Posts tagged “Auschwitz Holocaust genealogy rememberance memorial”.

Finally, a Stolperstein for Cilly Stiebel

Today is the UN’s International Holocaust Rememberance Day, as it was today, 65 years ago today that Auschwitz was finally liberated. Auschwitz is often synonymous with the Holocaust, and with just cause. It was the largest of the concentration camps built by the Nazis, and 1.1 million people were killed there.

By coincidence this week, I received an email from a man in Frankfurt who works with the group that puts Stolpersteine in German streets. Also known as “stumbling blocks,” these are memorials put into public spaces to commemorate people who were deported and later murdered by the Nazis. I had written to them in 2007 before my trip with Eric to Germany, but I never heard back, until this week, when this man asked me if I was still interested in a Stolperstein for Cilly Stiebel.

And who is Cilly Stiebel? She is my boyfriend’s grandmother’s grandmother. I discovered her name while doing genealogy research, and she was the nearest relative left behind when the family left Frankfurt am Main. She was either too old or unwilling to leave, and maybe they couldn’t get permission for her to leave. Within two years, she appears on the Nazi’s “Minority Census” in a Jewish nursing home. In 1942, all the residents were deported to Terezin, where she died two weeks later, in her early 80s.

So, imagine your own infirm grandmother in a nursing home being herded up and sent to a concentration camp to die. It’s hard to imagine it, Yet this happened all over Germany, as many of the people who couldn’t get out wound up in this situation. “Luckily,” another cousin of Eric’s told us that her grandparents escaped this fate because they died before the deportations, but they were so poor they are buried in unmarked graves in their town’s Jewish Cemetery, kept decent only by the good graces of the one Christian man in town who wants to remind them that yes, the Holocaust happened there too, even in a small Rheinland town.

Before I did my genealogy work, for myself and Eric, I never thought my family suffered any Holocaust deaths. And, in time, I found that most of the relatives my parents had in Europe were in fact killed. And then doing Eric’s genealogy, I found that 10 relatives died in Terezin, including his great-greatgrandmother, and another  10 in Auschwitz, and one each in Sobibor and Izbica. The tales are tragic. One man gets stir crazy hiding in a Dutch home in the countryside. He goes for  a walk and is immediately spotted, winds up in a death camp. Another one is arrested and the Matthausen records claim, “shot while trying to escape.” A patent lie, and yet they are recorded meticulously by the Nazis. And how awful it is to hear an 89-year-old cousin tell us that her 9-year-old sister died of starvation in the Riga Ghetto, her parents helpless to do anything about it, and later dying in Auschwitz themselves. Also horrible, the uncle who disappears and there’s no record of what happened to him.

But in all of this horror, there are glimpses of humanity and survival. One cousin tells us of the neighbors who left them food in a basket on the doorstep in the dead of night–good Christian friends who risk being publicly shamed for “helping Jews.” We all know about the recently deceased 100-year-old  Miep Gies, the woman who saved Anne Frank’s diary after risking her own life helping keep the families she hid fed for two whole years. We recently reconnected with cousins of Eric’s in Israel via Facebook, who tell us that their ancestor saved himself by literally walking over the Pyrenees to Spain to save him from being rounded up in France, where he escaped initially from Germany. And so, an ignorance of our own personal relationship to the world’s most horrible genocides are replaced with a horrible new knowledge, but also, connections to family members and people separated from us temporarily by history.

And, finally, there will be some sort of memorial for Cilly Stiebel, out  in front of the address where she once lived. Not exactly a tombstone, but also not hidden away in a cemetery, either. A stumbling block of reality for passersby on the Ostend of Frankfurt.