Teachers and students in the Tellkampf School in Hanover studied the life and culture of Sinti and Roma. They researched the histories of these minorities and encountered eyewitnesses who survived Nazi persecution. The project group took over the care of a memorial to local Sinti murdered during the Holocaust. Teachers and students organized special events against racism and visited concentration camp memorials.
The Lower Saxon Association of German Sinti has existed in Hanover since 1983. The Tellkampf School is an academic high school located in Hanover's southern city section, created in 1835. It is the second oldest high school in the city. These two milieus, the Tellkampf School and the Sinti association, are actually very alien to each other. This has changed somewhat since 1985; this report explains what has happened.
Motivations for Education
It began in 1985, when students and teachers viewed two exhibitions that were subsequently also shown at the Tellkampf School. The exhibitions were: "Sinti and Roma: Stereotypes and Reality," by the Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker [Society for Threatened Peoples]; and "Stations of Expulsion," a photographic report about a stateless Roma family in the Federal Republic of Germany. Mr. Weiss, his aunt, Berta Weiss, and members of the executive board of the then relatively new Sinti Association engaged in discussions in many school classes. These were the first intensive meetings with Hanover Sinti, and they coincidentally provided strong motivation for pedagogical work during the next twelve years at the Tellkampf School.
None of this had been planned in advance -- all activities developed from the first meeting. Astonished that we knew almost nothing about these citizens of our city, and conceding that we had done nothing to convey the fate of this minority to youngsters in the school, we were horrified that we had ignored this genocide.
The Sinti provided a carton of books and several videos for the Tellkampf School. These were the first building blocks for the resulting collection of materials, which served as the base for a subject section on "History of the Sinti" in the teacher's resource library. We were gradually successful in locating texts for classroom teaching. The interviews, edited by Michail Krausnick, with four generations of a Sinti family have meanwhile provided many students in grades five through ten with biographies of Roma and Sinti in the twentieth century. In history classes in grades eleven through thirteen, we introduced materials, such as the book by Torsten Böhmer and Erhard Meueler about the history of Sinti and Roma in Germany since 1400. Both books assisted us as beginners and are thus mentioned as suggestions [see Reference: Bibliography].
Since then, we deal with the fate of Sinti and Roma in various disciplines, above all in history, but also in teaching German, religion, and ethics (known in Lower Saxony as "Values and Norms"). The art, music and geography classes also contribute instructional content about the culture and ethnology of Sinti and Roma.
Chances for Learning: Concerts, Lectures, Exhibitions
In the spring of 1986, a Roma folklore group from Tarnow (southern Poland) visited Hanover. With the assistance of the Hanover German-Polish Association, the Tellkampf School was able to attract this group for a concert in the school auditorium. The group members fascinated the audience with their colorful costumes, thrilling orchestral music and songs. An important experience followed. We met Gypsies for the first time not as victims, but as people with their own culture. Three hundred students in upper classes attended an additional event, a lecture by Dr. Wolfgang Günther, assistant professor at the University of Hanover. Dr. Günther spoke about his regional research on "Prussian Policies toward Gypsies in Hanover, 1871-1945." Dr. Günther told this school audience for the first time about the deportation of Sinti from Hanover to the camp in the "Altwarmbüchener Moor."
In 1989, Sascha, a student in the twelfth grade, brought a collection of 29 posters from the church congress, and gave them to the school as a gift. The posters, entitled "Sinti and Roma: Citizens of our Country," were published by the Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma [Central Council of German Sinti and Roma]. Since then, the posters have been assembled into an exhibition that can be borrowed from the school.
1991-1993: Workshops against Racism
In the autumn of 1991, xenophobics, in such places as Hoyerswerda, shocked the public. The student assembly at the Tellkampf School reacted by holding an "action day against racism" on November 9 (November 9 is the date of the November 1938 pogrom). The school invited participants for discussions, including members of the Jewish community and asylum seekers together with a representative of Amnesty International, the Ausländerbeirat [Foreigners' Council] in Hanover, and the Lower Saxon German Sinti Association [see Documents].
One year later, the situation in Germany had become more critical. Roma were threatened with violence in Rostock and leading politicians blamed the victims for the attacks against them. There were also arson attacks against Sinti in Lower Saxony, as was the situation in Oldenburg. Therefore, the students dedicated another "action day against racism" in November 1992, highlighting "Sinti and Roma" [see Documents]. The climax was a podium discussion with the Executive Board of the Lower Saxon State Sinti Association.
