How to write a biography?
The focus of the initiative for setting a Stolperstein is the search for the biography of a victim of persecution. The dates of birth and death, the stages of the persecution or escape and the last voluntarily chosen place of residence of a person persecuted under the National Socialist regime are essential. This is intended to allow for active commemoration: Citizens research the fates of persecuted individuals and thus actively contribute to commemoration. The purpose of the research is not only to obtain the necessary data. The research should go beyond the bare essentials, and while dealing with the individual case, it should also evoke awareness of the unique life of this one person. You can start out on your own doorstep. Try to initiate a conversation in the neighbourhood. Approach former and current residents, local associations, religious communities, political parties, schools, training institutions, colleges and universities. Seek contact with local historians and interview contemporary witnesses or their descendants. Make enquiries about:
- People: family members, friends, classmates, work colleagues
- Places of residence: the street, the flat in the house, other addresses in case of moves, changes in the townscape
- Family: births, baptisms, weddings, anniversaries, deaths, name changes
- Education and career: school and professional qualifications, occupations, academic studies
- Events: changes after 1933, response to National Socialist politics in the community
You are responsible for the results of your research and the handling of personal data. Therefore, make sure that your source references are complete, check the data researched by others and reference this work if necessary. You must also make sure that you only publish sources and original documents for which you have obtained authorisation from the respective archives or the relatives.
One possible approach could be:
- Identify individuals and families for whom a Stolperstein is to be set: If the names and the place of residence are already known, the research focuses on further family members or house residents. However, it is also possible to initiate a Stolperstein project by researching the history of one or several houses during the National Socialist era. You can use the memorial book "Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 - 1945". The database contains names and dates of persecuted Jews. Their names or places of residence can be used as a starting point for the research. The memorial book, however, does not contain any specific addresses. Access to the files and the addresses can be obtained through the Brandenburg State Archives or through local archives or museums.
- On-site investigation: First look for information in the immediate vicinity of the place of residence. Ask for family members, contemporary witnesses and former residents of the house and the street.
- Research in available publications: Contact local history museums, historical societies and the municipal, state and national libraries.
- Online research: Start by consulting search engines. The snowball effect often works well, i.e. they search for key words such as location, name and date. Look in the online catalogues of the libraries, especially in the journal collections or in the available online resources. Search for addresses and contact persons.
- Local archives: Try to find documents locally. For example, search through materials from the city administration, the church community, the Jewish community, the registry offices and historical societies.
- Memorials: Many concentration camp memorials have databases that are not open to the public in which they have registered prisoner data. If you know where the person had been imprisoned, you can contact the memorial site directly for information.
For more information on local Stolperstein initiatives as well as archives and memorial sites check out this website.