Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in 1889 in the UK, as the son of two music hall entertainers. He migrated in 1910 to the United States. It is usually assumed that he was Jewish, but it is known that his mother, Hannah Hill, was Romanichel and probably also his father was. This can be read on the website "Famous Gypsies" by Im Nin'alu (http://www.imninalu.net). In 1940 "The Great Dictator" was released, a comedy film written, directed and produced by Charlie Chaplin. At the time of its first release the US were still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin's film advanced a stirring and controversial codemnation of Hitler, fascism, antisemitism and the Nazis. In the script Chaplin plays a Jewish barber as well as the dictator Adenoid Hynkel. Germany is renamed Tomania (an allusion to ptomaine, poisoning), Goebbels becomes Garbitsch, Mussolini Napaloni and Italy Bacteria. Sir Charles Chaplin passed away in 1977, leaving behind a tremendous and impressive oeuvre.
To this very day the Holocaust or Porrajmos (Porrjamos) keeps inspiring artists: writers, poets, painters, musicians and film makers. This goes for the France based visual artist Gabi Jimenez.
Also writers remember us of this darkest past. JANNA ELIOT is researching a lot and translated in English a book by Aad Wagenaar. The photo of the girl on the cover is known in the entire world.
This well-known, poignant image is a stark reminder of the Second World War. For fifty years, this photo, a still from what's known as the Westerbork film, was accepted as a symbol of the tragedy of Dutch Jews during the Nazi regime. In Holland, where the picture is shown every year on the 4th May, Remembrance Day, it's as famous as the image of Anne Frank. A Dutch journalist, Aad Wagenaar, asked himself three questions every time he saw the photograph of the girl. Who is this child? What is her name? Is she still alive? Aad Wagenaar describes himself as an ordinary Dutch journalist. He was born in Rotterdam in 1939, just before the start of the Second World War, just before the German Army marched into his country. Just before his native city was bombed to pieces in 1940.
Aad Wagenaar had no cause to promote, only the urge to find out the identity of this girl. He began his search in 1992, writing up his findings in a book called SETTELA. This iconic face - for so long taken as the image of Jewish suffering - is everything an icon should be - beautiful, innocent, vulnerable. But during Aad's long quest to find out the identity of this child, he made an unexpected discovery. The girl was not Jewish after all. She was a Sintezza. Aad Wagenaar made his discovery in a Sinti Gypsy caravan. The girl in the world famous picture was called Settela. She'd been born under a caravan in the old Romani tradition. She was murdered in Auschwitz in the Nazi tradition. She was nine years old. Fifty years after the young girl stared out of the train, Aad Wagenaar succeeded in finding out her name and identity, proving that those who denied the suffering of the Romani people during the Holocaust were wrong. The starting point of his book describes the seven second film clip featuring the child. The camera comes to rest on the head and upper body of a young girl standing in the crack of the sliding door of the train wagon.Her head is covered with a light fabric and a trace of dark hair escapes beneath the headscarf; the face under the tightly pulled cloth is oval with deepset eyes. The girl's mouth is slightly open and her upper teeth can be seen. The girl in the train is looking out; for just under two seconds her eyes dart to and fro, to the left, to the right, to the left again, and then to the front to look down at something.
(DEPORTATION, photo from German Federal Archive) The film continues with other shots of the bustle which always accompanies the departure of a long train, such as this one getting ready to leave the internment camp for Jews near the village of Westerbork. The train is on its way to the concentration camps. It is the spring of 1944. The author shows us two viewpoints. He starts off almost in the picture, focussing on the child in the long vertical crack of the door, wondering what she's looking at, what she's feeling, and then the perspective widens to the awful implications of the train tracks leading eastwards, to the horizon which ends in death. The journalist goes on to describe the impact the photograph has on him. In almost every television documentary about the Holocaust, in every exhibition about the transports, her frightened face looks out of the wagon. Every time I saw her picture, I asked myself who she was, what she was called. Where had he come from, this girl with the headcloth, how old had she been hen someone in Westerbork pointed a camera at her; to what dreadful fate was she being taken? Had she been gassed or killed, or did she die, weakened and exhausted in a distant camp, like Anne Frank - because the face of such a child would always make you think of Anne Frank. The author knew the film had been shot in Kamp Westerbork, in spring 1944, by a Jewish prisoner called Breslauer, by order of Camp Commander Gemmeker. Kamp Westerbork was a Dutch holding centre for so-called undesirables, from which trains transported inmates to concentration camps. Aad Wagenaar had to find out the date the train had left Westerbork, so he could check the list of passenger names for that day. The name of every single passenger on every single train was efficiently recorded and filed, so one of the names on the relevant list would belong to this little girl. Aad Wagenaar describes frustrating, agonising months of following false trails, of detailed study of the film, and conversations in the homes of Jewish survivors of Kamp Westerbork. But nothing leads anywhere, none of the survivors actually saw the girl in the camp, or on the platform, or at the door of the train. When he's almost on the point of abandoning his long quest, it's finally confirmed that the train carrying the child had left Westerbork on May 19th, 1944, carrying Jews and Gypsies from all over Holland to Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. From the passenger list for that day, he's able to isolate about six girls in the Gypsy transport in the probable age range of the girl in the train. Now he turns his attention to the Sinti community to get more information.
