Friday, January 11, 2013

Interview with Romani composer Roger Moreno Rathgeb

This article comes to us from Romano Vod'i via ROMEA. Please follow ROMEA's link above for more interesting articles. 

Interview with Romani composer Roger Moreno Rathgeb

Prague, 26.12.2012 23:31, (Romano vod'i)
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--
Roger Moreno Rathgeb is, like many Romani musicians, self-taught, but he gradually began to use musical notation and to compose. Several years ago he decided to compose a requiem for the victims of the Auschwitz extermination camp, but his work was interrupted by a visit there which strongly impacted him and blocked his creative capabilities for several years. The impulse to complete the work came in the form of a request from Albert Siebelink, who suggested presenting the "Requiem for Auschwitz" at the International Gipsy Festival in Tilburg and then in other European cities.
A composer and multi-instrumentalist (he plays accordion, violin, double-bass, guitar, piano and drums), Rathgeb came to Prague for the first time ever to present his most extensive work to date, "Requiem for Auschwitz" (for more about this exceptional event, see We spoke together in the foyer of the Rudolfinum concert hall during the dress rehearsal, which we could hear underway on the other side of the wall. It was beautiful.

Q: You were born in Switzerland in 1956, which means 11 years after the war. Even though Switzerland was neutral, did you sense any of the aftermath of the war?
A: In reality there was no war in Switzerland, but there were other problems there. For example, at that time a particular Swiss organization was working to take children away from Romani families immediately after they were born and give them to infertile non-Romani married couples. That lasted until 1979. You could say that was a war, too, just a bit of a different one.

Q: Where did your parents come from?
A: My father was not Romani, he was a German Swiss. My mother was Romani - to be precise, she was Sinti - but she also was born in Switzerland. I was not raised in the traditional Romani environment of that time. My sister and I normally attended school. I didn't even know my mother was Romani until I was 12 or 13. Not only did we never speak Romanes at home, we never talked about being Romani. I basically don't even know how my parents met. My grandpa (that is, the father of my mother) passed away when she was six, so she de facto did not know his culture.

Q: You do speak Romanes, however. You learned it later?
A: Yes, sure. In 1980 my band and I were on a tour of Holland and I met several Sinti families of musicians. The band just left me there with them [laughs]. They only spoke the Sinti dialect of Romanes, and I immediately felt at home among them.

Q: Did you already know you were a Sinto by then?
A: Yes. When I was young, children in school would laugh at me and say I was a "gypsy", and I always defended myself against their accusations because I really didn't know anything about my origins. They must have sensed it somehow. Once I came home and complained about it to my mother and she revealed to me that I am Romani. It wasn't easy for her to say, she was a bit ashamed herself. Then, for many years, I had a problem with my identity. After all, I grew up as just a "normal" Swiss person, just like a gadjo.

Q: Do you identify as Romani/Sinti today?
A: I always had the feeling I was not like other Swiss people. I was a rebel. I protested against Swiss laws, against society, basically against everything. Swiss people have a completely different mindset. Inside I suspected I wasn't Swiss, that it couldn't be true. There just had to be something else.

Q: When did you decide to professionally devote yourself to music? What led you to that?
A: When I was 10, I got a guitar for my birthday from my grandmother (on my mother's side). She recognized that I had musical talent, even though I am the only one in the family who has dedicated himself to music. My family is totally unmusical otherwise.

Q: What kind of music do you like most? You're here in Prague for a concert of classical music, but do you also go in for traditional Romani music?
A: Yes, Romani music is definitely what I like the most. The road to classical music was a very long one for me, because for a long time I couldn't even read music.

Q: Where did you learn the music theory that is so necessary to composing a requiem?
A: I first encountered musical notation when I was 35. I was taking violin lessons and my teacher was a Hungarian Rom who played in the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra. It was he who first showed me musical notation, and by doing so he opened up a whole new world to me.

Q: In addition to classical and Romani music, what else speaks to you?
A: I'd say I basically love all music. Once I even played drums in a rock’n’roll band and to this day I have very warm feelings about that musical style, I enjoy it!

