A workshop at the Ferdinand-Porsche-Gymnasium Zuffenhausen deals with the persecution and discrimination of Sinti and Roma.
“My grandfather is Romanian. He always spoke badly of Sinti and Roma ». The student shouldn’t be alone with this experience. The persecution and discrimination of minorities, which culminated in genocide in the Third Reich, runs through history to this day, but not to the same extent through the school’s history books. Activists like Esther Reinhardt-Bendel and lawyer Kamil Majchrzak work against ignorance and oblivion with educational work, as recently at Ferdinand-Porsche-Gymnasium Zuffenhausen (FPGZ).
Raising awareness of anti-Gypsyism with workshops
What do young people know concretely today about the history of the Sinti and Roma? Not much, says Sinteza Esther Reinhardt-Bendel of Stuttgart, co-founder of the Sinti-Rome-Pride initiative. With workshops, like here at the FPGZ, you want to raise awareness of anti-Gypsyism. Little is known about the minorities who have lived throughout Central Europe since the early 15th century. On the other hand, there are many prejudices.
They have always been subjected to persecution. However, they were systematically registered by the National Socialists. They were vilified as anti-social and criminal, a distinction was made between “genuine gypsies” and “gypsy mestizos”, many were forcibly sterilized and eventually deported to concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Auschwitz. The basis for this was provided by the racial theory of Robert Ritter, who ran the so-called Nazi Racial Hygiene Research Center.
The German criminal police have long used the “family archive”.
It’s scary how his work has made an impact. Decades after 1945, the “family archive” was used by the German criminal police, especially the Munich Police Landfahrerstelle, which was made up of Nazi-era specialists, for full registration. Returning Sinti and Roma have been pushed back to the margins of society.
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“People came back from the fields to their homeland and their apartments and houses were gone, they had to start from scratch,” says Esther Reinhardt-Bendel. “Anyone who went to apply for an identity card or business license often faced an SS or Gestapo man,” she adds. After the war ended, the previously active National Socialists again worked in government agencies and schools. The investigations against Robert Ritter were also shelved, and he instead became municipal medical advisor in Frankfurt.
For a long time they had to fight for the recognition of the genocide
“It is normal for me that this is all new to young people,” says Reinhardt-Bendel, adding about his own days at school: “It was painful to have been only a half sentence in history class.” more widely covered in schools. It shines to this day. For a long time minorities alone had to fight for the Porajmos, or the genocide of the Sinti and European Roma, to be recognized as such by the federal government. Civil rights activists did not achieve this until 1982.
“I want to educate about heterogeneity. The German Sinti, who have lived here for generations, are different from the Roma who immigrate from Romania and Bulgaria, ”explains Reinhardt-Bendel. The latter often hide their identity because they are already severely discriminated against in their countries of origin.
This was also confirmed by Kamil Majchrzak, who also came to the FPGZ to talk about his documentary film “Contemporary Past”. The Berlin-based lawyer is vice-president of the Buchenwald-Dora International Committee and grandson of a Polish survivor of Auschwitz. His grandfather survived Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
You have to remember the past to change the future
Today Majchrzak also does memorial work. With the granddaughter of a Romanian concentration camp prisoner, he initially planned a ten-day seminar in the Buchenwald concentration camp for schoolchildren from Germany, Poland and Romania. “It ended up being an educational film,” he says. Majchrzak did not want to present the material to young people as an abstract story from the distant past. Instead, the camera follows them as they go through the biographies of the murdered and reflect on what happened. Instead of archival material, the film shows stories of Sinti and Roma today who continue to struggle against exclusion and stigmatization. And let the young people of three nations have their say, one of which says that we must remember the past to change the future.