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A Requiem For Europe’s Worst Prejudices, Behold The Gypsy Philharmonic [WorldCrunch]


I cried like a baby reading this today…


PRAGUE - A few minutes before the concert starts, Riccardo Sahiti says he can’t believe all this is real, that it’s not a dream. He’s standing in the ornate conductor’s room of the Rudolfinum in Prague – one of Europe’s premier concert halls. All around him are photographs of his idols – conductors such as Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Leonard Bernstein.

Sahiti is 51 years old but he’s as nervous as a schoolboy facing exams. He walks over to the piano, closes his eyes, plays the first few notes of the piece he’s about to conduct. His wife comes over to smooth out his full black hair. There’s a knock on the heavy wooden door, and when it opens the loud buzz of the audience chatting in the hall fills the room. Sahiti adjusts his coat jacket one last time, kisses his wife on the cheek, and heads for the conductor’s podium.

The concert is sold out, and Sahiti’s appearance is met with a long round of applause. On the podium, he looks the musicians in the eyes, smiles, and they smile back. Nearly 10 years ago to the day, Sahiti founded the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic. It started out as a small project, which was hardly taken seriously. Now Sahiti stands before 60 musicians, from Germany, Romania, Hungary. All the orchestra members belong to the ethnic minority called Roma or Sinti: Gypsies; some of them have been abused, others bullied. At the Rudolfinum, they are playing for the public, but also for themselves – and against centuries of stereotypes.

Riccardo Sahiti grew up near Pristina in Kosovo. Musically inclined, he was lucky to have wealthy parents who could afford to buy him a piano and send him to study at the conservatory in Belgrade. He practiced up to 15 hours a day, and in 1988 won a scholarship to study in Moscow.

When war broke out in Kosovo in 1992, he fled to Frankfurt where he auditioned for a place in several orchestras. He was always turned down. The director of one music school told him: “You have a lot of talent, but you don’t fit in here.” Sahiti asked if that was because of his Roma origins but didn’t get an answer. “It might have been a lot easier if I’d had been German or American,” he says.

At the start of the new millennium, Sahiti decided to engage in an original form of protest. He knew that there were a few Sinti and Roma musicians in the big orchestras like the Vienna State Opera, the Leipzig-based MDR Symphony (Germany’s oldest radio orchestra) and the Romanian National Orchestra. He invited them, and musicians who invited other musicians. He would let them stay in his apartment, and at night in his living room, crowded with concert posters and his record collection, they talked late into the night.

During the day, they rehearsed and handed out flyers. Then, after months of planning, in Nov. 2002 in Frankfurt, the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic gave its first concert. None of the musicians asked to be paid. “The concert hall was packed; people actually came out to hear us,” says Sahiti holding back tears.

Hiding their origins

Johann Spiegelberg was one of the original members of Sahiti’s orchestra. Spiegelberg has a Jewish mother and a father with Roma roots. Spiegelberg is not his real name, which he does not want revealed.

“I’ve had some bad experiences, I have to think of my son,” he says. He grew up in Romania, on the Black Sea coast, and received a first-class musical education. For two decades he has lived and worked in a large city in the eastern part of Germany where, he says, now and again people still make him feel he’s not one of them. He relates how recently he was on his way to a concert, wearing his coat jacket, and when he drove into a gas station to fill up his Mercedes a couple of youths spotted him and called over: “You people live well in Germany, at our expense.” He says he didn’t respond to the taunt.

The Sinti and Roma orchestra is a way of showing “that we’re not criminals,” Spiegelberg says, adding that this stereotype revolts him. And although famous Sinti and Roma like singer Marianne Rosenberg, jazz musician Django Reinhardt – and conductor Riccardo Sahiti – are made much of, according to Spiegelberg, many less well-known musicians of Sinti and Roma heritage keep quiet about it out of fear of prejudice. In Prague, for example, the orchestra had trouble renting double basses because rental firms thought they might never see the instruments again.

