‘Important for the documentation of Romani activism and history.’
Although the Pharrajimos features very early in German documentary film history, in the 1970s (in works by Peter Nestler, Melanie Spitta and Katrin Seybold), many key traumatic events went unnoticed during the long process of making it an official part of memory politics. One such instance was Berlin’s Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Murdered in Europe under the National Socialist Regime, which was finally completed in 2013 after a huge delay. (At this point, Ágnes Daróczi with Miklós Jancsó, active in Hungary, and Marika Schmiedt, located in Austria, should receive a mention for using the device of film as a memory palace.)
Romani Rose, a German Sinti civil rights activist and the head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, struggled throughout his life and career, especially in the 1970s for the Roma genocide to be recognised by drawing international attention to it. His personal involvement as a survivor was also depicted in a film which he co-directed with the writer and screenwriter Michael Krausnick in 1994. Thus, his internal point of view is clearly expressed by choosing to base the documentary on archival materials, historical documents and survivors’ testimonies telling the story of forty Romani and Sinti children who were taken to the Catholic St. Josefspflege institution in Mulfingen (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) after their parents had been deported to concentration camps.
These innocent children were the objects of eugenic research, experimented upon by Eva Justin, who was the assistant of ‘racial scientist’ Robert Ritter and an employee of the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit. In the process of collecting material for her doctoral thesis, photos were taken, films were shot of them performing activities such as playing games and working, and they were measured, classified and observed in order to demonstrate their antisocial attributes. In May 1944 they, too, were deported to Auschwitz; only four of them survived.
The film consists of accurately narrated archival footage, reconstructing the events and reflecting upon them through the recollections of three survivors, Angela Wagner, Emil Reinhardt and Amalie Schaich. Although the film is made in the style of a television documentary, with a realistic storyline, the poetically blurred images of trains, rails and original locations bridge the past and the present, with the shooting becoming a crucial, mediated act of recovery. The roundabout that the children repeatedly play on and the naive or irresponsibly complicit Catholic sisters serve as metaphors for the traumatic memories.
Film extracts of We’ll Meet Again in Heaven are played in a loop at a memorial site, namely in the thirteenth barrack of the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, facing the watercolour portraits of Romani prisoners made by the Jewish prisoner Dina Gottliebova. In this environment, St Josefspflege becomes a metaphor, but the film itself explains the history of Romani communities by showing their suffering during World War II. Furthermore, the film documents an important instance of Romani activism.
If a historical film can build collective memory, this example is infinitely relevant in proving the importance of the medium.
CIVIS Award 95, ARD
Nominated for Adolf-Grimme Award
http://krausnick-info.de/site01.html (accessed on July 20 2017)
Pócsik, Andrea: ‘Vetített kép, festett kép. Az Auschwitz Múzeum roma kiállításának varázslatos szeglete’ [Screened Image, Painted Image: The Magic Corner of the Roma Exhibition in Auschwitz Museum], Amaro Drom, August 2009, pp. 30–31