The son of a Romanian Romni and a Pole, Juliusz Rudko Kawczynski was born on 26 November 1954 in the Polish city of Cracow. In 1957, his family fled first to Austria and later to the Federal Republic of Germany. Initially they lived illegally in various cities. In 1959, they arrived in Hamburg, where they applied for alien passports. When his father became incapable of work as a result of a gunshot injury he had received at the hands of an SS man during WWII, Kawczynski had to leave school, after four years only, to support his family financially. To this end, he sold wristwatches on Hamburg’s fish market until he was seventeen. At the age of nineteen, he emigrated with his future wife and his two sons to the United States. Expelled by the American authorities, the family moved to Sweden, where they were illegal residents. Soon afterwards, they were deported to West Germany and lived in Hamburg again.
Early on, Kawczynski became actively involved in the civil rights movement of German Sinti and Roma. At the commemorative rally in Bergen-Belsen in 1979, he met the Sinto musician (Stefan) Tornado Rosenberg, with whom he founded the band “Duo Z” shortly after. In the singer-songwriter style typical of the 1960s and 1970s, their political and often cynical lyrics described the discrimination against Sinti and Roma in the Federal Republic of Germany and deplored the continued repression of the genocide. At the same time, Kawczynski took part in founding the “Rom und Cinti Union” (RCU) in Hamburg, whose chairman he has been until today. In December 1983, the RCU became a member of the “Zentralrat deutscher Sinti und Roma” [Central Council of German Sinti and Roma]. In the mid-1980s, Kawczynski and the RCU campaigned for a critical analysis of the Nazi persecution of Hamburg’s Sinti and Roma. Their hunger strike at the concentration camp memorial Neuengamme in 1983 led to the enforcement of access to the records of Hamburg’s former “Landfahrerdienststelle” [roughly: Department for matters relating to travelling people]. In 1984, the RCU filed a criminal complaint against the former “race researcher” Ruth Kellermann, but charges were dropped in 1989.
In the late 1980s, the RCU parted company with the “Zentralrat deutscher Sinti und Roma” on grounds of political disagreements. Since 1988, Kawczynski had been a leading advocate for the legal recognition of Roma who fled to the Federal Republic. In several demonstrations, among them hunger strikes, protest marches, and church occupations, he acted as a spokesman for Roma threatened by deportation. Some of these campaigns were captured in the documentary Gelem Gelem – Wir gehen einen langen Weg [Gelem Gelem – We are going down a long road] (rhizomfilm, Germany, 1989/91).
In a gesture to draw attention to human rights violations against the Roma, Kawczynski ran as the German Green Party’s symbolic top candidate in the 1989 Elections to the European Parliament – symbolic because Kawczynski, still being stateless at the time, had neither the right to vote nor the right to stand as a candidate. Since then, he has championed the rights of the Roma on an international level as well: as an initiator of and contributor to many self-organisations and projects, such as the “Roma National Congress” (RNC), the “European Roma Rights Centre” (EERC), the “OSCE Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues” or the “European Roma and Travellers Forum” (ERTF).
LP: 1981, “Ganz anders. Deutsche Zigeunerlieder” [Totally Different: German Gypsy Songs], pläne – 88257