(JTA) — Austrian retiree Gerhard Geier isn’t Jewish, and his family wasn’t affected by the Nazis, but he’s doing something special to honor the memory of hundreds of Holocaust victims.
A video by BBC News explains that Geier has set out to clean and restore the 388 “stolpersteine,” or cobblestone memorials to victims of the Nazis, in the city of Salzburg, Austria. The goal is to spruce up their weathered appearance, so that people “will notice them better.”
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) July 2, 2018
Geier brings cleaning and polishing materials around with him, including a machine to buff the plaques’ surfaces, and a cloth — he says wiping the cloth on each plaque feels to him like “stroking the person [memorialized on the cobblestone] for the last time.”
“Very often, particularly when there are stones dedicated to little children — 2 or 3 years old — I ask myself: ‘What would have become of you?’” he says in the video.
Salzburg’s stolpersteine are part of a much larger project by German artist Gunter Demnig, which he started in 1992. There are currently over 67,000 of the cobblestone memorials in over 22 countries, and while they mostly commemorate Jewish people killed in the Holocaust, some pay tribute to Roma, Jehovah’s witnesses, disabled people and other victims killed by the Nazis. It is the largest decentralized memorial of its kind in the world.
The goal has been to place each individual plaque outside the victim’s last home or place of work they frequented before falling victim to Nazi terror.
Geier didn’t directly compare modern times to the rise of the Nazis, but he noted that the surge in nationalism around the world in recent years is what has motivated him to take action.
“I want to prevent those dreadful times from happening again,” he said.
Watch the video on Twitter.