(RAZZIA, photo from German Federal Archive) Armed with a small photo of the girl, he goes after his story like a man obsessed, knowing that he's causing pain, but unable to stop. He steams ahead, as if he himself has turned into an unstoppable train. In a pivotal and moving chapter, he describes his meeting with a Sinti survivor. An old man with a white beard opened the caravan door, and I went into an extremely tidy room. To the left, near the stove, sat an old woman on a low chair, with her legs drawn up beneath her. The man said nothing. Nor did the woman. I stood awkwardly and we were all silent for a little while. Then I said: "Good day, Mrs. Wagner; you are Crasa Wagner?" She gestured to me to sit on the settee opposite her. "Yes, I am Crasa." I told her that I had spent a long time looking into the transport of 19th May 1944 which had taken a group of Dutch Gypsies from Westerbork to Auschwitz. A film had been made of the transport, I said, and the camera had briefly pointed at one of the children from the Gypsy group. I took from my wallet the small photograph of the girl in the door opening of the train. "That is one of the Steinbach children," she said at once. My heart thudded. I felt the veins in my temple stand out. "She was killed in Auschwitz," Crasa continued. "Her father stayed behind in Holland and died of grief after the war." "The photo, the film shot, is world famous;" I said. "How can it be that you, Crasa Wagner, have never mentioned to anyone that the girl was one of the Steinbachs?" "Because no one ever has asked me." And Crasa Wagner related: "I was with the girl in the wagon. I sat on the floor behind her and she stood there at the front, near the door. We could hear the doors being bolted on the outside. 'Get away from there", her mother cried, "otherwise your head will get stuck!' I ought to know the child's forename, because her mother cried it out - she was so angry and frightened!'" Crasa thought deeply, her head bowed. "I believe," she said, almost mumbling, " she was looking at a dog which was walking along outside the train." Crasa Wagner looked at me tiredly. "She is dead, you know, that child," she said. "She was too young to work in Auschwitz. They only wanted strong children like me. "My mother went into the ovens with the other children, but two sisters were able to get away." Aad Wagenaar asks Crasa what was the significance of the girl's headcloth. "That was a bit of cloth or pillowcase," she said. "We all had something like that on our heads. We all picked up a piece of cloth when our heads were shaved. My mother gave me a pillowcase. Because I had to cover that bald head of mine. Our hair was our greatest glory, our thick long black hair - we all had it, such a beautiful head of hair. But my cloth didn't stay on properly. The thing kept falling off." The old lady suddenly sat bolt upright. Her eyes were huge. It seemed as if the folds on her face had disappeared. "Settela!" she cried. "That was her name: Settela! Her mother yelled: ‘Settela, get away from the door, or your head will get stuck!’ Settela Steinbach - it was Monday afternoon, 7th February 1994. It was five minutes to four. The girl had got her name back. This book is an unusual addition to the enormous body of work about the Holocaust. It's a strange mixture of historical facts, moving interviews with Jewish and Sinti survivors, and Aad Wagenaar's personal feelings of obsession and grief. It gives the sense of a journalist desperately trying to come to terms with the past, a man with the mission to give a beautiful, anonymous girl the only thing he can. Her name. The book ends with this quote. Of all the children, the nine year old was to live on as a symbol and a child of the Holocaust - because as she was leaving in a goods train for Auschwitz, a film director rested his camera on her for a moment - Settela, the girl in the door opening. The book reminds its readers of the Holocaust that devastated so many groups, including the Romani people. And although this picture is now so old, it sends a silent, haunting message. That children still suffer through cruelty and war. And that Romani children and Travellers still suffer persecution.
