The Personal Responsibility of Immersive Memorials

Stolpersteine mit Kerze

Three years ago, I wrote about immersive memorials – the idea of places where objects and points of memory are dispersed through spaces, rather than being localized in one place.

The example I used were Stolpersteine, the brass “stumbling block” cobblestones that mark the former residences of Holocaust victims throughout Europe. When I first wrote about them, I had a lot of questions about how the idea of immersive memorial could work, and today I added another one to my list: Whose responsibility is it to remember?

In just a few days, it will be Veterans/Remembrance Day. There are many ways the public will mark and remember this day, from attending parades to wearing poppy pins to gathering at public memorials. Almost all of these acts have been organized, overseen, and sanctioned by local and federal governments, and people know what they’re expected to do and how they’re expected to remember.

Today is an important day in Germany – not a holiday, but one just as worth remembering. It’s the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Jewish homes, stores, synagogues, and other buildings were ransacked, demolished, and burned to the ground throughout Nazi Germany. Some historians argue that Kristallnacht marked the beginning of the Holocaust, a night of destruction that would demand the creation of the Stolpersteine decades later.

As I went home this evening, I noticed a man walking down the street and stopping to place and light a candle next to every Stolpersteine in the sidewalk. Curious, I asked him if he was with an organization, wondering which group had arranged for this simple but striking gesture.

“No one,” he told me. “I’m just doing this because it needs to be done.”

Immersive memorial spaces may be more approachable and easier for people to engage with but, when memorial surrounds everyone, can it become no one’s responsibility?

What does it mean to be in charge of making yourself remember?

 

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