 destroyed it ceiling fresco, the statues and masonry in the hall survived.
Marvin Hamlisch, the composer of A Chorus Line and “The Way We Were,” owes some of his musical genetics to this humble instrument. His Viennese-born father was a professional accordion player in the “Golden Age of the Accordion” during the first half of the 20th century. Listen for Viennese strains in the soundtrack to Sophie’s Choice.
The remnants of an unenlightened area, Salzburg’s Dwarf Garden was created by Prince Archbishop Franz Anton Harrach in 1715. Some of the models for the garden lived in Harrach’s court and worked as entertainers.
This man has achondroplasia – the same genetic disorder affecting the dwarves in Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. Characteristic markers of achondroplasia include a large skull with a prominent forehead, shortened limbs, spinal curvature, and knee deformities.
In the 19th century, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria tried to have the statues destroyed. He feared that his pregnant wife might miscarry their unborn child. Instead, the dwarves were auctioned off. They returned to the Mirabell Gardens in 1921.