Chairman: Central Council of German Sinti and Roma
Director: Documentation and Culture Centre of the German Sinti and Roma
Director: International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
The Sinti have been residents of Germany for at least six hundred years. German Sinti and Roma have served their country in the armed forces for centuries. Even during the Third Reich, Sinti and Roma served, mainly on the Eastern Front until banned on the basis of their ethnicity. Nonetheless, Sinti and Roma continue to struggle against discrimination perpetuated by media portrayals of a culture mired in poverty and lacking in human dignity.
‘I was raised in the long shadow of Auschwitz and the ruins of World War II. This shaped me in the context of this society. My grandparents were arrested, deported, and murdered in Auschwitz. My father went into hiding and survived. Survivor’s guilt haunted him throughout his life. Ours had been a middle class traditional family. Before the war, we showed films in several German cities. After the war, our family bought cinemas. I felt privileged because I could invite my school friends to the movies in our very own movie theatre.’
During the 1960s, young people began asking their parents what their involvement had been during the period of National Socialism. ‘There began a realization of the complicity of ordinary German people in Nazi atrocities.’ University activists called on the government to democratize bureaucratic structures and to rid itself of former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. The student uprising of 1968 fueled by the attempted assassination of student leader, Rudi Dutschke, ‘inspired me to take part in creating a more open and less racist German society.’
Throughout Germany in the 1960s, there was a growing understanding of the spurious racial categories that had been devised by the National Socialists to legitimatize their genocidal practices. Awareness of the extent to which Jews had been exterminated in German occupied Europe gradually became widespread. However, the Sinti and Roma Holocaust was omitted from these disclosures despite the fact that German Sinti and Roma were consigned by the tens of thousands, to deportation and the gas chamber. Even those not sent to concentration camps were often forced to labour for the German war industry.
A permanent exhibit at the Documentation and Culture Centre of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg establishes ‘a memorial to our persecuted and murdered people.’ The history of persecution under the National Socialist government is traced ‘from the step-by-step deprivation of rights and exclusion from virtually all areas of public life through to state-organized genocide.’ (Ed. Petru, Gheorghe et. al. The Civil Rights Movement of the Sinti and Roma in Germany.)
‘Nowadays no one in Europe would consider anti-Semitic hate speech acceptable, but hate speech against Sinti and Roma is rampant. The far right German National Democratic Party, launched a campaign in 2013 with the slogan “money for granny, not for the Sinti and Roma” (Geld Für Die Oma; Statt Für Sinti & Roma) apparently alluding to allocation of social assistance funds.’ German law protects such slogans as ‘free speech’ as long as they do not call for specific actions against the targeted minority. The mainstream media does little to combat prejudice and discrimination. If an individual is accused of a criminal act, the media identifies the ethnic origin of the person along with the crime of which he or she is accused.
Continued media pigeon holing shaped by negative stereotypes, leads some Sinti and Roma to deny their cultural identity. No one in Europe nowadays would discriminate against a person simply for being Jewish, but the same cannot be said for those whose origin is Sinti or Roma. This endemic racism creates an apparent conflict between cultural and national identity. ‘German Sinti are citizens of Germany; yet German composers of Sinti origin are viewed as cultural figures, not as national figures in the company of Beethoven or Offenbach.’ There is no inherent conflict between one’s cultural and one’s national identity, but cultural bias can create a disparity where none exists.
‘Promoting and fostering social democracy throughout German society is the most important gift I have given to the German people and to Europe. An open democracy, which instills democratic values in its young people, is the best way forward for all Europeans regardless of their ethnic background.’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that justice and equality for all would prevail; that one day our children ‘will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
‘I dream the same dream and will continue my work to advocate for human rights in the nation of Germany and throughout Europe.’