The Alphabet Garden

Grafeneck, a home for the physically and mentally disabled, was established as “Site A” for the so-called “euthanasia experiments” of the Nazi regime in 1940. 10,654 sick and disabled people were killed there. Today Grafeneck has been re-established as an institution for the disabled, and it maintains a memorial site dedicated to the victims who perished there in 1940.

The Grafeneck Memorial Committee is trying to identify all those who perished at Grafeneck and to record their names in a book on permanent display at the Memorial site. It had been believed that the victims were all Christian, but in doing the research to identify the victims it was discovered that some of the victims were Jewish.

In May of 1997, Diane Samuels was asked to propose and subsequently was commissioned to build a memorial commemorating the Jewish victims as well as the victims whose names will never be found. She proposed an Alphabet Garden, based on a Jewish folktale in which the sage Isaac Luria is introduced to a man whose prayers are particularly efficacious and Luria asks him how he prays. The man answers that he cannot read or write but that he can recite the alphabet, so he asks God to take his letters and form them into prayers.

The Alphabet Garden was built in August 1998 by Samuels, assisted by members of the Grafeneck Memorial Committee and other volunteers from the region. The Alphabet Garden contains 26 small, square granite memorial stones each engraved with a letter of the Roman alphabet, set into a field of 14,000 randomly scattered plants that bloom at different seasons of the year.

In October of 2000, a stone bench was placed in the garden. The stone, part of the Grafeneck castle built in the eighteenth century, is inscribed with the wordsBitte, nimm meine Buchstaben und forme daraus Gebete. (“Please, take my letters and form them into prayers.”)

Title: Alphabet Garden

Size: 30’ x 40’
Materials: Granite stones, building stone found on the site, 14,000 perennial flower bulbs
Date Completed: 2000
Funded by: The Grafeneck Memorial Committee, the German Government, individuals and organizations
Location: Gedenkstätte Grafeneck, Gomadingen, Germany

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