Passing on a cultural heritage

On the evening before the concert in Prague, some orchestra members gathered in the lobby of the hotel. They compared instruments, chatted about Beethoven and Schubert, sang, laughed. “It’s like a class trip,” Sahiti laughs. He says rivalries such as one sees in other orchestras are absent in this one because “we all want to pass on our cultural heritage.”

It is a considerable heritage. Over 80 operas were inspired by Roma. Jewish Klezmer music, Andalusian flamenco, the Cuban rumba were also all inspired by Roma. Despite this, Roma culture is often written off as being about little more than fiery violin players or Carmen in Bizet’s 1875 opera. In Germany, no state institution teaches Roma music or literature, or even the Romani language. Sinti and Roma were only recognized as one of Germany’s official minorities in 1997. The Philharmonic is the only orchestra of its type.

In Prague, the Philharmonic played the “Auschwitz Requiem,” a powerful piece for orchestra, four soloist singers and a choir, composed by Roger Moreno, a Swiss Sinto. “Writing it took so much energy, ” Moreno says. “I sometimes wonder how I was even able to finish it.”

He remembers being called a “smelly Gypsy” when he was in school, and that many doors were closed to him as a musician. So with his wife, he created an ensemble to play traditional music. After his first visit to Auschwitz in 1998 he decided to write what would be a “living monument” to Holocaust victims. “Very few people know that the Nazis murdered 500,000 Sinti and Roma,” he says. He wrote six of the eight stanzas of his requiem right away, then suffered ten long years of “composer’s block” before he was able to complete the work.

The Roma Philharmonic premiered the piece last May in Amsterdam during the annual celebrations marking the end of World War II. Never before in the Netherlands had the Roma received so much public attention: Queen Beatrix even invited Moreno for coffee.

The Philharmonic was signed up to play the “Auschwitz Requiem” at Frankfurt’s Old Opera House, with plans to play in Kracow and possibly Berlin in January. Much has to be improvised, as the orchestra has no permanent rehearsal space, no office. Sahiti dreams of creating a music association with a choir, ballet, and a cultural campus, but lacks financing.

The 100,000-euro cost of the Prague concert was paid for by European sponsors and Czech activist groups. Most of the tickets in the 1,000-seat concert hall were handed out free to people leading anti-discrimination initiatives, foundations, and politicians – there are hardly any “regular” concertgoers.

While the Czech media did report quite extensively on the orchestra’s appearance, says Jitka Jurková, a member of the organizing team, “they barely said a word about the political message. The orchestra was portrayed in the usual way, as something ‘exotic’.” She doesn’t believe that the concert will do much to decrease animosity to the Sinti and Roma.

But none of this is an issue on the night of the concert. Sahiti raises his arms; the music starts. How much he enjoys his work is clear to the last notes of the requiem, which ends with soft bell-like sounds. Slowly, Sahiti lowers his arms. The applause lasts for nearly 15 minutes. Tomorrow morning the orchestra moves on to Budapest to give a concert there.

As he moves about the empty stage collecting some sheet music forgotten by his musician colleagues, he looks up: ”This is just the beginning…”

VIA WorldCrunch

Tagged: RromaRomaRomaniGypsyprejudicemusicamazingconcertSinti

North German Roma and Sinte have been recognised as a national minority [Lenta.ru] →

NDR states that Schleswig-Holstein has become the first federal state in Germany including the number of Roma and Sinte demanding state support of national minorities. Wednesday, 14 November, the local Landtag unanimously made the appropriate changes in the state’s constitution.

Now Roma and Sinte living in Schleswig-Holstein have the same rights to protection and support as the Danish and Frisian minorities. There are currently around five thousand Roma and Sinte on the federal territory. The first written documentation of them in this region appeared in 1417.

