Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Signing Off

Hi everyone,

First off, thank you for following my adventures in Europe this summer. It was always lovely to log onto Blogger and see that people from all over the world had viewed my blog. This will be my last post for the summer, and I wanted it to be special. Therefore, it is now time to reveal my "secret project."

While I was in Poland for the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative earlier this month, I had the opportunity to sit down with three Roma activists to discuss the current situation of the Sinti and Roma in Europe. I recorded these conversations and have spent the last three weeks compiling them into a short video, which you can now access on Youtube. Hopefully, you will find that this final project nicely sums up a lot of the topics I addressed on this blog throughout the summer. I truly hope that you will take what you have learned  from my blog and your own research on Sinti and Roma to deconstruct many of the poisonous stereotypes and prejudices that affect the daily lives of Europe's largest (and arguably most marginalized) ethnic minority.

Although many of you are not Europeans, I believe that the themes--if not the topics--I addressed this summer are universal and therefore deserving of critical reflection.

Once again, thank you for the support you have given me on my journey. Take care!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Photos from Auschwitz

At the commemoration ceremony on August the 2nd, everyone was given a rose to place inside the gypsy camp. I laid mine in the middle of a barrack at the back of the camp.

This is the entrance to the Zigeunerlager (gypsy camp). The Nazis destroyed the barracks when they abandoned the camp in early 1945; however, you can still see the foundations of the barracks as well as a few chimneys. 

The procession into the Zigeunerlager - Some people are holding the Romani flag which was adopted as the official flag of the Roma at the First World Romani Congress in 1971.

Not only did the commemoration attract Roma from all over Europe, but also foreign dignitaries, the media, and civil rights activists. The man at the podium read a letter from Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel. Also, at the ceremony some participants wore t-shirts with the phrase "Dik I Na Bistar" on the back. "Dik I Na Bistar" is Romani for "Look and don't forget."

Six survivors of the Roma Genocide joined the conference on the last day. Each had his or her own unique (and in many cases, harrowing) experience. Though, the woman sitting on the far left has the most unusual story in my opinion:

Else Baker (nee Schmidt) is only part-Roma. As a girl, she was adopted by an "Aryan" family in Hamburg. The Nazis attempted to deport her to Auschwitz twice between 1943 and '44. The first time, Else's adopted father intervened and prevented the deportation. The second time, the Nazis took her while she was at school. By the time her adoptive parents had realized what had happened, it was too late; Elsa was already in a train heading toward Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was eight years old. Because Else didn't have any guardian in the camp, she came under the care of an older Roma woman.

While Else suffered in the Auschwitz, her adoptive father was frantically trying to get her back. He began writing to top Nazi officials to persuade them to release her from the camp. He even wrote to Hitler (which was unthinkable at the time). But his tenacity paid off, and eventually Else received an authorization to return to Germany. 

One week after her return, Else was forced to re-enroll in school. She had to cover the tattoo she received in Auschwitz-Birkenau with a bandage for fear that fellow student might tease her.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Some Photos from Poland (More Coming Soon!)

 Dik I Na Bistar - Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative is put on every year by a number of Roma organizations around Europe. The Initiative was formed for two primary reasons. The first was to bring together Roma and non-Roma to discuss the current situation of Sinti and Roma in Europe as well as issues of "anti-gypsism." Secondly, the Initiative brings together young people to reflect on the Roma Genocide during World War II. For this reason, the conference is held every year to coincide with the anniversary of the liquidation of the Zigeunerlager in Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 2-3, 1944. I took this picture at the opening ceremony of the conference in Blonia Park (Krakow, Poland). There were over a 1,000 participants this year coming from virtually every European country as well as the United States. Canada, and Israel.
 After the official opening ceremony ended, several people took to the stage to sing, dance, and play instruments. The Roma have a rich, centuries-old musical tradition in Europe, and many people exhibited this during the conference. There wasn't a single night where I didn't hear a guitar or an accordion outside my window. 

For two days the conference hosted a series of workshops for the participants. Although I spent most of my time helping out at the Documentation Center's workshop on the German Roma Civil Rights Movement, I did get a chance to attend a flamenco dance workshop one morning. Flamenco proved to be extremely difficult, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The woman in black pictured in this photo was our instructor. At the end of the workshop, she gave us an impromptu performance, which was exceptional. She was originally accompanied only by a guitarist, but some participants who knew the lyrics to a number of flamenco songs eventually provided vocals.