Wagenaar, Aad, (1994) Settela. Holland: Arbeiderspers, Settela, reissued ( 2007) in Dutch, with the Westerbork Film, Eingang und Abfahrt) Just Publishers, www.justpublishers.nl Wagenaar, Aad (2005) Settela. (English) Five Leaves Publications, www.fiveleaves.com Eliot, Janna, (2008) Settela's Last Road. USA; Trafford Publications (an imaginative interpretation of the facts in Aad Wagenaar's book, suitable for use in schools.) www.trafford.com/07-2561
One more Member and writer on this site, who publishes about the Porrajmos, is ANJA TUCKERMANN. She has written three books on the persecution of Sinti by the Nazis: "Denk nicht, wir bleiben hier", "Mano - der Junge, der nicht wusste, wo er war" and "Muscha".
„Denk nicht, wir bleiben hier“ (Don’t think we’ll stay here)
When Hugo Hoellenreiner, a Sinto from Bavaria, turned 70 of age, he decided to speak about his childhood years in the time of the Nazi regime and in the concentration camps. In the memorial museum of Bergen-Belsen he asked whether they would listen to him and write down his story. They knew my book „Muscha about a Sinto boy who survived the Nazi regime because he was hidden in a garden hut. And so they called me and asked whether I would listen to Hugo and write about him. I wanted to do this because there were hardly any books about Sinti.
We got to know and visited each other and decided to start the book project.
Initially Hugo thought he would have to tell me about his experiences for one afternoon and then I would write.
We both didn’t have the experience yet that when you don’t speak about a trauma for 60 years you can’t do so immediatly. There is a good reason not to speak. Because the memory hurts too much. Because one doesn’t want to hurt others that are close to you like your partner and your children. Because many people can’t stand listening to atrocities and don’t want to hear what happened.
It then took almost two years until he had told me what he wanted to tell and until I understood enough of all the details to write in the way I did. It was a difficult time for Hugo. And also for me as the writer. Often I felt like crying and I didn’t because I didn’t want him to console me for just listening whereas he experienced the cruelty , hunger and death as a child from 9 – 11 years. I needed a professional distance to the incidents without cutting off my feelings. Almost every night I dreamt of being in a concantration camp myself but even in my sleep I always knew I was safe at home in my bed.
In March 1943 Hugo, his parents and five brothers and sisters were deported from Muenchen to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in August 1944 to Ravensbrueck, in March 1945 to Mauthausen and then to Bergen-Belsen. The elder brother and the father were separated from the family in Ravensbrueck and brought to Sachsenhausen later. The mother and five children were still alive and survived when the British troups liberated the prisoners of Bergen-Belsen. Later, back in Muenchen, the brother and the father came back. From a family of eight, all had survived.
Before writing the book I was not sure whether I could speak from the inside of a camp when I haven’t experienced it.
And I asked what good reasons there were to write a book with a survivors report again.
- Because there are hardly any books about Sinti and Roma from this time.
- Survivors who write their stories themselves leave out certain things for good reasons. Because they can’t bear certain memories. They hurt too much.
- Some things are extremly embarassing to speak about. For example what a Mengele did to you. Or you don’t want to tell somebody how dirty everybody and everything was.
- The Nazi regime is not only the past but also the present for many people, especially the survivors, their children and grandchildren.
To bridge the time gap of more than 60 years I decided to cite Hugo wherever he expressed his thoughts from today about what happened then. So that the reader would feel that the time of terror is still inside of people.
And I decided to not leave out events that were even hard to listen to.
I could not use the recordings of what Hugo told me as a text, because the memory is not chronological. And you only memorize as much at a time as you can bear.
It sometimes needed months for one incident being told as a whole.
So I decided to rewrite every thing in the third person in the spirit of Hugos personal language.
Every thing I wrote I verified in archives, books or speaking with other survivors. All the historical facts of what happened in politics and in the camps had to absolutly be correct. For all the outer facts I have done research and have seen documents.
With Hugo, his cousin Mano and their wives we travelled to all the places of their childhood. In Muenchen, Lenggries and to the memorial sites of the concentration camps. Hugos cousin Mano was more than 70 years old when we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau together and only afterwards he slowly started to speak about it for the first time in his life.
I found it very important to write about the conditions of life for Sinti in Germany and Hugos big family before the Nazi regime and afterwards. So the book covers a period of about 30 years of the family.
The title of the book „Denk nicht, wir bleiben hier“ (Don’t think we’ll stay here) derives from a sentence of the mother who always said to her children in Auschwitz: Don’t think we’ll stay here. We’ll be back home some day.
The book was perceived very well, some teachers read it with their students. Some readers and critics note that reading it is difficult to tolerate and that they have never read anything like this. Even though they have read a lot of literature about the history. The book won the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, the national book prize for literature for children and youth in 2006.