But there were also other opportunities through art, specifically through an exhibition of the paintings of the Austrian artist Karl Stojka, entitled "A Childhood in Birkenau." (Stojka had begun only in the late 1980s to paint his childhood nightmares from Auschwitz). The Sinti Association provided us with color photocopies of the exhibition catalogue from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. A half year later, we saw the original paintings in Auschwitz [see Visuals].
1993: Tracing Sinti and Roma in Auschwitz
In April 1993, Professor W. Dlugoborski of the Auschwitz memorial invited a group of students to travel to Oswiecim in Poland. International commemorative events took place on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the "Gypsy camp" in Birkenau. Apart from visiting this memorial and the small Sinti memorial outside in Birkenau, conversing with survivors, and participating in the official wreath-laying by the President of the Polish Parliament, the students were especially impressed by the following cultural events:
(1) The premiere of the "Requiem for Kaza Kathárinna" in the Maximiliam Kolbe church, with text by Anita Geigges and music by Gerhard Rosenfeld, was very impressive and had subsequent repercussions for us.
(2) The film "Sidonie" by Karin Brandauer was premiered, and Erich Hackl, the author of the book "Farewell Sidonie," reported about the case history of Sidonie (Adlersburg), his research, and the filming of the book [see Visuals].
(3) The Austrian artist Karl Stojka exhibited his paintings. These were the same paintings that we had displayed that spring as copies in our school [see Visuals].
(4) Ceija Stojka, the artist's sister, reported about her childhood in Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Bergen-Belsen. Bergen has a special meaning for German Sinti and Roma. This was the location of their first large civil rights demonstration against the silence toward genocide of Gypsies, and it was there that in the late 1970s, they had to force the mention of their fate in an inscription on the "wall of nations."
A small event on the periphery of the international commemoration must be mentioned here. Our group of students from Hanover was waiting to leave after the ceremonies at the Sinti Memorial in Birkenau. One student, seated on the concrete foundations of the former SS-guard barracks, brought her guitar from the bus and began strumming it. Suddenly, an older man from a group of Polish Roma approached and asked if he could borrow her guitar. He gave the instrument to a woman, who called her family together and began to sing. Immediately, a circle of listeners gathered around the Roma making music. The elder man, a Polish "Gypsy King," we were told, introduced the family and explained that these people had been scheduled to sing at the commemoration, but that the bus with their instruments had not arrived and, therefore, they were making up for the song they could not perform. He added, "And for our German friends, we have a song that was composed in Birkenau." A lively folk song followed and two young girls pushed out from the circle and began to dance. Finally, Karl Stojka, the Viennese painter, joined and danced with the children in front of the barbed wire of Birkenau. For a moment, the differences between Polish and Austrian Sinti and Roma, survivors and children, and foreigners from the land of the perpetrators had almost disappeared.
After the Auschwitz Trip: The Premiere of "Requiem" in Hanover
On the return trip from Poland, our group decided to try to bring "Requiem for Kaza Kathárinna" to Hanover. During the commemorations, we met Anita Geigges, author of the script, and the composer Gerhard Rosenfeld from Potsdam, who had studied with Hanns Eisler. We also spoke to Schnuckenack Reinhardt, the famous Sinti swing musician. The possibility emerged in the fall of 1994 to include Hanover in a tour of the requiem ensemble. Anita Geigges had persuaded internationally famous artists to perform, including the Schnuckenack Reinhardt Quintet. The requiem presents the life and suffering of Kaza Kathárinna as the archetype of a German Sintezza. Anita Geigges had created this requiem as an artistic memorial for the persecuted and murdered. Gypsies in addition to her many books, television programs, and political activities. The Tellkampf School together with the Lower Saxon Sinti Association and the German-Polish Society arranged for a performance in Hanover. This took place in the Neustädter church on Memorial Day 1994. The performance was recorded by the Thorofon Company from Wedemark, near Hanover, and was published by Thorofon as a CD in the spring of 1997. Although Anita Geigges was already very ill at the time of the performance, she prepared two lectures about the situation of the Roma in Europe for the students at the Tellkampf School and the public, supplementing the concert. Anita Geigges died in the spring of 1996.
