Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hitler Versus Stalin, Who Was Worse?

When during a cable TV interview I was asked how I felt about Stalin
versus Hitler, German army versus Soviet army, I answered that although
upon chasing the fleeing German army, the Russians killed many partisans
on sight, I never felt the same animosity toward the Russians as I felt
toward the Germans. After all, the Russians had lost 25 million people
during the war, and war is always ugly and unpredictable. "On the other
hand," I said, "Stalin had killed more people than Hitler, but he killed
his own". This was not only picked up by my interviewer, Doug Holder,
who at once asked me whether the Jews and Gypsies had not been Germans.
To which I answered, of course, they were Germans. This same remark was
also picked up by a Roma lady, who posted that comment on a website not
my own. So what did I mean?

First, I was simply repeating what had been ingrained into me since
childhood in Europe, and I had left it in my mind untouched. I believe I
also found it written in books comparing the two dictatorships. I myself
was struck that I had never really thought about this issue, especially
since I firmly believe that if you live in a country, fought for what
you consider your country as so many German Jews and Gypsies had, you
are certainly a citizen of that country, and you should have equal
rights. I have since talked with several educated Europeans and an
American journalist, and I have come to the following interpretation of
what was commonly accepted as a statement in the Europe of the past.

Stalin killed his own, because communism had unified all Russians
minorities and ethnic Russians to be one people with equal rights, on
the surface. Stalin killed those who opposed his ideas and his regime,
no matter what their separate ethnic identities had been before Soviet

Hitler's ideology by contrast was about race. He wanted to create a
master race, catering to the romantic German notion of a 'greater German
space'. This dream festered in the German national mind ever since her
unification, through Bismarck, in 1860. Germany as a state was still
young in the thirties and remained extremely tribal. Germany's Jews and
Gypsies were not only of a different race, most were of a different
religion. Even a family like mine, although catholic like almost all of
Cologne, Germany, was looked upon as suspect, since we didn't look, nor
behaved like Germans, and we were of mixed blood. We never really
thought of ourselves as typically German. In fact many of us not only
resisted the Nazi regime by going underground during the war, but many
of us left Germany and changed passports as soon as the first
opportunity came along.

So, to my fellow Roma activists out there, let me clarify my feelings.
Now, that most of the former European countries are united into one
Europe, just as my family would not have differentiated between
mainstream population and German ethnic minorities, I now feel European
Roma and Jews are of course rightfully Europeans. They should have the
same rights, government protections and respect. They should also have
the right to preserve their own culture, the way of many other European
sub-cultures. I believe what we are witnessing now is a result of
remnants of that same primitive tribalism that scapegoats defenseless
minorities in times of economic downturns. But, although life is being
made unbearable, especially for many European Roma, now Europe's largest
ethnic minority, I am optimistic. I follow enough news reports to know
that within European governments and Human Rights organizations many are
fighting to repair this historical injustice. I believe this will come
to fruition in the end, for if this effort fails, so will European unity
and democracy. We do have to remain vigilant and united in our efforts
to fight for minority rights.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

KRISTALLNACHT ALL OVER AGAIN ... Only this time it’s against the Gypsies/Roma

[Roma Daily News] Turkey: Rising discrimination in society rings alarm

10/01/2010 – "The trend reached its peak this week when nearly 1,000
residents of Manisa's Selendi district attacked the area's Roma
community, stoning their homes and demolishing their stores in the
aftermath of a brief brawl allegedly over cigarette smoking at a
coffeehouse in the area on New Year's Eve."

The morning after the night of November 9, 1938, an aunt of mine rode
her bicycle through Cologne, Germany toward her place of work. What she
found were streets littered with the shattered glass of windows of
houses and shops of Germany's Jewish minority. It was the true beginning
of the holocaust, visible to all. The other German minority, her Gypsy
population, had no such visible signs. They were lured into death camps
with promises of work and a better life. It was a period of harsh
economic times and high unemployment.

I am a survivor of World War II. I was a child then, and we went
underground. We were never captured. But I lived through the whole
height of inhumanity. I was recently asked in a Cable interview, did I
think the holocaust would ever re-occur. My first answer was no, not to
the same extent of unlimited mass murder over several years. Not unless
news of these occurrences get suppressed in the media, as they did
during the first years of the German holocaust. On the other hand, these
occurrences have to be picked up by major mass media, they have to make
headlines. We, who are fighting for the Rights of Roma, have to make
sure that's where they appear. The Western Press has to zoom in on these
renewed persecutions of the Roma People.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


When I was a hungry child during World War II living with partisans and
others on the run from the Nazi regime, we stole from peasants who were
hoarding their food. The Catholic Church called that 'Mundraub', theft
for food, and declared it not a sin. When the partisans hunted wild boar
and rabbits in stretches of forests owned by German and Polish
aristocrats, who were the only ones allowed to hunt in their own
domains, the former called it poaching, the partisans called it 'law of
road'. When I moved from the poor to the wealthy side of the fence in
Italy after the war, the wealthy expected their servants, drawn from
within the poor, to steal a certain amount. In Sicily the poor,
exploited by absentee landlords, formed the Mafia and called theft even
murder justice. In the European proletariat theft was often accompanied
by murder. Theft is as old as civilization: it is usually a function of
poverty and hunger.

So why do so many paste that label on to the Gypsy/Roma minority, as if
theft were a Gypsy gene. Whenever I lived among Roma, I was never afraid
to leave my belongings with them. The Roma I talk to, consider having to
steal or beg to survive an act of shame. Even Hitler knew that among
nomadic Gypsies there was no crime. It was only after they were forced
off their treks into places of confinement and given only the poorest
possibilities to survive, that petty crime entered their way of life.
And petty crime it is, because, unlike theft by non-Gypsies, theirs is
of hunger and not accompanied by killings. So in the New Year let's
pull that unjust label off the Gypsy/Roma name, make sure that those who
have shared our living space for centuries are given the same rights and
opportunities. Close the gap that has separated us for so long.