MHarcourt's picture

I teach in a large, co-educational, urban high school in downtown Wellington, New Zealand. I am heavily involved in the history teaching community at local and national levels and recently co-edited a book on developing New Zealand students’ historical thinking. I am particularly interested in applying a geographic dimension to my history lessons. I am also very interested in indigenous ways of knowing the past and the implications of these for me as a descendent of Wellington’s first European settlers who arrived in 1840.

Stolpersteine: Stumbling over the past

This will be my last blog for the Historical Thinking Project. Over the last year I have reflected and blogged about teaching that I have done, rather than what I would like to do. This post breaks that rule, which is why I have left it until now.

While on holiday in Germany over the 2013/2014 winter I came across many Stolpersteine, literally stumbling stones. There are 40,000 of these small brass plaques, mostly in Germany, that are found in front of the former house of a Jewish person either murdered or forced to flee the Nazi regime. The stones form part of a massive memorial project by the German artist Gunter Demlig.

Groups or individuals who complete the necessary research, follow the artist's processes and raise €120 for each plaque will have the Stolpersteine personally set in front of the house of the person researched.

A Stolperstein  has a very simple inscription. It states an individual's name, that they once lived at the location, and when and where they died or were deported. The stones are a daily reminder connecting normal, everyday streets to places of hell. It is quite an experience to be out buying bread rolls and coffee at the local Bäckerei to be confronted with a reminder that people were sent from this street to camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka or Madjanek.

I was particularly interested to read that sometimes school students complete the required research for a Stolperstein. I wrote to the artist and asked him if it would be possible to participate in this project all the way from New Zealand. He was enthusiastic. I also wrote to the Wellington Holocaust and Education Centre who have given me their support.

I will have help from a colleague who is a geography teacher and we hope to develop aspects of our students' geographical and historical thinking.

The project connects to many of the guidelines recommended by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but especially these two:

Translate statistics into people

Contextualise the history

My colleague and I intend to make this an extra-curricular activity for students with a particular interest in the Holocaust. Our first step will be to find a Jewish person or family with a connection to New Zealand and from then start exploring the context of their lives. Then we can start the process of applying for a Stolperstein.

In lieu of blogging, you can follow the progress of our Stolpersteine project by 'following' me on twitter at @harcoumich.

What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections