A few years back, my family and I traveled to Rome for a vacation. Shopping, sightseeing, relaxing, dining – everything was made even better by beautiful springtime weather. Three years later, my second stay in Rome also sported sunny days with a slight breeze. However, this time my trip was about more than just eating pizza, although that part was great too. Now, I visited so that I could learn more about the Stolpersteine project I had recently heard about.
Because Rome has a rich and sad Jewish history, we were able to locate many stones, especially in the Jewish Quarter, also known as the Ghetto. As we were visiting the buildings and photographing the stones, we also asked around to see if anyone knew something about the people that used to live there. We thought it would be interesting to learn as much as we could about the history of the people being memorialized. We ran into one gentleman as he was entering his building, which had a few stumbling stones in front of it, and asked if he knew anything. He was enthusiastic and helpful, telling us that although he did not know the people on the stones, his apartment used to be the home of a Jewish family that was taken to Auschwitz and never returned. However, there are no records of these people so they do not have stolpersteine in place to remember them. The man also said that his daughter interviewed one of their neighbors who is a holocaust survivor and wrote a story about it. He even offered to share the text with us.
We stood and listened to his stories right where the people had been taken away. On an ordinary day people who lived normal lives in these very houses were taken away forever. They tried to get away and save themselves. He pointed out places where people were attacked and captured by the Nazi soldiers, and “nooks and crannies” where people hid. One of the truly incredible things about this man was that he was not Jewish, yet he wanted to help us as much as he could. These stones are not only memorials, but they are a way for people to come together and remember what happened.