I believe these posters were made by the No Hate Speech Movement, a pan-European organization of young people who advocate for tolerance and respect.

On the first day of the conference, I met a man who told me that visiting Auschwitz changes the way you see the world. He couldn't have been more correct. Travelling to Auschwitz on August 2nd to commemorate the liquidation of the gypsy camp was an indescribable experience that I will never forget. The bouquet in this photo was placed in the gypsy camp during the remembrance ceremony. It is reminder of the men, women, and children who died in concentration camps and unmarked killing fields during the Holocaust. 

If I didn't know better, I would have thought this article came from "the Onion."

Nearly seventy years after the end of the Second World War, Europe is still dealing with deeply-entrenched anti-Semitism.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


A week ago today, I was in Auschwitz-Birkenau for the commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the liquidation of the Zigeunerlager (Gypsy camp).

On August 2nd and 3rd, 1944, 1,200 Sinti and Roma, mostly women, children, the sick, and the elderly, were gassed and cremated in Crematorium V. Historians still do not know why the Nazis decided to remove the Sinti and Roma from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some have argued that the Germans needed more space for the masses of Hungarian Jews arriving in the camp daily. Others attribute the decision to whim.

Although we may never know what moved the Nazis to kill the Sinti and Roma inmates at Auschwitz, we do know why the "gypsies" were there. They were criminals according to Nazi racial ideology. To be born a "gypsy" was to be born a thief, a swindler, a crook. Criminality was in their blood, a inescapable genetic fatalism.

I intended to write a long post about Auschwitz. I experienced so much last Saturday that it's hard not to, but I can't seem to find the words to describe my time in the camp. It is a place that must be felt.

I do, however, have one story.

The commemoration lasted for two hours last Saturday. It was hot that day, and few clouds gave little relief from the blazing sun. Because space was limited in the shaded areas of the compound, we, the younger delegates at the ceremony, had to sit in an open field, where the sun beat down on us mercilessly. After the official ceremony had ended, the majority of us were herded to the site of Crematorium V where a short vigil was held for the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A small cluster of trees hides Crematorium V from the rest of the camp. The trees are tall and their branches wide forming a canopy. Beneath this leafed roof, we, those reddened by the sun, finally had a respite from its rays. Some students even slouched against the trees in the forest. The day had taken an emotional and physical toll, and the shade of the trees had offered needed relief.

I later learned that the victims of Crematorium V would wait in the same clump of trees prior to being slaughtered. In that moment, it crossed my mind that on a hot summer's day in 1944, Jewish men, women, and children, wary from their travels in cramped cattle cars, must have enjoyed the shade, too.

One hopes that Auschwitz would feel uncanny--that the barracks and the crematoria would be unsettling and strange. It's easier to digest evil when it's doesn't feel so... human. A forest isn't unusual. Neither is a barbed wire fence. Even the gas chambers are just piles of brick now. There is very little in Auschwitz-Birkenau today that I haven't seen before.

And it is this, the presence of the everyday in a place as horrible as Auschwitz, which is so haunting.

I found this photo on another blog today. These are the woods around Crematorium V. In the picture you can also see another photo of Jewish arrivals standing in the same woods in May 1944.They all perished in the gas chambers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Really, Who Are the Roma?

There isn't a single word (or group of words, for that matter) which can accurately capture what it means to be Roma. Like any large group of people, the Roma are diverse, teeming with academics and athletes, musicians and artists, Holocaust survivors, civil rights activists, and even a reality TV star (yes, Snooki from the Jersey Shore is genetically part-Romani--although I doubt she identifies as such).

As a co-worker of mine once explained, the only common characteristics that unite all Roma are their common language and their Verfolgungsschicksal.

Historically, all Roma spoke a common language, Romanes, which had origins in early Sanskrit. This language eventually included elements of other languages as the Roma migrated from northern India to Europe over the past thousand years. Once in Europe, the language underwent another series of changes in which the local vernacular was incorporated into Romanes. This final metamorphosis produced a bounty of different Romani dialects. (Even today, many Roma from different parts of Europe cannot understand each other because their native tongue has been so intertwined with other European languages.)

