As I turned the corner, they caught my eye. On the ground before a door in Viterbo, on a street I’ve walked for years, three brass squares shined in the light. They lay as replacements for the three original grey cobblestones. On each was engraved a name, some dates, and then “Deportato Auschwitz” and “Morto 1945.” My heart sank as I looked down and then around at this pleasant entrance to the walled city—home to the most beloved gelato shop in town.
In 2015, the German artist Gunter Demnig came from Cologne to Viterbo to place these stones at the door at the invitation of local sponsors. Now the site and its stones are part of his ongoing Stolpersteine project—probably the world’s largest memorial. In 21 European countries, over 60,000 stones have been placed before the last residences of victims of WW2 persecution.In this case (as with most), three Jewish citizens were taken away because of their religion, and they were sent to the horrific Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz where they were killed or died.
The project’s name, Stolpersteine, is well chosen. It’s a German word meaning a “stumbling stone” or something to be stumbled upon. The subtle markers are poignant reminders of the horrors of seemingly peaceful places. I find it also fitting that the stones lie coincidently on an ancient street near an old entrance to the city both named “della Verita,” meaning “of Truth.”