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October 8, 2010

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Blocks to honor victims

THE Germany Pavilion is known for its variety of exhibits, ranging from advanced technologies to entertaining spaces. It is easy to pass by without noticing the small space filled with "Stolpersteins," or "stumbling blocks," an urban art project created by artist Gunter Demnig to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

"The old saying has it, a person is truly forgotten when the name is not known anymore. That is why I want to have their names remembered," the 63-year-old artist told Shanghai Daily.

"Many German youths today know only very little about this period of history, only from textbooks, and it's completely different from seeing a real name at a real street where the person lived before," said the non-Jewish artist, who is not related to any of the victims.

The nine bronze blocks, each measuring 10 centimeters in length, width and height, are placed on the floor in the Germany Pavilion, with pictures of the German streets they were placed on before being moved to the pavilion. Being unnoticeable, people may stumble over them.

"Most cities didn't allow me to do it until a few years later, when they started to understand my purpose - to remember," he added. "Now I have requests from many European cities inviting me to put a block there."

Since Demnig laid down the first "stumbling block" in Cologne in 1993, he has put more than 25,000 such blocks in 562 cities in nine European countries.

Some people also didn't like the project because they consider it disrespectful to the dead for putting their names on the street and for people to step over.

"The point is you actually have to kneel down to see the inscriptions clearly. Then you might have your own imagination of how the person's life was, and that is complete respect," Demnig retorted.

The German inscriptions on the blocks say "here lived," followed by the person's name, years he or she lived there and whether he or she fled or died.

Demnig is proud of the project, especially because some people have found lost relatives or friends through these blocks. He still remembers how two brothers lost contact with each other and with other relatives during the disaster. One fled to Colombia and the other to the UK, and it was through the block he made for the one fleeing to Colombia that his brother got the first clue, and finally got reunited with him.

"It is also for everyone to remember that such cruelty existed in history, and to warn us to avoid such violence in the future," Demnig said.


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