Given the multiplicity of Romani dialects, it is the Verfolgungsschicksal of the Roma which truly unites them. Verfolgungschicksal has no direct translation in English. Roughly, it describes the "fate of persecution" of a individual or group. The term is quite popular amongst German-speaking Holocaust scholars, and I have come across it a lot while interning at the Center. As most of you know by now, the Roma--whether in France, the occupied Soviet Union, Croatia, or elsewhere in Europe--were persecuted by the Nazis and their allies in the Second World War. It is for this reason that Sinti and Roma have gathered in Auschwitz-Birkenau every August 2nd to commemorate the liquidation of the "Gypsy camp" for the past twenty years. It is also the continuation of anti-gypsyism in most European countries that still unites the varied Roma groups spread across Europe and the world.

The discrimination and persecution of Roma in Europe will become clearer as I share more about my experience in Poland this past week, but for now I want to leave you with a short story which, I think, best describes "the Roma" today:

On the first day of the conference, we had to form small groups and give introductions. My group of about eight people consisted of Roma and non-Roma from Spain, Bulgaria, Austria, and Romania. Some participants could speak Romanes, other could not. Some were studying at university, while others were still in high school. (None were beggars or charlatans as the stereotype might lead you to believe!)

After our introductions, I struck up a conversation with the group of students from Bulgaria. We exchanged questions about each others' countries and had a great time getting to know one another. At one point, I asked one of the girls, Antoniya, what she studied. She answered, "medicine", to which I replied, "Oh, so you want to be a doctor." She paused for just a moment and responded--despite a shallow language barrier--"No, I will be a doctor." (Mea culpa.)

Although Antoniya may not have realized it, there was a lot of power behind her response. She emanated a determination that I had never felt before from a university student. I later discussed Antoniya's plans for the future with her some more, and it became clear just how intent she was to not only be a doctor but also a role model for young Roma living in Bulgaria. (I have no doubts that she will be both.)

I suppose Antoniya's aspirations aren't what the Nazis would have expected from a "gypsy."

I'm back! (And I have a surprise...)

Hi, everyone! Sorry I have been gone for so long. I had unreliable WiFi connection in Poland, so I wasn't able to update you on my goings-on in Krakow.

I got back to Heidelberg on Monday but was invited by Silas, a new friend and executive board member of the German Sinti and Roma organization Amaro Drom, to travel to Luxembourg yesterday. So after exploring the tiny, yet endearing, country of Luxembourg and spending a night in the Saarland, I am finally back in Heidelberg and eager to share my experiences with you all.

Every experience I had in Poland was interrelated; therefore, rather than sharing individual stories or documenting my trip chronologically, I will share them thematically. I will post my first experience, entitled "Really, Who Are the Roma?", tonight, so please stay tuned.

On a related note, I also have a surprise. My final post on this blog will be a special project I have been working on over the past few weeks. I've kept this project a secret for awhile now because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to complete it, but fortunately, luck has been on my side. You will not want to miss this...

Procession in the so-called "Gypsy camp" (Zigeunerlager) in Auschwitz-Birkenau during the seventieth anniversary commemoration of the liquidation of the camp on August 2nd. The man is holding the flag of the Romani people.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Going to Poland!

Sorry I have been M.I.A. this past week, everyone. The Center has been preparing for its annual Gedenkreise ("remembrance trip") to Krakow and Auschwitz, and things have been a little hectic.

This evening we are finally departing for Poland! We are travelling by bus for several hours, so I'm certain my initial excitement will dissipate around hour four of sitting in the crowded vehicle... Haha. (But the anticipation is likely to come back in a rush when we pull into the hotel parking lot in Krakow.)

Our trip to Krakow is part of the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative conference, which occurs annually at the end of July and beginning of August. This time of year is very important for the Roma because it marks the anniversary of the liquidation of the "Gypsy camp" in Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 2nd and 3rd, 1944, an event that resulted in the murders of some three thousand Roma men, women, and children. (In total, the Nazis killed 21,000 of the estimated 23,000 Roma prisoners in Auschwitz.)

On August 2nd, I will be traveling from Krakow to Auschwitz to commerorate the liquiation of the Gypsy camp and the victims of National Socialism. The day's activities will include a tour of the camp's grounds, a reading of the victims' names, a series of speeches from Roma leaders and official state dignitaries, and finally a requiem at Krakow Philharmonic.

It will surely be an experience I will never forget.

In addition to the commemoration ceremony, the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative conference will also host a series of workshops on Roma Holocaust history and contemporary rights' advocacy. Because I can speak English (the lingua franca of the conference), I will be helping with at least one of these workshops. I'm really looking forward to these small group discussions because they will give me an opportunity to chat with young Roma about the current situation of the Romani people in Europe. (Of course, it's nice to get a personal perspective on issues that textbooks and newspapers sometimes gloss over.)

