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 ├╝ben." (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