The chairman of the central council of German Roma and Sinte, Romani Rose, announced the Landtag’s historical decision. In his words, this should serve as an example to the entire European Union, where there live around seven million Roma [and Sinte, and other sub-groups].

At the end of the October, the first German memorial to Roma and Sinte victims of the Naxi dictatorship opened in Berlin. The memorial is a black granite bowl filled with water, and in the centre of the bowl is a stele on which a caretaker places fresh flowers. During WWII, the Nazis killed around 500 thousand Roma and Sinte.


Tagged: newsromanigypsysintesintiGermanySchleswig-Holsteinminority


Let us take up the legacy of the Gypsy heroes of May 16th 1944

By Roberto Malini - La Voix des Rroms

On May 16th, 1944 four thousand Roma imprisoned in the “zigeunerlager” in Auschwitz decided to stand up to their murderers who according to programme had come to get them to lead them to the gas chambers.

The most powerful and well-organized machine of oppression and death of all time found itself before human beings reduced to a pitiful state – swarms of children all skin and bone and barefoot women and men. It wasn’t only the men who decided not to bow their heads to these butchers in uniform; the scrawny hands of children and women picked up stones, bricks, iron rods and rudimentary blades and all together the Roma of Auschwitz cried “No! We will not give you our children to force through your chimneys. Your doctors have tortured so many of them already while experimenting their monstrous science. The children’s screams rose high into the air, higher than the dense smoke issueing from the crematoriums, higher than our prayers. You will not wipe out our families after you have already taken away the precious gifts of freedom and dignity. We will not leave to your grasping hands, to your wicked hearts and your inhuman hatred the beauty of our lives, the sanctity of the love that unites our families in a poor yet proud people”. 

The mothers held their younger children tightly to their chests as they fought; the young children defended the “zigeunerlager” until they were covered in blood, looking like the spirits of revenge in legends; dark-skinned arms brandished primitive weapons with tireless energy, until the SS retreated, astonished at the sight of their heroism, their superhuman courage as they faced the bullets and bayonets with their bare skin.
The SS retreated, taking with them many German corpses. Only on August 2nd, 1944 were the Nazis able to dispose of the “zigeunerlager” - after they’d left the Roma imprisoned in the “death factory” close to death by reducing their food ration to a minimum. 2,897 Roma heroes were assassinated in the gas chambers of Birkenau on one night alone.

Today, May 16th, 2008, we are faced with the heirs of Hitler’s butchers. The instigators of this new genocide are the men and women we see every day in the newspapers and on TV, smiling, full of themselves, fresh from face lifts and make-up sessions, their sneering mouths full of words that sound like “Legality”, “Justice”, “Safety”, but which really mean “Persecution”, “Racism” and “Death”.  We see them every day and they no longer wear party colours because they are united by hatred. They have no respect for anything: either for human life, or human rights, for the universal laws or the new Europe that speaks out against prejudice. They have encouraged violent acts and pogroms all over Italy, deceiving the Italian people with racist lies and fomenting xenophobic violence. We who still see the light of human rights won’t be able to stop them, we who are all Roma now, we who want to be Roma because we want to be just, we will not be able to stop them if we do not decide right now to inherit the pride of the Auschwitz gypsies - if we do not decide to line up at the side of the persecuted families, and defy the authorities who no longer represent anything, the uniforms that no longer represent anything, the high-ranking state officials who have betrayed all values, who have no right to express themselves in the name of a people, of a civilization, of a humanity that – among so much horror – wrote up a text that was a commitment to build a better future for everyone: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Tagged: RomaRromaRomaniRomanyGypsyZigeunerAuschwitzGas chambersHolocaustSintiPorajmosantiziganismHistoryNaziZigeunerlagerSSBirkenauHuman RightsUniversal law

European Roma to attend Holocaust Day in Israel →

WARSAW — A delegation of European Roma will for the first time attend Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies in Israel next week, the Association of the Roma in Poland said Thursday.