Q: You have worked in many different groups - which do you have the best memories of and which contributed the most to your life?
A: I'd say the Sinto family I started to play with after moving to Holland [the band Zigeunerorkest Nello Basily – Editors]. They played the traditional music of Romani people from Hungary, Romania, and Russia. From them, especially from the cimbalom [concert hammered dulcimer] player, I learned how to distinguish the Hungarian harmonies. Those are the best for learning accompaniment because they are constantly changing, and that makes it easier to accompany even songs you don't know. I came to the greatest depth of understanding in that band. 

Q: Why did you decide to emigrate to Holland?
A: In 1980 we traveled with the band on a tour around Holland, and the mentality of people in that country immediately clicked with me. The Dutch are free-thinkers, unlike the Swiss, who are terribly conservative. The truth is, the Swiss don't like Romani people. The Dutch are open and tolerant, and they have a beautiful country. It was a very quick decision.

Q: You have written scripts for several theatrical performances - what were they?
A: We created two theatrical shows with the band. The first is called "The Long Journey", and it tells the story of the migration of Romani people from India to Europe. We called the second one "The Life", and in it we portray the daily life of Romani musicians. These are pastiches of music, poetry, and story-telling. We sat around a fire, played our instruments, and did our best to create the atmosphere of a Romani camp. The gadje don't know much about Romani people and often ask me about our culture and history. We wanted to somehow approximate our "Romani-ness" for them, because discrimination comes from ignorance in particular.

Q: How many people came to the show - was it mostly non-Romani people or Romani people?
A: We performed in theaters in Belgium, Germany and Holland, and most of them were attended mainly by gadje. It's sad - Romani people aren't interested in these things, I don't know why.

Q: You have come to Prague with your wife. Is she also a musician?
A: Yes, we perform together, it's how we make our living. It's brilliant that my composition is being played all over Europe, but I have not yet made any money from it, and I have to make a living somehow. We play in concert, we play at festivals and in theaters, at weddings and at various parties.

Q: You are one of the main figures in the film "Musicians for Life", which was created by Bob Entrop. Can you tell us about the film?
A: That film is one of the reasons I am now in Prague. Albert Siebelink, who is the director of the Romani festival in Tilburg, saw it, and there's an interview with me in it where I talk about "Requiem for Auschwitz". After seeing the film, Albert asked me whether I had completed the piece yet, but it wasn't ready. He promised that if I would complete it, he would arrange for it to be performed. I began work on it once more, but it took me another three years all the same.
"Musicians for Life" is not the only film I have collaborated on with Bob Entrop. I also perform in the documentary "A Hole in the Sky", which is about WWII survivors.

Q: When did you start to work on "Requiem"?
A: I first visited Auschwitz in 1998 and I immediately got the idea to write a requiem. I started working on it, but after some time all of my inspiration for it disappeared. I thought that if I returned to Auschwitz I would know how to continue, but that didn't happen - the complete opposite happened. I was just destroyed, it's a very macabre place. I set the work aside and did not return to the "Requiem" until eight years later.

Q: Would you call yourself a Romani (Sinti) activist?
A: Probably not - I'm just a musician. Naturally, if people see a message in my music, then that's brilliant.

Q: For a certain time you collaborated with opera singer Carla Schroyen. What was that project? Did your idea to create a great classical music work (like "Requiem for Auschwitz") start there?
A: Carla Schroyen sang various "gypsy" arias from operas and operettas and I accompanied her on accordion, but that didn't influence my composing. I had already dedicated myself to classical music prior to that.

Q: What was your first classical composition?
A: In 1995 I decided to try to write a ballet for an amateur dance ensemble in Maastricht. In the end, however, it turned into a symphonic-poetic work.