I'll try my best to update everyone during my stay in Krakow. If I don't have access to the Internet in Poland, I'll be sure to post pictures when I return to Heidelberg on Monday.

Please take some time on Saturday to remember not only the Roma victims in Auschwitz but also all peoples who were persecuted by the Nazis in the Third Reich and Nazi-occupied areas.

"Blaudes" by TanzMedia

For all the artistic type who have been reading my blog:

In 2012 the first national memorial for the murdered Sinti and Roma victims of Nazism opened in Berlin. At the time a group of young German dancers from the dance troupe TanzMedia were asked to choreograph a movement piece to coincide with the memorial's opening. The result was "Blaudes", a visual piece that incorporated elements of forced perspective, film, photography, and--of course--dance.

I invite all of you to watch a recording of the dance here. (The actual dance begins at 3:07.) 

As you will see, the dancers all come from diverse cultural backgrounds--an indicator of how far Germany has progressed since the Third Reich.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Weekend Trips (Part Two)

In every German city there is a least one Holocaust memorial. Some memorials fill up city blocks, like Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Others are so small you might just miss them. But wherever you go in Germany--and, more often than not, in any European metropolis--you will find a sliver of remembrance for those who died in the Holocaust.

The German school system has done a wonderful job of integrating these memorials into their secondary education program. Two weekends ago I was able to witness how this is done.

On Saturday, July 12, I travelled with a group of student teachers at the University of Heidelberg to Frankfurt-am-Main for a tour of Holocaust memorials. In all, we visited about the ten individual monuments, memorials, and parks throughout the city that mark the persecution and marginalization of Jews, Sinti and Roma, and political dissidents in the Third Reich.

Although these places of remembrance conjure up feelings of loss and contrition, their presence in crowded plazas and bustling streets disrupts the monotony of everyday living, reminding all who pass--if only for a moment--that there is hope for a better future when we remember the past. Hitler's regime of hate was strong, but I believe the regime of tolerance is much stronger as long as we don't forget those who we have lost.

This is the Frankfurter Römer, or the city hall of Frankfurt. During the Third Reich Hitler would stand on the second-floor terrace and greet cheering crowds of supporters.

In front of the city hall is a sloping plaza known as the Rathausplatz. It was here that students burned the books of Jewish authors and intellectuals, as well as the works of other "undesirables", on May 10th, 1933.

This plaque honors Frankfurt's Sinti and Roma families who were persecuted and killed in the 1930s and early 1940s. Unlike most memorials in Germany, which are normally victim-focused, this one names two perpetrators of the Nazi program against so-called Zigeuner (gypsies): Robert Ritter and Eva Justin, who both "identified" the racial characteristics that distinguished Sinti and Roma from true Aryans. 

This memorial, the first of its kind in Frankfurt, was built in the 1960s. At the base are the names of Nazi ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination sites. Not accounted for are the innumerable locations of mass shootings in Eastern Europe.

The entrance to a Jewish cemetery which was destroyed in the Third Reich but later restored after the war

 Eight rows of rectangle prisms snake around the perimeter of the Jewish cemetery. On each box is the name of a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. The number of prisms surpasses five thousand, only a fraction of the lives lost in WWII.

In the Middle Ages, this was the site of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt. When the ghetto was destroyed, this plaza became the Jewish market. The Nazis later renamed this area in order to rid itself of its Jewish past. Today, sycamore trees shade a tomb-like monument in the center of the park. 

This is the IG Farben building at the Goethe University of Frankfurt. During World War II, IG Farben, a German chemical company, administered the production of Zyklon B, the poisonous substance used in Nazi gas chambers. After the war, this building was commandeered by the American military and became the main bureaucratic office of the Marshall Plan. The building now belongs to the University. 

The colorful figures on the front lawn are plastic statues of the University's namesake, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weekend Trips (Part One)

It's never fun to travel by yourself. Fortunately for me, I've been able to travel around Germany with friends and co-workers over the past two weekends.

On Sunday, July 6, I travelled to Nuremburg to visit my friend Anna, who is currently studying at West Point.  (Anna and I ruled the Paw Paw Middle School Student Council together with iron fists about seven years ago.... haha.)