"It’s a very important gesture proving that Israeli authorities understand the similarity between the sad fates of the Roma and the Jews, and that they want to support Roma communities worldwide," the association’s leader Roman Kwiatkowski told Polish media.

The delegation will include Roma and Sinti representatives from Poland, as well as the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia, an aide to Kwiatkowski told AFP.

She said they will meet Israeli parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin and Avner Shalev, director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial institute.

During World War II, Nazi Germany exterminated about half of the Roma and Sinti populations of occupied countries. The communities now number between eight and 15 million people in Europe, according to different estimates.


Tagged: newsromanigypsysintiIsraelHolocaustPorrajmosPorajmosPořajmos

Roma victims of the Holocaust


A group of Romani prisoners, awaiting instructions from their German captors, sit in an open area near the fence in the Belzec concentration camp.

Romani (commonly but incorrectly called Gypsies) were considered by the Nazis to be social outcasts. Under the Weimar Republic—the German government from 1918 to 1933—anti-Romani laws became widespread. These laws required them to register with officials, prohibited them from traveling freely, and sent them to forced-labor camps. When the Nazis came to power, those laws remained in effect—and were expanded. Under the July 1933 sterilization law, many Romani were sterilized against their will.

In November 1933, the “Law Against Dangerous Habitual Criminals” was passed. Under this law, the police began arresting Romani along with others labeled “asocial.” Beggars, vagrants, the homeless, and alcoholics were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The Nuremberg racial laws of September 15, 1935, did not specifically mention Romani, but they were included along with Jews and “Negroes” as “racially distinctive” minorities with “alien blood.” As such, their marriage to “Aryans” was prohibited. They were also deprived of their civil rights.

By the summer of 1938, large numbers of German and Austrian Romani were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. There they wore black triangular patches (the symbol for “asocials”) or green patches (the symbol for professional criminals) and sometimes the letter “Z.”

As was the case for the Jews, the outbreak of war in September 1939 radicalized the Nazi regime’s policies towards the Romani. Their “resettlement to the East” and their mass murder closely parallel the systematic deportations and killings of the Jews. It is difficult to determine exactly how many Romani were murdered. The estimates range from 220,000 to 500,000.

Source: Dr. William L. Shulman, A State of Terror: Germany 1933-1939. Bayside, New York: Holocaust Resource Center and Archives.

Tagged: romaniholocaustholocaust memorial dayromaromanysinti

"We want to be heard" - Roma and Sinti in the OSCE region

Filming for this video took place at the annual Roma consultation meeting of the OSCE Contact Point on Roma and Sinti Issues and at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, October 2011


Tagged: videofilmromanigypsysinti

Source: youtube.com

Heidelberg, Germany: Museum explores Nazi persecution of Gypsies during Holocaust →

Nancy Montgomery

Anneliese Franz smiles for the camera as she stands on Heidelberg’s Philosopher’s Way, the castle ruins visible behind her. She’s a young woman with dark hair wearing a pretty dress, and although it’s 1944, she has somehow not been rounded up by the Nazis and murdered.

Franz was a Sinti — a Zigeuner, or Gypsy, according to the Germans. That made her, like the Roma Gypsies of eastern Europe — and 6 million Jews — part of the “alien strain” the Nazis rooted out, dispossessed, deported and killed during the Third Reich.

The photo of Franz is one of many portraits at a unique Heidelberg museum: the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma.

“It’s the only exhibition about the Sinti and the Roma and the Holocaust in Europe and the whole world,” said Joschi Rose, a center employee.

The center opened in 1997, 15 years after the German government formally acknowledged the genocide against the Sinti and Roma, the preferred name of the ethnic group that originated in India, came to Europe about 1,000 years ago, and is still subject to discrimination and derogatory stereotypes.