Q: Did you try to incorporate elements of Romani music into "Requiem for Auschwitz"?
A: A little, you can hear them in some places - there are several motifs that turn up repeatedly. "Requiem", however, is not dedicated only to the Romani victims, but to everyone who suffered or perished in Auschwitz. Before writing it I did not listen to any other requiems so I wouldn't be influenced by other works. It's me in "Requiem", not anyone else, which is why some Romani motifs have to be there.

Q: Do you see any difference between the genocide of the Jewish people and that of the Romani people?
A: It's completely the same thing. The numbers differ a bit, but that's not what is essential.

Q: You have played as an opening act for Chuck Berry, you have performed for the Dutch royal family, and "Requiem for Auschwitz" is being played in the most celebrated halls in Europe. What do you consider your greatest success so far? What are your other plans or dreams?
A: I am working on an oratorio about the migration of Romani people from India to Europe. I think it will be a much more extensive work than "Requiem". I also would like to write an opera about the Romani children taken away from their parents and placed with non-Romani families in Switzerland. As you can see, I have enough plans! [laughs]

Inka Jurková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Conspiracy: The Wansee Conference

This isn't a new film, released in 2001, but Conspiracy is an amazing film and I recommend it for any student of the Holocaust. The film stars Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann. 
This film is a brilliant depiction of the Wannsee Conference, a meeting that would have been lost to history had it not been for one conference member who kept the notes he was ordered to burn.

The purpose of the Wannsee Conference was to unify various branches of the Third Reich under Heydrich's leadership in the definition and concept of  The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem and organize the logistics of processing millions of people to their deaths. Fifteen men met at a table over a two hour luncheon and decided the fate six million Jewish men, women, and children.

The astounding method at which these horrific decisions were made keeps the viewer's attention on the screen. These men discuss the annihilation of a people as if they were discussing the transportation of freight or munitions. 

When tensions begin to run high as at least some men in the room are having a small battle with their consciences, preferring sterilizations over gassings, Heydrick makes his makes his intentions clear:
Heydrich: We will not sterilize every Jew and wait for them to die. We will not sterilize every Jew and then exterminate the race. That's farcical. Dead men don't hump, dead women don't get pregnant. Death is the most reliable form of sterilization, put it that way.
With sterilization taken off the table, Heydrich and Eichman explain their proposal for the Final Solution.

Adolf Eichmann: Now, last summer Reichsführer Himmler asked me to visit a camp up in Upper Silesia, called Auschwitz, which is very well isolated, and close to significant rail access. And we are turning that camp into a major center, solid structures (and here's where your Jewish labor comes into play, Herr Neumann, the Jews haul the bricks and they build the buildings themselves). And when the structures are complete, we expect to be able to process 2500... an hour. Not a day, an hour. Heydrich: And those numbers look a lot better. Luther: 2500 an hour? Hofmann: 2500? Adolf Eichmann: At 24 hours a day, that is 60,000. Kritzinger: 60,000 each day... Adolf Eichmann: That's 21,900,000 Jews a year, if ever there were that many. Heydrich: And we are also constructing the means of disposal, which will obviously depend upon the process of combustion. Adolf Eichmann: Yes, it'll be industrial in nature: large commercial gas-fed ovens, no residue to speak of. Müller: 60,000 Jews every day go up in smoke. Heydrich: We can achieve that. Imagine. 

This film helps students of the Holocaust understand the mindset of those in power and explains how Hitler was able to stay away from the blame even though the carnage took place under his direction. This is a must-see for anyone interested in the mechanisms of the Holocaust.

Friday, January 4, 2013

On transforming the Czech "practical primary schools"

This article comes to us from Romano Vod'i, published on December 27, 2012. O Porrajmos Education Society would like to thank them and Gwendolyn Albert for the use of the article.  