Nuremberg is truly a city frozen in time--or rather, several time periods. The old part of the city is picturesque: narrow alleyways, arching cathedrals, medieval walkways. (It perfectly fits the fairytale-like, German village stereotype.) As you travel out of the Altstadt, however, the architecture begins to change. Rounded street corners become more angular, and every building assumes a crudeness typical of the Bauhaus movement--and the Third Reich.

Many of you are probably familiar with Nuremberg's Nazi past. In the 1934 Nuremberg became the official location for Nazi party rallies. To accommodate the number of Nazi party members and youths who came to the city for these annual meetings, the outskirts of the Nuremberg were transformed into fairgrounds, complete with a Colosseum, a grand boulevard, and sweeping fields for parading.

After the fall of the Third Reich, the Allies and the German government protected these sites from destruction (and for remembrance). The size and grandiosity of the Nazi party grounds are remarkable--and startling. In Nuremberg, the influence of Hitler's influence and power is palpable. If you ever visit Germany, you must travel to Nuremberg. It is a must-see.

If you would like to learn more about Nuremberg, the the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, or the Nuremberg Trials (were former Nazi leaders were tried and convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity), visit any of these links.

In my next post, I will tell you about my trip to Frankfurt this past weekend. Stay tuned!

The Schoenner Brunnen ("beautiful fountain") in the Altstadt 

The view of greater Nuremberg from the Altstadt

The former party grounds of the Nazis (also, a car show)

Inside one of the cathedrals in the Altstadt

The Kongresshalle, which was modelled after the Colosseum in Rome
The Kongresshalle now houses the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Documentation Center.

Monday, July 14, 2014

At the Final Whistle...

I have been very fortunate this summer. Not only do I have an amazing internship, but I also got to experience a winning World Cup showing.

Here was the reaction at the final whistle last night. There was a palpable tenseness throughout the entire game, which immediately dissipated when the referee signaled the end. What a relief!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tonight's the Big Game!

Well, tonight it all ends. The World Cup has been unbelievable (particularly because Germany has gone so far.) I'm a little sad that this global event will come to a close this evening, but I will never forget these exciting past few weeks.

I hope everyone gets a chance to watch the finale!! I filmed the video above when Germany beat Brazil on Tuesday. I can only imagine what it will be like tonight if Germany wins again....

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Red Fish, Blue Fish"

Before Dr. Seuss wrote his famous children's books, he was a cartoonist for the leftist newspaper, PM. Yesterday I was going through some newspapers from 1941 and came across the political cartoon below. I knew it was a Seuss original almost instantaneously. (His work just has that "look.")
Citation: "The Political Dr. Seuss." PBS: Independent Lens. PBS, n.d. Web. 10 July 2014.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Esther Bejarano and the "Microphone Mafia"

Today, Zeitzeugen (lit., "time witnesses") from the Third Reich are few in number. Holocaust museums around the world are desperately collecting as many first-hand accounts from survivors as possible. It is, therefore, truly a treat to meet a survivor of National Socialism.

Esther Bejarano was a Jewish internee in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbrueck in the early 1940s. After her liberation, she, along with many European Jews, moved to Palestine, where she lived for almost fifteen years. In the early 1960s, Esther moved again, finding refuge in the least likely of places--Germany. Ever since, Esther has worked tirelessly to end anti-Semitism, fascism, and discrimination in Germany (and the rest of Europe). 

Esther survived the gas chambers by joining the "Girls's Orchestra" in Auschwitz as an accordionist, an instrument she picked up upon her arrival in the concentration camp. Prior to 2009, Esther had been best known for her participation in this band. Recently, however, Esther has become well-known for a new (and rather unusual) musical exploit.Five years ago Esther became the newest member of the "Microphone Mafia," a German hip-hop group. Together, Esther and the "Mafia" sing and rap songs in a myriad of languages that all promote one ideal: tolerance.

I saw Esther in concert on July 2nd at Osthofen concentration camp, which was absolutely incredible. The concert consisted of a reading and a set that lasted over two hours--an amazing feat when you consider that Esther will be ninety this year. To see such vitality in a woman who has survived so much was a pleasure. But to see such undying conviction in a human was truly an honor. 

Esther Bejarano with one of her band-mates

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!

I just wanted to wish a "Happy Fourth of July!" to everyone. I also want to specifically thank all those who have helped protect this country and our freedom in the armed forces.