„Mano - der Junge, der nicht wusste, wo er war“ (Mano – the boy who didn’t know where he was)
After the war the 11 year-old Sinto Mano was liberated by Russian soldiers in the north of Germany. He has survived the so-called death march from Sachsenhausen when the SS tried to get rid of the prisoners before the Soviet army comes in. He was almost starving and was to weak to walk home to Muenchen with his cousins. He lost conciousness and freed French prisoners took him with them to France and by doing so saved his life. In France he was frightened to say that he was German, he thought he would have to die if people knew. So he kept it to himself and nobody knew from which country he was. He learned French, went to school and lived with foster parents. But he never said his real name. Mano was under such pressure that he sometimes got very nervous and even agressive. Until one day when he said he was from Muenchen. With this information a lady from Paris, who helped to look for lost children, was able to find out that Manos parents had survived as well, lived in Muenchen and had already been searching for him.
Mano Hoellenreiner is Hugos cousin who also was deported as a child to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrueck and Sachsenhausen from the age of 9 – 11.
Here the task for me as the writer was not only making the events visible but also understand what happens to the personality of a child that has gone through the terror of concentration camps. How does a traumatized child act and react?
At the same time i wanted to name all the French people who had loved Mano, helped and supported him.
After more than 60 years Mano and his wife travelled to France and met two people again, that he was close to in 1945-46.
The book won the Friedrich-Gerstäcker-prize in 2009.
Muscha is the story of a Sinto boy, Josef, born in Bitterfeld, Germany in 1932. Josef was taken into the home of a so-called "Arien" couple when the child was one and a half years old – though was not officially adopted due to a lack of a proper parental documentation.
Josef, nick-named Bubi, grows up in Halle. He is unaware that these are not his biological parents. Up until 1945 the foster parents attempt to prevent him from learning about his true identity.
As Josef enters school, though, a painful chapter of his life begins. His teachers exclude him; later, one in facts abuses him, both mentally and physically. Taking a cue from the teacher's behaviour, the other children soon begin to abuse the child as well. Eventually he begins to fear for his life.
In the winter of 1940 he undergoes a medical examination at a department of the "Rassehygienische Forschungsstelle"; his body measurements are taken, and he is registered as a Gypsy. In the following year, all the boys of his age become obliged to enter the "Jungvolk", however Josef is not permitted. The National Socialist education takes firm hold, and the hate and aggression toward him increases to the point where a former trusted mate stabs him in the shoulder, calling him a "Volksschädling."
In 1944, while the war effort is failing, Josef is taken from school, brought to a hospital and sterilised. From there he was to be deported to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen; however, a good friend of the family warns the parents in time. And during one night he is smuggled out of the hospital and brought to a wooden hut in a garden where he remains hidden till April 1945, surviving in complete isolation the closing months of the Nazi regime's rule. He is 14 years old when he is freed.
Josef first learns of the identity of his parents in 1985 when he locates a baptism certificate in the archive of a Bitterfeld church. As well, he learns of his real name: Josef Muscha Müller. Furthermore, he discovers that he has a twin brother; however, to this very day, there is no trail of him to be found whatsoever.
While writing this book it was also important to show daily life for children and young adult in a dictatorship and of course especially in the Nazi regime.
This book is translated into Spanish, Danish and Norwegian. It will be published in French (éditions Oscar Jeunesse) in 2011.
A film script is being prepared by Helmut Dziuba and Benrd Sahling in Berlin.
Many writers on this site focus in their novels on the dark past of Wordwar II: Yvonne Slee, Anja Tuckermann, Janna Eliot, Musa Moris Farhi... Recently a new book by SONIA MEYER appeared: "Dosha: Flight of the Russian Gypsies" (Wilderness House Press, 978-0-9827115-1-4).
The novel tells the three-part story of a talented gypsy equestrian woman who gets drafted into the Soviet dressage team in Leningrad. Even as she is promoted as a star and given elevated status, Dosha's only desire is to defect. Well-integrated into the book's gripping plot are historical facts and vivid descriptions of the Russian gypsies and their role fighting the Nazi invasion during Stalin's reign, followed by their oppression during Krushchev's Thaw in 1956, which instigated the Hungarian Revolution...
Meyer's work is a perfect balance of realism, action-intrigue, and romance. A prominent activist for Roma culture, she is a gifted writer and of goldmine of knowledge and empathy...
(from a review by Julia Ann Charpentier in ForeWord Reviews).
Sonia Meyer was only a little girl when her family fled the Nazis. They lived with partisans and gypsies in the woods and other hiding-places.