Museum Exhibition Weissensee Cemetery Kristallnacht Memorial Stolperstein Other

A Stolperstein (lit. stumbling stone or block) is an inscribed brass plaque which is inserted into the street pavement close to where a victim of Nazi persecution lived - as a permanent reminder.

On Monday 11th November 2013 a stolperstein for Martha Less, Nikki's maternal grandmother, was placed outside 141 Charlottenburger Strasse.

See German report at Ein Zweiter Blick
(Scroll down for English text of speech).

An article by Berlin resident Kerstin Zarbock (28/Dec/2015)
Stolperstein für Martha Less und ein Besuch aus London

Find out more about Berlin artist Gunter Demnig, the man who makes stolpersteine.

Gunter Demnig prepares the ground ...

... for the new stone.

Nikki thanks Gunter Demnig.

The apartment building at 141 Charlottenburger Str., the last home of Martha Less.

Nikki with Matthias Zarbock and Cosima Wrassmann who were instrumental in arranging for the installation of the stolpersteine.

The street corner location of the plaque.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends,

When I first had the idea to commission a "stumbling block" (Stolperstein) for a former Jewish resident of this house and started research for this project some years ago, I did not know that a very close relative of hers would be present for the laying of the Stolperstein. I am very happy that Nikki van der Zyl can be here with us today. She and her husband, George Rooker, have come to Berlin for the opening of an exhibition about the impressive history of the families Less and van der Zyl, and the artist Nikki van der Zyl in particular, at the Pankow Museum. Nikki is the granddaughter of Martha Less, who lived here in Charlottenburger Strasse 141 in Berlin-Weissensee.

I would like to thank Günter Demnig for reserving this special date for the laying of "our" Stolperstein, and I thank the employees from the Pankow Museum, above all Ms Kirchhöfer, for their assistance in the research and their advice. I also extend my thanks to you all who are with us here today.

Sixty-nine years after her death we remember Martha Less, who once lived in this building. Martha Less, née Struck, was born on 1st May 1884 in Breslau. There she met Leo Less, the owner of a men's and boys' clothing shop "Less Kleidung" at Berliner Allee 234 (today number 73) in Berlin-Weissensee, who later became her husband. In 1909 their daughter Anneliese was born, who later married Rabbi Werner van der Zyl. Until the middle of the 1930s, Martha and her husband Leo Less lived at Albertinenstrasse 18. In 1934, the Nazis forced Leo Less to sell his business and his home. The couple were forced to leave their apartment and move to Charlottenburger Strasse 141. From 1939, Martha Less had to do forced labour. Their daughter Anneliese and her family left Germany. Leo Less died in January 1942 and was buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee. Martha Less was forced once again to leave her home and move to the institute for the deaf at Parkstrasse 22. The Nazis made her and the public believe that she would soon get a room in a pensioners home. For this room she spent all her remaining assets and so, on 14 September 1942, with the second major transport of older Jews (II. Alterstransport) she was deported to Theresienstadt. The 23rd of October is the last recorded day of her life. It was the day Martha Less was deported to Auschwitz. She was 60 years old.

So much for the brief facts of her life. The inscription on a Stolperstein is also brief. We know so little about the lives of the millions of individuals who became victims of facism. If we do not search for their names and their history, if we do not call their names and tell their stories, they will remain faceless. It is disturbing that we know more about their suffering after the Nazis took over than about their ordinary lives.

"The dead are not dead", said Heiner Müller, because their lives, their suffering, their deaths continue to have an effect, and so there is no such thing as "coming to terms with the past". "A marker for the end of life, but not the end of love" is written on many gravestones. Martha Less has no grave; her name is written on her husband's gravestone. Paul Celan, who surely cannot be accused of flippancy, said that those incinerated at Auschwitz had a "grave in the air".

When I talked with friends about the fate of Martha Less, one of them asked: "How did she feel, a respectable woman forced to accept one humiliation after another until her life fell apart? How lonely she must have felt - her husband dead, her daughter in exile. Should she have emigrated too? But where is home? And how much is one prepared to believe that one's previous life is now over? Does it make it easier to know that your daughter is safe? Or is it just painful to be all alone? What kind of hope was it that made her spend the rest of her money in attempting to escape the present hell, only to realize that this was the last cruel irony of Nazi propaganda? Does one then have enough strength left to hope for a future? How unbearable must be that moment of awareness."

We remember Martha Less, even though we never had a chance to meet her in person, even though she will not be able to answer our questions. I would like to invite you to take a short walk: Less than a hundred steps from here is the house Berliner Allee 234 which once accommodated the clothing shop of Leo Less. From there we will walk to Albertinenstrasse 18, directly opposite the Weissensee lakeside park, once the home of the Less family. From there we will walk to Parkstrasse 22, once the site of the institute for the deaf and today home of the Elisabeth school. There we will pause at the commemorative plaque before we say farewell for today.

The World of Nikki van der Zyl