Yesterday, I attended a reading and concert at Osthofen Concentration Camp, which is not far from Heidelberg. The keynote speaker at the reading was Esther Bejarano, who has recently published a book about her experiences in Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck. I plan to write more about this moving experience in a later post, but I just want to quickly share Esther's last account in her book: her liberation.

In March of 1945, Esther escaped from one of the infamous Nazi "death marches" with a number of her friends. Knowing that their rescue was imminent, Esther and her friends had to decide in which direction they were going to run: the Americans were to the west; the Soviets, to the east. They chose to go westward.

When Esther finally met some American soldiers, the Americans took them to an abandoned restaurant to fix them a meal and a bed. The following day, Esther, her friends, Russian soldiers, and the Americans celebrated the downfall of Hitler by gaily dancing around his burning portrait in an empty town square. Esther played the accordion, which she learned to play in Auschwitz.

Although we celebrate freedom and liberty in America today, we should always remember that those rights are not solely American, for nationality does not determine human dignity. All humans, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity (etc.), are deserving of equal respect. It is this belief that we should also celebrate today.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jewish Memorial in Heidelberg

As I was wandering Heidelberg yesterday, I stumbled across this memorial in the Altstadt (Old City). It marks the location of a synagogue that was destroyed during Kristallnacht. It's not too unusual to come across memorials like this in Germany. (The Germans have done a remarkable job documenting the atrocities committed during the Third Reich.) The monument at the memorial reads: "At this place stood the Heidelberg Synagogue, which was destroyed by sinful hands on November 10, 1938."

The Holocaust and Hip-Hop

It's becoming increasingly uncommon to meet a Holocaust survivor. Many have already passed, and those who are still with us are now senior citizens. I am therefore fortunate to have an internship during our final years with survivors.

Today, I learned that I will finally meet an Auschwitz survivor next week. Although I am ecstatic about this possibility, the opportunity is a bit unusual--or, perhaps more appropriately, unexpected.

From 1941 to 1945, Esther Bejarano, a Jewish woman from Germany, was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp system. Like many Jewish Holocaust victims, Esther found herself in Auschwitz in 1943, where she was a part of the Maedchenorchester (girl's orchestra). Esther played with this band every morning when the worker columns marched out of the camp and when new detainees were funnelled into gas chambers. This work, although ghastly, eventually saved Esther's life. After liberation, Esther emigrated to Palestine where she lived for fifteen years. Then, in 1960, she returned to (West) Germany in order to advocate for human rights and anti-racism.

Sometime over the past fifty years, Esther discovered a new hobby: hip-hop. Today, Esther, along with her son, performs concerts with the Microphone Mafia, a German rap group.  Together, Esther and the Microphone Mafia make music that speaks to the issues that Esther has devoted her life to. Although an unusual genre for someone who will be ninety this year (!), Esther is certainly inspiring.

Next Wednesday, I will have an opportunity to meet Esther and hear her perform with the Microphone Mafia. I am unbelievably excited and will certainly share my experience with you all!

If you'd like to learn more about Esther Bejarano, click here. Also, you can listen to some of her music on Youtube!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What I Learned Today... (#3)

As I continue to collect more newspaper articles from the 1930s, I'm starting to make connections between the generalized information in the articles and true historical facts.

Today, I found an article entitled "Nazis Turn Ire On the Gypsies" from the Washington Post published in late November 1937. The last paragraph in this short article, which I've provided below, documents the creation of a "special location" for "gypsies" (i.e., Sinti and Roma) in Frankfurt am Main. Last week I read about two of these "special locations" in a textbook about the Roma Holocaust. One of these areas was on Dieselstrasse, a Roma-only internment camp in Frankfurt am Main, which opened in August of 1937. I believe the author of the Post article is in fact writing about Dieselstrasse.

It's interesting how "special location"--as opposed to "internment camp"--seems to mitigate the cruelty of Nazi racial policies toward Sinti and Roma. This phrasal choice may have been intentional, or perhaps the secrecy of the Third Reich veiled the true nature of this "special location." With time I hope to decipher the reason for such ambiguous language.

Excerpt from the Washington Post:

"At Frankfurt-on-the-Main the police raided a Gypsy encampment and removed the entire band to a special location now under strict control. Punctually at 8 a.m. every man, woman, and child must answer the rollcall for inspection, and no Gypsy may be away over night without a special permit."