On transforming the Czech "practical primary schools"

Prague, 27.12.2012 17:37, (Romano vod'i)
A teaching assistant at the Božena Němcová Primary School in Přerov. (PHOTO:
A teaching assistant at the Božena Němcová Primary School in Přerov. (PHOTO:
Iveta Němečková is the coordinator of the Together to School coalition and has worked as a special educator, a director, a lecturer in education programs, a coordinator and a specialist in education methods for the Step by Step program. She has implemented a project aimed at integrating Romani pupils into primary education and has participated in designing an international education program focusing on working with prejudices and stereotypes. She has long been an advocate of inclusive education and has worked as the coordinator of early childhood care projects. She is a lecturer in adult education and a coordinator and organizer of educational events. She contributed the following commentary to the latest issue of Romano voďi.

In recent months, a wave of reaction to planned measures that are supposed to help address the situation of Romani pupils (among others) in the education system has spread through communications networks and the media. The measures were adopted by the Government of the Czech Republic last year and were part of its "Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion".

The subject of this communications campaign has primarily been measures aiming to transform the so-called "practical primary schools". Under the name of a "Petition against closing the practical schools", it has spread throughout the entire Czech Republic. Many of my fellow citizens, friends and parents of schoolchildren have asked me what is basically at issue here.

First and foremost, the group behind this petition is the Association of Special Educators (Asociace speciálních pedagogů), who argue that there is a need for separate schools for children with light mental retardation and warns against closing them. As one of the authors of the petition, Jana Smetanová, has stated: "...the current situation is convenient - thanks to special care we have one of the lowest levels of illiteracy".

Permit me to add that special education is a very broad concept. It primarily involves support for children with serious medical disabilities (auditory, visual, and physical, as well as medium and severe mental disabilities). The proposed transformation does not concern the network of specialized schools serving this population, but exclusively concerns one type of school only - schools for children with light mental disability.

What is basically at issue here, and what is another way to view the current situation? These primary schools that instruct their pupils according to programs for children with light mental retardation are relatively new institutions in the education system, but only as far as their names are concerned. In reality, these schools are carrying on the long tradition of "special schools" and, just like those schools, they educate children who have been diagnosed with so-called light mental retardation. For the sake of completeness, I must add that in reality these schools are also attended by children who have never been diagnosed as mentally disabled, as a report by the Czech School Inspection Authority showed in 2010.

Another fact is that a disproportionately high share of Romani children attend these schools - a far greater share than corresponds to the probability of their being disabled. It is difficult to believe that more than 25 % of children from Romani families suffer from light mental retardation when the prevalence of this disability in the rest of the population does not exceed 2 %. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg also strongly pointed this out when it brought a judgment against the Czech Republic in 2007 for the "indirect discrimination" of Romani children in education.
We should also look at how, in most countries in Europe (and not only in Europe), children with light mental disability primarily attend mainstream primary schools. In countries where the education system functions at a good level, these students have very good professional support guaranteed to them in mainstream schools. These pupils are accepted by both their teachers and their classmates. They find a broader circle of friends and acquire good social skills.
This is a good investment into their future lives - it is basically good news for everyone. These so-called "integrated" children find it easier to navigate society with a higher degree of independence in their adult lives. The other children in the classroom learn to count on the fact that people with special needs are an ordinary part of society. The "specialized schooling system" exists for pupils for whom such support in a mainstream school is not sufficient, pupils who would not be well-accepted among the other children, pupils in whose actual best interest it is to attend schools outside the mainstream.

I think it is also necessary to stress that transformation is not the same thing as closing the schools. The aim of this transformation is primarily to create better conditions for educating children who need support. Those who will be benefited by such support at a mainstream school should simply be educated with the rest of the population.
As part of this transformation, it is important to bring the educational programs of the so-called "practical primary schools" closer to the programs used by mainstream schools - and primarily to bring them closer to what today's schoolchildren will need once they are adults. After all, don't we want them to succeed in high school, in apprenticeships, and in adult life? It is no secret that it is precisely the graduates of these former "special schools" that have the greatest difficult in finding employment. It is also no secret how often such graduates are to be found among the residents of socially excluded localities.

Yes, if the transformation is successful, a certain number of schools for children with light mental disabilities are definitely certain to close - they will not be needed. Their pupils will attend ordinary primary schools and professional support will be provided to them there. Isn't this also a good aim for special educators, to help these children master education in a mainstream primary school, achieve good results, and find a broader range of options for themselves in adulthood?

