Oct 2006 Journal

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A Stolperstein for Irma Zancker

In a number of German towns you can find, embedded in the pavement in front of blocks of flats, concrete blocks as tiny as cobble stones, capped with brass. Inscribed on these stones are the personal details of Jewish individuals who lived here under the Nazis until they were deported and murdered. The stones are called Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks). They are the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig and are paid for by sponsors. Here is the story of one of these 'stumbling blocks' in Hamburg.

It begins in 1942 or 1943, when I was nine or ten years old. From September 1941, Jewish people had been forced to wear a six-pointed yellow star on their clothes, the so-called Judenstern. They were treated unfairly in many respects. Opposite the house in which our family lived was one of the few stores where Jews were permitted to do their shopping. One day, I happened to meet Irma Zancker, a friend of the family; I believe she was a fellow student of my parents. I hadn't seen her for a long time - likewise her son Klaus, a boy about my age. She greeted me in a friendly manner and I was very confused because she wore a Judenstern on her overcoat. What was I do? We were told Jews were evil and we must keep clear of them.

I think Irma must have been aware of my confusion for she said goodbye after a short while. It can only have been an unhappy meeting for her. I never saw her again. When the war was over, my mother told me she had been deported and murdered in a concentration camp, and that Klaus had managed to escape to England with the Kindertransport.

Several years ago, I heard about the Stolperstein and decided to sponsor one in memory of Irma. I looked through various archives and found out her last address and her personal records. In front of the house at Haynstrasse 5 in Hamburg, there is now a Stolperstein.

I attempted to trace Klaus Zanker in England, but all my efforts were in vain. The search notice I placed brought no results. Perhaps Klaus is still alive, and perhaps he will see this article. If not, all who read this will know that there are people in Germany who remember the darkest period of German history. They keep in mind the fate not only of Klaus's mother but also that of many of their Jewish neighbours.
Dieter Sienknecht

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