The Nazi genocide of the Roma and Sinti is less well-known than the Holocaust, in part because the Roma and Sinti were more marginalized than Jews before the Nazis came to power because of greater levels of poverty and illiteracy and less organization by Roma and Sinti communities, historians say. In fact, because of the number of Sinti and Roma living before the Holocaust isn’t clear — many of them were nomadic — neither is their death toll.

Both had been stigmatized and persecuted for centuries.

“But there were many ways they lived together normally (with Germans),” Rose said. “Before 1933, Sinti and Roma were more integrated into the community.”

Historians estimate 500,000 were exterminated as part of the Nazis’ attempted annihilation of entire peoples they deemed subhuman. The center describes how it happened, through documents and photographs from the Nazis juxtaposed with family photographs of the murdered and some of their personal histories.

Visitors to the center can see an image of Johann Trollmann, a young Sinti boxer who was stripped of his light-heavyweight title by the Nazis in 1933 after winning a fight. Trollmann avoided earlier deportations by being sterilized — the same way that Franz escaped death. She was sterilized at the University of Heidelberg.

Trollmann, though, was eventually sent to a concentration camp, where he was beaten to death.

Roma and Sinti were all identified, measured and recorded with the help of the doctors at the Research Center for Racial Hygiene, established in 1936. According to the center, “24 details on the head alone” were measured in the pseudoscientific pursuit of classifying people.

One of the most haunting images is of four young Roma girls, starved into near skeletons, who were part of Joseph Mengele’s unspeakable twin experiments at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.

In fact, historians say, Roma and Sinti suffered disproportionately in the experiments carried out by Nazi doctors and anthropologists.

“Mengele once had a family of eight murdered so that their different colored eyes could be sent to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology in Berlin-Dahlem,” says the voice on the tour headset.


The Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma is located in Heidelberg’s old town at Bremeneckgasse 2, Heidelberg 69117. The closest parking is a multistory parking garage P12, Kornmarkt/Schloss.


The center is open 9:30 a.m.- 7:45 p.m. Tuesday; 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; and 11 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. weekends. Closed Mondays.


Admission is free.

There are plenty of restaurants with a variety of price ranges just a couple of blocks away on the city’s main pedestrian street.


Call 06221-981102 or visit sintiundroma.de. Interpretive headsets in English are available at no charge. If planned in advance, a tour guided by a historian is also available at no charge.

(source: Stars and Stripes)

Tagged: newsromanigypsyHolocaustPorrajmosPorajmosPořajmosGermanymuseumsinti


This photo shows ‘Gypsies’ behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp. The Roma and the Sinti are the two main branches of the people who are often known as ‘Gypsies’. The Roma and Sinti consider the term ‘Gypsy’ offensive, so they do not use that word themselves. The Roma and Sinti were among the first victims of the Nazis. Even before 1933 there were special laws for ‘Gypsies’. They were not allowed to travel around or live together in camps.

Once the Nazis gained power they took extra measures against the Roma and Sinti. From July 1933 their children were sterilised so they could never have children themselves. According to the Nazis the Roma and Sinti were ‘born criminals’. In their registration system they were put into the group of ‘anti-socials’ along with prostitutes, beggars, alcoholics and the homeless.

In 1936 the Olympic Games were held in Berlin. Just before the Games began all the Roma and Sinti in and around Berlin were rounded up and put in a concentration camp. The Nazis thought that ‘Gypsies’ did not belong in German society. In the years that followed Roma and Sinti were also imprisoned in other German cities.

In November 1941, 1,000 German and Austrian Roma and Sinti were gassed at the Chelmno extermination camp in Poland. That was over eight months before the mass gassing of Jews began. Nazi scientists also often subjected Roma and Sinti people to medical experiments in the extermination camps. It is estimated that the Nazis murdered between 5,000,000 and 1,000,000 Roma and Sinti.