Nazis turn ire on the gypsies. (1937, Nov 21). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from

Monday, June 23, 2014

New Project: Tracing Nazi Racial Policies toward Roma through American Journalism

Before I left for Germany in early June, I began collecting newspaper articles from the 1930s and '40s pertaining to Nazi racial policies toward Roma . My intention with these articles was to analyze the persecution of Roma in Europe during the Third Reich as seen through the eyes of American and British dailies. Although I hadn't planned to use these articles immediately, this nascent study officially became my first research project today.

My project was in large part influenced by a tour of Holocaust memorials I took with UM Professor Janet Hegman Shier last summer in Berlin. At one point during the tour, the guide, who was British and Jewish, pulled out a tablet to show us his collection of digitalized newspaper clippings from the 1930s and '40s. Together, the articles told the story of European Jews--that is, the collective tragedy. Through these articles, one could easily trace the marginalization, persecution, and finally the decimation of Jews throughout the continent. 

Of course, these articles begged the question: why didn't anyone try to stop Hitler prior to 1939 and the start of the war? I mean, the newspaper clippings clearly evidenced gross discrimination.

The shocking reality is that most of these articles were overlooked in America and Britain. In fact, the most horrific articles were usually nestled deep within the newspapers. In May 1945, for example, the LA Times published an article exclaiming "Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Killings Placed at 4,000,000" on page C12.

Since this revealing tour, I have been curious about the documentation of Roma in American newspapers during the war. There seems to be so many questions to ask. Who would write about the Roma? Would writers rely on stereotypes? Would authors be supportive of stereotypes? But most importantly, were there even any articles about the Roma to begin with?

Although I cannot answer all these questions as of yet, I can definitively answer one: yes, Americans did write about Roma (albeit using the word "gypsy") in the 1930s and '40s.

There is still much more research that needs to be completed, but I'm already finding some very perplexing and surprising trends among the articles I have collected thus far. I will post these revelations piecemeal over the next few days as I continue to develop my thesis. 

So, please stay tuned!

Lovely Evening in Heidelberg

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG)

The 'Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide' was adopted by the United Nations on December 9, 1948. Although a groundbreaking text insofar as its definition of 'genocide', the UN--including its member states--has often failed to uphold the contents of the Convention. This was the case in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia.

I urge you to read the Convention, which I have provided in a link above. (It's only six pages.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What I Learned Today... (#2)

I'm sure many of you are familiar (at least titularly) with Dr. Mengele's infamous twin experiments at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In fact, experiments on prisoners were carried out in several camps throughout Europe during World War II, including Dachau in the summer of 1944.

This experiment, which aimed to make seawater drinkable, was commissioned by the German Luftwaffe and overseen by Dr. Wilhelm Beigbloeck. Throughout the testing period, Dr. Beigbloeck forced Sinti and Roma inmates to only drink artificial and natural salt-water. This procedure lasted several days. Several succumbed to malnutrition.

For a first-hand testimony from a victim of this experiment, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

What I Learned Today... (#1)

Beginning in 1937, the Nazi military, or Wehrmacht, expelled Sinti (German Roma) from its forces for purported "racial reasons."

At the time many Sinti were distinguished officers in the military. Likewise, most Sinti soldiers were outside Germany, fighting for the Reich in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and North Africa. Once expelled from the military, though, most Sinti soldiers were immediately sent to concentration camps in Poland. Some even arrived in Auschwitz directly from the battlefields and were therefore still wearing their military uniforms.

First Day on the Job

Today was my first official day at the Center. I'm spending the first week becoming acquainted with the Center's permanent collection, which has been conveniently compiled into a textbook. The book is quite long, but I'd rather be well-equipped with knowledge than mishandling it moving ahead. This text has proven to be the most effective way to learn the needed vocabulary for my internship, particularly the words that were developed by the Nazi regime to describe their social and racial programs. Next Monday I begin working with the Center's actual document collection. (Hopefully, I will be able to upload a few pictures here.)

On a final note, I'd like to mention that the Center has been more than welcoming. It's evident that everyone there cares about the work they are doing. I intend to emulate this spirit.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Special Thanks...

It would be remiss for me not to give thanks to all those who have helped me along the way. I particularly want to thank:

- The Residential College Brown Fund, the PICS Summer Internship Grant Program, the Wallenberg Fellowship Program, and the LSA Internship Scholarship Program for funding this experience.

- Peggy Wunderwald-Jensen and Andrew Mills for reviewing my application and giving me great feedback.

