Arts & Entertainment

Spain’s Stolpersteine, remembering the victims of Nazi extermination

By Victoria Moreno

Madrid, May 7 (EFE-EPA).- Around 650 brass stumbling blocks dotted across Spain help preserve the memory of the over 9,000 Republican prisoners who were deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War II, a dark and seldom-discussed chapter in the country’s history whose scars are still felt to this day.

Since the Stolpersteine project was launched by German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992, some 70,000 of the cobble-sized plaques have been fitted in over 1,200 locations, marking the final place of residence chosen by victims of the Holocaust, including Jews, Romani, people with disabilities, homosexuals and political prisoners.

A total of 9,161 Spanish Republican prisoners were deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War II, of whom 5,166, almost 60%, were executed or died from the inhumane conditions in which they were forced to live.

The whereabouts of 456 prisoners remains unknown to this day, according to official data.

Isabel Martínez and her husband Jesús Rodríguez have since 2015 helped the families of victims install Stolpersteine (“stumbling block,” in English) in the Spanish capital Madrid.

“We are really pleased because in the last two years there has been a lot of publicity and more and more families are getting in touch with us to install a stone,” Isabel tells Efe.

The couple have coordinated with Demnig’s foundation in Germany to process the 33 petitions they have received so far this year.

“In Spain there are around 650 Stolpersteine and the project keeps growing,” Jesús says.

“This memorial is totally different from the rest. The stone is individual, it is always one person and it is fitted at their last known place of residence, a symbolic and important location for their relatives.”

On Saturday, around people gathered at the moment to Spanish victims of the Nazi regime in Madrid to mark the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. In a moving ceremony that included live music and the recounting of stories of the victims, some of whom will be remembered with their own Stolpersteine.

The project has gained ground in Spain since the country’s first Stolperstein was set in the town of Navás, near Barcelona, in 2015.

Nieves Cajas Santos learned of the initiative at the Arolsen Archives on Nazi persecution in Germany, where she recovered a ring belonging to one of her two uncles who were deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp just outside Hamburg.

Her uncles, Jesús and Miguel Santos Alonso, had worked as medics for the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. After crossing the Pyrenees into France, they spent time working at a medical dispensary at an internment camp in Argelès-sur-Mer.

“They wrote a lot to my parents and their little sister trying to keep them calm ‘Mother, don’t worry about us, we look after each other´,” Nieves says.

The reality was much harsher and, in 1944, both were detained by the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police force.

“They loaded them onto a cattle train, in wagons in which you had to stand on your feet, shoulder to shoulder with the others. The journey took three days.

“A Spanish medic, probably my uncle Jesús, told everyone to suck on the iron bars of the wagon, which leaked water, so that they could drink and they formed a rotation system so everyone could suck the bars,” Nieves adds.

The Santos brothers died in 1945.

“We continue to inherit the tragedy from parents to children. If they don’t study it in schools and it is not sufficiently shared, then we will never be able to assume our own history,” says Nieves, who is waiting for stumbling blocks to be installed for her uncles.

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