After the Auschwitz Trip: Trips to Memorials and Continuing Education for Teachers
Teachers seldom learn anything about Sinti and Roma during their training; at best they hear a few presentations by dedicated professors. The Lower Saxon in-service teacher-training institute, in cooperation with the Lower Saxon Association of German Sinti, offered a one-week course for teachers already on the job. This course included an outing to the concentration camp memorial Mittelbau-Dora near Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains. There, as in other concentration camps, Gypsies were ill-treated and killed. There were also decades of neglect in acknowledging the suffering of this group. Fortunately, there are still survivors as well as eyewitnesses from Nordhausen who remember Sinti and Roma among the imprisoned in the concentration camp. One of the teachers said after this trip, "I never understood with such clarity that memorials are also places for reflection and education. I will come again with my students."
The teachers in this continuing education course also examined schoolbooks for content about "Sinti and Roma." They found very little -- a few good texts in readers, but almost nothing in the history books. Even those history books published in 1992, which were used at the Tellkampf School, offered almost nothing -- a half-sentence for upper classes at the high school, and merely the word Gypsy in the four volumes for middle school classes. German history textbooks are still silent about this genocide after a half century. Is it through negligence, intention or incompetence? Who will provide an answer?
Concentration camp memorials are important educational places. We had already experienced this at Auschwitz. This was strengthened by a visit to the Bergen memorial in November 1993. Again the school organized a "project day against racism," as this was still justified. A group of students from the eighth to thirteenth grades traveled to Bergen, the largest and most terrible concentration camp located close to our town. Berta Weiss and Werner Fahrenholz traveled along with forty students and three teachers. They told us about their experiences of persecution and the postwar period, as well as the continuing discrimination and futile fights for restitution -.- dramatic and sad accounts of outrageous and shocking things in Germany, both before and after the war. Mr. Fahrenholz had his guitar along and sang a lament he had composed in Romanes, the language of the Sinti and Roma. Mrs. Weiss and Mr. Fahrenholz had suffered through many concentration camps and forced labor camps. Conversations with them were the highlight of our trip to the memorial. We had not wanted only a rote memorial tour, and we learned a great deal.
There have been many trips to Bergen since then. On the occasion of the large, international meeting for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen, a tenth grade class traveled there with Mrs. Weiss on April 27, 1995. The students assumed the honorable responsibility of placing the official wreath of the Sinti Association.
On January 27, 1997, the anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwitz that has also become the official memorial date for the victims of National Socialism, thirty students from the seventh through tenth grades went to Mittelbau-Dora. After viewing the camp and the rocket tunnels, the group participated in the commemoration organized by the state of Thuringia. They shuddered when they listened to the speech of a Dutch former prisoner, who mentioned "Gypsy children." These children arrived by mistake at the Nordhausen concentration camp and were forced to carry heavy concrete slabs until, because of starvation and heat exhaustion, they dropped them and fatally collapsed.
After the commemoration, as we were placing our flowers at the small Sinti memorial stone at the former Appellplatz [roll call square], we met two Sinti, a former prisoner and the son of a prisoner killed at Mittelbau-Dora. The students on this trip were deeply impressed by the brief and emotional conversation with the Sinto survivor of Mittelbau-Dora and the story of the dying children.
The memorial in the large, distant killing center of Auschwitz has a modest counterpart in our town. Since March 3, 1997, at "Altwarmbüchener Moor" on the outskirts of Hanover, there has been a wooden memorial inscription reading, "The gate of Auschwitz was the entrance to hell" [see Visuals]. The names of eighty Hanover Sinti are listed underneath. They were deported from Hanover to Auschwitz on March 3, 1943. Very few returned. After waiting a half century for public recognition of the genocide of 500,000 European Sinti and Roma, the survivors and their descendants have begun to build their own memorials. At first, the Sinti placed a memorial stone at the Fischerhof train station in Hanover-Linden, the hub for the deportations of Jews and Sinti. In 1997, the Sinti Association unveiled the memorial plaque at "Altwarmbüchener Moor." Further signs on the train route to Auschwitz are expected at Peine, Braunschweig, and Berlin-Marzahn, the location of the first municipal camp for Sinti and Roma in 1936. A project group representing the student body of the Tellkampf School has assumed sponsorship for the Moor memorial and will look over the memorial and provide care and gardening. This is a sign that cooperation between the Tellkampf School and the Lower Saxon Sinti has a future.