- Judy Cooper, Karein Goertz, and Janet Hegman Shier for helping me discover the beauty of the German language in high school and at college.

- Hank Greenspan, without whose teaching and engagement I would have never explored humanity and the human mind in its darkest hours

- My friends, whose encouragement has always kept me going (especially Rachel Macmaster, whose has always had my back)

- And most of all, my family, who continue to make me a better person.

My mother always told me to surround myself with good people, and I can undoubtedly say you all are a good lot. Thanks again for all your support.

In 1764 Heidelberg Palace was completely destroyed... a lightning strike that started a fire.

The Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma Website (in English!)

Friday, June 13, 2014

First Impressions

     I visited the Center for the first time today (Friday, June 6). The Center was a little difficult to find because it's in the Altstadt (Old City) where roads tend to snake around buildings rather than neatly frame them. The exterior of the building is fairly discreet. There's only a few inconspicuous signs on the boundaries of the property advertising the permanent exhibition inside. Otherwise, the building just blends into the row of stone houses that wind deeper into the heart of the city center.

     Two visitors from somewhere else in Europe were at the information kiosk when I entered the Center. (They were the only visitors at the Center at the moment.) A man who was working at the kiosk was briefing them on the Romani people and the Roma Holocaust--an important introduction because very few people know about the fate of European Roma and Sinti (German Romas) during World War II. The man noticed me and asked if I was British, which is par for the course for me. (I suppose it's the red hair.) I said "no" (in German) and introduced myself as the new intern. He recognized my name.

     After he had sent the two visitors off, the man offered to give me an audio recording of the exhibit in English so I could understand everything, but I declined. "Ich muss mein Deutsch üben." (In English, 'I need to practice my German.' After all, I need to develop a working knowledge of the German vocabulary used to discuss the Holocaust.)

     With that I was off to wander the three-floored exhibit.

     I won't go too deeply into the contents of the exhibit in this post because I will undoubtedly touch on them in later posts. However, I think it is important to note the "politics" surrounding this exhibit in particular.

     History tends to forget those who have little social and political clout. This has been true for the Roma, who have been consistently excluded from the main text of history. (And, even when they are included, they are regarded as "gypsies"--thieves, peddlers, beggars.) These pervasive and insidious stereotypes of the Romani people influenced many Nazi policies in the Third Reich.

     Like the Jews, Roma were excluded from the military and certain professions in Nazi Germany. They also lost their German citizenship, and eventually, their lives in the 1930s and forties. Following liberation from the concentration camps, many Sinti and Roma returned to their homes scattered about Europe--asylum in another part of the world was not a possibility for most. Although the Nazis had lost the war, many of the stereotypes of the Romani people persisted (and still do persist) following 1945. Unfortunately, these stereotypes have crept into academia. Since the early 1990s, a debate has existed between two camps of Holocaust historians. One camp claims that Sinti and Roma victims of the Holocaust were victims of stereotype, particularly the Roma stereotype of criminality. This group of historians draws a line between the racialization of Jews and the supposed criminality of the Roma. The second camp believes that the Roma were subjugated to the same discrimination as the Jews and are, by consequence, victims of a genocide not dissimilar from the Jewish Holocaust.

     It is clear that the Center's mission falls in line with the latter group's reading of history. I, too, would tend to agree with the second camp.

     Although the Jews were certainly the impetus of the Nazi's extermination program given their numbers and relative success in early 20th-century European society, the Roma most definitely came under the umbrella of the "inferior" races in Nazi German--even if they were only an afterthought. The attribution of purported criminality to Roma based on inescapable biology only reinforces this notion. Moveover, as far as I'm concerned, as long as Sinti and Roma individuals were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the gas vans of Chelmno--which many were--they are victims of the Holocaust. It's unfortunate that something as devastating as the Holocaust can invite such vigorous political debate. But I am thankful that there is at least a conversation about the Roma and the Roma Holocaust today. Without this discussion, I probably would have never learned about the Roma genocide. (And it's probably safe to assume that many of you wouldn't have either.) I therefore thank you for joining me on this journey as I begin to uncover a forgotten Holocaust of more than 500,000 people in the most well-documented genocide of all time. With time, I hope we can learn not only about the tragic events of World War II but also about the movers and shakers who are trying to (appropriately) rewrite the past today.

Das Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum deutscher Sinti und Roma

Permanent Exhibition Sign