Steine der Erinnerung

Chelsea Ford of Davidson College studied abroad in Vienna, Austria, during the spring 2012 semester. She participated in a service-learning placement at Steine der Erinnerung, Stones of Remembrance, which is a recent addition to the service-learning opportunities in Vienna. The fall term of 2011 was the first time a student, Megan Luschen of Austin College, completed this placement.

The organization I worked with, “Steine der Erinnerung” or “Stones of Remembrance,” is dedicated to commemorating the lives of the murdered and deported Jews of Vienna, beginning in 1938 with the Nazi annexation of Austria. There are plaques, referred to as stones, placed throughout the city in front of former meeting places, residences and businesses belonging to Jews.

My duties include going once a week with Karl, a member of the organization, to clean stones. These stones are located throughout the districts of Vienna and most heavily concentrated in the 2nd district, which was historically Jewish. There is a rotation schedule, and all the stones are cleaned at least once every six weeks.

The organization consists of only six members, and most have full time jobs. Many new plaque station openings occur in the spring when family and community members come to celebrate the lives of former loved ones. I had the opportunity to witness one of these openings. The new station was in the fourth district, coincidentally where I lived, and it consisted of four plaques. Family members came from Austria, Canada, Israel and England. It was a very emotional experience, listening to the families recollect their parents and grandparents. The Vienna Jewish choir was there to sing, and everyone joined in. The families’ stories were remarkable, as was their strength, courage and perseverance.

On more than one occasion, I have attracted the attention of onlookers while cleaning the stones. Some people find it peculiar to see a young girl cleaning on the sidewalk, and it is obvious that some people still have prejudices. Sometimes stones are vandalized, even urinated on. Most the stones are laid along the sidewalk because current owners seldom permit stones to be mounted along the walls of the homes.

I cannot express how much I benefited from my experiences working with this group. Every week I was educated on important people and places in Vienna’s Jewish community. I was able to converse with Viennese Jews and satisfy all of my curiosities about their personal experiences.

Go deeper through service-learning in Vienna.

Plaques throughout the city commemorate and preserve the lives of Viennese Jews
Plaques throughout the city commemorate and preserve the lives of Viennese Jews