In conclusion, I would like to sum up this commentary by reflecting on the question of what the advantage is of educating children together in the same school and what the hidden risks of this approach are. The children now in the "practical primary schools" who will attend mainstream school along with the rest of the population in future will achieve better results, provided they have sufficient support, and will be more motivated to educate themselves. It will be far easier for them to assert themselves in their adult lives and to choose a profession from a broader range of options.
Another big bonus - and this argues against educating these children in "special schools" - is the option provided by the mainstream schools for natural contact with their peers, for the building of relationships, and for the acquisition of the corresponding social skills. It is precisely those skills that are very important for their adult lives and their ability to assert themselves in society - and not only for them. Many years ago, I noticed that children who collaborate with, communicate with, and encounter other children who need a greater degree of support in a natural setting become more mature as human beings. They look at the world with a greater degree of comprehension and understanding of their own needs and those of others. That is a very big bonus for all of us.

I believe that in order to head towards the common education of all children, we primarily need to prepare the conditions for that education in the mainstream primary schools. We need to prepare their teachers and provide a support system of special educators and psychologists - for example, those professionals currently providing support to pupils in the "practical primary schools".

Iveta Němečková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking back and looking forward

What did O Porrajmos Education Society accomplish in 2012? Where will we go in 2013? What are our long-term goals? It's time to consider the past and look to the future; to learn from our victories as well as from our mistakes. After all, we are historians.

This past year brought the "Gypsy" Wagon Museum Display to new venues in Iowa as well as to visit old friends. The Wagon made its second appearance at the Summer of the Arts Global Village, a children's event held in Iowa City in June. This event holds a special place in our history, as it was the debut for the Wagon in 2011. Over 400 children and their parents had the opportunity to visit and explore the information on the Wagon and offer their support.

In July and August, the Wagon made numerous appearances at the Downtown Farmers Market in Cedar Raids, Iowa, where dozens of people joined the Society on our email list. The Farmers Market draws people in from may surrounding communities, so it is a welcome opportunity to share current events and talk with visitors about the Romani people.

The Wagon was scheduled to appear at Imagination Square in July as part of the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival, but the threat of rain prevented set up. While we did have activities for the youngsters, we hope to return to Imagination Square in 2013 with the Wagon.

The Wagon also returned to the Linn County Fair in Central City this past July, surviving setup during a terrible storm that did some damage to the fair grounds. While it was a limited showing, the Wagon received more visitors this year than its appearance at the fair last year.

Ciuin Ferrin spoke at new venues this year as well as more familiar places. Besides lecturing at schools around Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, she had the opportunity to teach at the Linn County Genealogical Society, Beyond Rubies at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, and at the Midwest Open Air Museums Coordinating Council Conference hosted by Ushers Ferry in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

2012 also allowed Ciuin the opportunity to go to the University of Texas in Austin to work on a research project at the Romani Archive and Documentation Center run by Dr. Ian Hancock. Please keep your eyes on the blog as more posts are to come on the results of this trip.

Working with a graduate student at the University of Iowa, we were able to translate one DVD out of a set of 20. These DVDs hold as of yet unheard testimony from O Baro Porrajmos survivors. The rest of the DVDs should arrive soon and we will begin translation work immediately. Our goal is to create a documentary on the testimonies, the interviewer, and publish a book on the process of translation. Again, watch this blog in 2013 for updates.

So what does the New Year bring? More opportunities to share at venues around the Midwest.

We have expanded our outreach to include Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Illinois in hopes of taking the Wagon or lectures to new academic venues. We would like to thank Rapids Reproduction of Cedar Rapids Iowa for their assistance in this endeavor.

The translation project is an exciting work that has been in the making for over two years. We hope to have the DVDs soon so work on translation and transcription may begin. This is a momentous project and we are honored to be a part of it.

