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Stumble to Remember

Through the Stolpersteine the six victims are once again a part of Portobello. Credit: Luiz Phelipe Santos

The story of the six Irish holocaust victims and how Dublin commemorates them

by Kolja Nürnberg

It is a Wednesday morning. It is a normal morning on Donore Avenue. Children are flooding through the gate of St. Catherine National School. They are playing and laughing. One boy cannot let go of his father, while another is anxious about leaving his mother’s side.

The scene must have looked quite similar almost a century ago. It was probably more crowded, current Principal Karen Jordan assumes – she still cannot believe how 500 children managed to fit in a school which now struggles to do the same with 200. One of the many girls attending the school back then was Esther „Ettie‟ Steinberg. She would not have stood out; she probably played and laughed like any other child.

This is her story, but it is also the story of five other Irish Jews who also became victims of the Holocaust. This is the story of how St. Catherine’s, Portobello and Dublin remembers them. This is the story of Ireland’s first ‘Stolpersteine’.

Ettie and her family had only moved to Dublin in 1925. Born in Veretsky, then Austria- Hungary, she and her family had moved places many times before settling in Portobello, which 90 years ago was still known as „Little Jerusalem‟. Like most families living there, Ettie and her family were Jewish. Something she must have shared with many of her friends at her School. Of the 500 pupils attending the school back then, Ms Jordan explains, half of them were Jewish.

Finishing School at 17 Ettie had decided to learn the trade of a seamstress and it was during that work that she met her future husband the Belgian Vogtjeck Gluck. Their marriage took place in 1937 on South Circular Road in the Greenville Hall Synagogue and was followed by them moving to Antwerp.

“Well people think Ireland wasn’t involved  but we were.The people were.”

Their stay in Belgium was cut short by the rising tensions of the Nazi expansion and by the time the Second World War had started, they were living in Paris, where in 1940 Ettie would give birth to their son, Leon. It took the family over two years to finally succeed in gaining a visa to travel to Northern Ireland, but a day before their papers arrived they were abducted and interned in Toulouse by the Gestapo. The family‟s fate was tragic and sadly not that different from the fate of many other European Jews. In September 1942 all three were murdered upon their arrival in Auschwitz.

The 1st June 2022 was different to any other Wednesday mornings, different to the Wednesday morning of the 25th October and different to the many Wednesday mornings

90 years ago. Instead of children flooding the gates, men and women in suits and dresses were arriving at St. Catherine’s School. Instead of it being crowded by children, it was crowded by cameras and journalists.

If one would have looked closely they could have possibly recognised the Deputy Major, the German ambassador and many local councillors. Different to Ettie one person standing out would have been, the artist Gunther Demning with his grey hat and his grey vest. It would have been hard to believe that he was the reason all of these people were gathering there – But he was – Because back in the early 1990s he had become the founding father of the „Stolpersteine‟ – the largest decentralized memorial in the world with the first „Stolperstein‟ placed by him in 1992.

30 years later the number of „Stolpersteine‟ now amounts to 95,000 and that Wednesday morning marked the „Stolpersteine‟ now spreading to over 31 countries in Europe, their function being to remember one who „stumbles‟ over them of the many Holocaust victims and each personal story, each personal tragedy.

This Wednesday morning not just Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon Gluck but also Ephraim and Jeanne Saks and Isaac Shishi, who were also Irish victims of the Holocaust, got their own Stolpersteine. All of them had lived in what was known as „Little Jerusalem‟. All of them were once just children playing and laughing. And all of them suffered the same tragic fate.

Through the Stolpersteine the six victims are once again a part of Portobello. Credit: Luiz Phelipe Santos

Speaking on the day of the ceremony Gunther Demning was just grateful: “We are happy about every new stone, every new town, every small village and of course every new country.” The six Stolpersteine were Ireland‟s first. The German ambassador followed and fittingly argued that these six people will be a small but integral part of Donore Avenue, of Dublin and of Ireland.

Joe Schleider a nephew of Ettie rightfully stated that these six human stories once again highlight the tragedy of the Holocaust and the many live‟s lost, while Roderic O‟Gorman, Minster for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland, reminded the audience of the importance of solidarity in today‟s society.

Also speaking on the day of the ceremony was Principal Karen Jordan – she is still surprised that next to all these important politicians she also got to say a few words. Even over a year after the ceremony she still claims that it was one of her proudest moments as principal and mentions all the different ways it has affected her school.

“We have schools from Dundalk come down to see them” she tells me and adds that the stones make history relatable. “The children can become historians themselves.” She

shows me the works of her students. Most of them focus on the lost opportunities, one poem is titled „One more day…‟ and tells the story of what could have been if Ettie had one more day, another painting shows Ettie as a student of St. Catherine‟s. “It [Ettie‟s Story] makes it more real, especially to the kids” she says.

Asked to describe the role of her school in the „Stolpersteine‟ project, she explains how the process went.

“We were first contacted by Holocaust Education Ireland about six years ago. We sort of facilitated it and provided a location.” The close link to the community was a reason they put the Stolpersteine in front of her school. She argues that the school was a “focal point” back in Ettie‟s time and still is today.

Ms Jordan says how fascinated she was that 21 members of Ettie‟s family turned up to the ceremony and how some of them were able to point out their parents on Ettie‟s wedding picture, which is on display in one of the classrooms. “One thinks [the Holocaust] is far away, but it actually it is not far ago,” she concludes.

She was especially emotional about Ettie‟s Nephew ending his speech by saying: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Six million Thank yous.” And one could now argue that Donore Avenue is a site to six of these thank yous. “Well people think Ireland wasn‟t involved  but we were. The people were.” says Ms Jordan. Ettie‟s story once again shows that the Holocaust left nothing untouched, not even neutral Ireland.

If you walk past the school, perhaps on a Wednesday morning, the six Stolpersteine will make people remember Ettie‟s, Vogtjeck‟s, Leon‟s, Jeanne‟s, Ephraim‟s and Isaac‟s stories. Will make one remember that they also laughed and played like the children of St. Catherine‟s and will make one remember all the lost opportunities, not only Ettie‟s but of all victims of the Holocaust.

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