(source: Anne Frank Guide)

Tagged: photoromanigypsySintiHolocaustPorrajmosPorajmosPořajmos

Source: annefrankguide.net


Bundesarchiv Koblenz, Germany

(source: Mug Shots — Gypsy Camp)

Tagged: photoromanigypsySintiGermanyHolocaustPorrajmosPorajmosPořajmos

Source: holocaust-trc.org


Bambini zingari a Balzec

Romani and Sinti children in Belzec

(source: Zingari)

Tagged: photoromanigypsysintiGermanyHolocaustPorrajmosPorajmos

Source: deathcamps.org

The Story of Regine Boehmer and Lotte Braun →

Here is the moving story of Regine Böhmer and Lotte Braun, two Sinti women. On 20 May 1940 they were deported to a forced labour camp in Belzec. The women were interviewed by Karin Guth.

Lotte BraunLotte Braun

Regine BoehmerRegine Böhmer

Read the interview

Tagged: historyromanigypsyHolocaustPorrajmosPorajmosSinti


Zingari tedeschi, deportati a Belzec e Majdanek

German Romanies and Sinti were deported to Belzec and Majdanek

(source: Zingari)

Tagged: photoromanigypsysintiGermanyHolocaustPorrajmosPorajmos

Source: deathcamps.org

Do Human Rights apply for everybody? The structural discrimination of Roma and Sinti in Europe →

Filiz Keküllüoglu


The Roma belong to one of the oldest and largest minorities Europe. They have been discriminated against since time immemorial throughout Europe. Roma and Sinti have been facing obstacles in accessing basic goods and services such as health care and housing. The majority of Roma live in informal settlements where adequate sanitation is missing. They have also endured disadvantages in finding employment and hence they find it almost impossible to improve their prospects. A very essential problem is that in many central and eastern European countries Roma children are systematically put into special schools which are actually for children with a mental illness. In most cases, according to Amnesty International, these children have not even undergone through a mental examination and yet were still put in these special schools. These special schools have reduced facilities and capacities with widely simplified curriculums.

“If all Romani children go to primary school, the white children become a minority. To avoid that, the white people make our children go to special schools…Roma from wealthy families attend the normal primary school. But the Roma from poor families usually end up in a special school”, a Romani employee of a municipality in eastern Slovakia describes how the segregation is already inherent in the education system and has become the norm.

As they are deprived of the right to education, they are also bereft of a range of other human rights because education is the key for the future.

Only recently, some European governments acknowledged that there exists discrimination against Roma and Sinti. Some governments such as that of Slovakia, on the other hand, soft-pedal the ethnic discrimination as a social problem. Racist and discriminatory comments and practices continue. If we look at political and administrative structures, we also notice that Roma are poorly represented throughout Europe. They have to deal with serious difficulties in integrating into society. Hence, they stay isolated within their own community and preserve their cultural identity.

It seems to be impossible to break through this vicious circle of poverty and exclusion for many Roma. The treatment of Roma in Europe leads us to question to what extent the European Union, which considers itself as the propagator of human rights, is sincere about its principles.

(source: Cultural Diplomacy News)

Tagged: newsromanigypsySlovakiaEuroperacismsintidiscrimination

Roma and Sinti Art Gallery in Berlin, Germany.


Ahoy, followers!

I know it’s been a while since we’ve posted, but I recently came across information about a relatively new art gallery in Berlin, Germany. The gallery is called Galerie Kai Dikhas, which literally translates to “A Place of Seeing,” from Romani to German to English. This may very well be the first permanent gallery to house contemporary Roma and Sinti art.

 On their website, you can view information about their featured artists (many of whom are Roma intellectuals in Europe - a major reason why this gallery came into existence), pieces from their current/past exhibitions, press releases, catalogues, and you can sign up for their newsletter.

Some interesting art featured on the site includes:

Krzysztof Gil: “Konflikt III”


 Lita Cabellut: “Camarón 7

Tagged: RromaRomaniSintiBerlinGermanyartgalerie kai dikhas

Source: casaroma