O Porrajmos Education Society is glad you have taken interest in our work. We thank you for your support. If Ciuin or the Wagon will be in your area, please stop by and say hello. We look forward to meeting you.

May you and yours have a joyous and prosperous New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why study the Holocaust?

As the "Gypsy" Wagon Museum Display travels around Iowa every summer, the question I am asked most often is "Why does the Holocaust matter now? It's over." I get this same question at lectures as well. Why can't we, the human race, forget about the Holocaust? Why should we continue to look at those terrible pictures? Why remind ourselves of the horrors of the Third Reich when Nazism is a thing of the past? Surely no civilized nation or the UN would stand for a resurgence of the Nazi regime in Germany or any country. Why can't we let the dead rest in peace.

This question both frustrates and amuses me. Amusement because Americans pride ourselves in being a world power, a "Super Power" at that. We are the World's Police Force, ready to fight for right wherever we are needed. And yet most Americans have no idea what is really going on in the world. Our press hardly covers world events unless it involves a scandal with the royal family of England or some celebrity married or divorced.

We, as Americans, are obsessed with the Kardashians, the Hiltons, and "Real" Housewives of Beverly Hills, and Snookie. We love a good train wreck. We enjoy watching the rich and famous makes fools of themselves on national television. But who is laughing? We watch the shows, shake our heads at the drama those people call their lives, yet those people are the ones cashing the checks, scoring big at the bank.

What is really going on in the world? Do we, as Americans, really know? Do the citizens of the country claiming to be the World's Police have any idea what happens outside our borders?


I can say this with conviction because everywhere I've lectured this year, people are stunned at the data I present.

"Sterilizations? This is 2012! How can that be going on now?"
Answer: "Its been going on since the early 1970's."

"Fingerprinting and photographing? Hitler did that. This is the Twenty-first century! It isn't done anymore!"
Answer: "It began in Italy in the Twenty-first century. While the practice has been condemned by the EU, no one in the U.S. knew about it until the program ended."

"Romani kids not allowed in the schools in the Czech Republic? It's a civilized country!"
Answer: "That civilized country was ordered by the Court of Human Rights to allow Romani children in schools...over five years ago and has failed to follow through with that order. PS: The Czech Republic writes human rights policy for the United Nations and holds this charter until 2014."

The list goes on and on and people everywhere are always surprised.

When the question arises of Holocaust remembrance, I always ask what the students already know of Nazi experience. What were the steps of dehumanization? How did the Nazis prepare German citizens for the destruction of the "lesser" races? Most students answer this question correctly.

Answer: It began slowly. The public was treated to a mass propaganda effort that compared the Jews and other lives unworthy of life to vermin that must be destroyed; rats in the sewers. Then they lost their rights, their jobs, their possessions, their homes. It was a gradual process that few Germans protested. It allowed the citizens of Germany to claim ignorance years later.

Why is this important? Can we learn anything from history?
Answer: Yes. We can see the process of how the Nazis came to power so we can recognize evil.

And yet, Americans do not see the very same process happening in Europe right now, in countries we would considered civilized. The leaders of France, Italy, the Czech Republic, England, Germany; are all very  educated. They are not running their countries based on fear and intimidation. Or are they?

Now that the United States has observer status in the Decade of Roma Inclusion, the American press must take notice of world events, events that are indeed relevant to life and human rights. We, as citizens and as customers of the American press, must demand of our news sources to report the news and leave the Kardashians to Entertainment Weekly.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Seasons Greetings

We would like to say "Baxtali Karachonja" to everyone this holiday season. Nais tuke, thank you, for your support over the year and may the New Year bring true peace and happiness to you and yours and to our brothers and sisters around the world.

Please watch us grow this coming year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Tired" by Qristina Zavackova Cummings

Today's post comes from a blog written by O Porrajmos Education Society board member Qristina Zavackova Cummings. Qristina is a valuable asset to our board and we offer our condolences on her loss. We also feel her anger and frustration at the situation of our brothers and sisters in Europe. Please follow the link to her blog and read her other posts.