A retired British engineer has become a local celebrity in Prague after taking it upon himself to maintain the Czech capital’s memorials to victims of the Holocaust.
Trevor Sage, who move to Prague in 2006, regularly takes to the streets to clean the 311 memorial stones that mark where a Holocaust victim once lived. Set in the city’s pavements, the cobble-sized, brass-plated stones detail the Czechs’ names and dates of birth, as well as where and when they died.
If it were not for Mr Sage’s efforts with cleaning fluid and sponge, the scattered memorials would disappear under the city’s grime. Since he began in July, his story has been covered by newspapers and television news channels, and people now stop him on the street with words along the lines of “So you’re the Englishman I’ve read about.”
The 59-year-old from London has no personal or family connection to the Holocaust; his motivation, he says, is the preservation of memory.
“It is just to raise the profile of the victims of the Holocaust. Their memory needs to be kept alive as it is too easy to forget what occurred,” he told The Telegraph. “The way things are going around the world, not just in Europe, is rather worrying so I think it is essential that the memories are kept alive so we don’t forget the lessons of the past.”
As part of his efforts to keep the memories alive on the birthday of a victim he also tries to lay flowers or light a candle by their stone. He has also started to research the history of the people named on the stones, building biographies, detailing their lives and uploading photographs of them to a Facebook page that is now followed by 1,500 people.
Mr Sage says he only discovered the stones by accident. Having moved to Prague in search of a fresh start following the death of his wife, he explains he was on a guided tour when the guide highlighted one of the memorials.
“Nobody seemed to know exactly where they were, some were illegible, and nobody cared for them and I thought it was shame,” he said. “In Czech they are called ‘the stones of the disappeared’ and to me it felt like they were disappearing again for a second time. The stones were there to preserve the memories but they were vanishing under the grime of the pavements so I thought it would be lovely to revive them.”
But fearing he might “step on toes”, he took no action until he read an article about a man who cleaned the stones in Salzburg and he thought that was a “wonderful thing to do”.
So he set about the task, and has now met relatives of those inscribed on the stones.
“Many of them are not in the country and appreciate the fact that I will visit the stone on a birthday or anniversary,” explained the engineer. “They are so appreciative, it is really quite touching. They follow me on Facebook, they share and they make a difference. I know people are now talking about those who died, and they are being remembered.”