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August 20, 2022



Romani author and painter Ceija Stojka has passed away

Vienna, Austria, 30.1.2013 2:05, (ROMEA)
Ceija Stojka, 2009 (photo:  Lukáš Houdek)
Ceija Stojka, 2009 (photo: Lukáš Houdek)

The author and painter Ceija Stojka passed away on Monday, 28 January 2013 in a hospital in Vienna. She would have turned 80 in May. Her death was confirmed on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 by her editor, Karin Berger.

Ceija (pronounced "Chaya") Stojka was born into a family of traveling Olah Roma (Lovari) at a time when her family was still able to live a truly traveling lifestyle. The Stojka family was one which resisted increasingly strong pressures to settle. They were forced to do so in 1939.

During the Nazi era, all of the closest members of Ceija's family were displaced into various concentration camps. Her father was imprisoned in Dachau, where he was murdered. Ceija and her mother, sister and three brothers were first transported to Auschwitz, where her youngest brother Ossi and other relatives of hers died. Ceija, her mother and her sister later passed through the concentration camps at Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen, while her brothers passed through Buchenwald and Flossenbürg. After the war ended they all found one another in Vienna.

Of course, the end of the war did not bring any recognition by Austria of Romani people having been targeted as racial victims of Nazi persecution, which meant they were denied both societal rehabilitation and direct material compensation. Ceija and her family had to rebuild their lives once more without any kind of external aid or support. Moreover, they did so in an atmosphere in which neither non-Romani nor Romani society wanted to remember the horrors of the war, for various reasons.

The book We Live in Seclusion (Wir leben im Verborgenen, 1988; Czech title Žijeme ve skrytu, 2008), made Ceija famous. It is an autobiographical narrative of the most tragic period of her life. It evidently would never have been published had Ceija not been firmly resolved to complete it despite the dismissive, skeptical attitudes of those closest to her, and had she not had the support of the book's editor, Karin Berger.

When the book was finally published in 1988, it caused quite a commotion. The heretofore ignored topic of the Romani Holocaust was now public for the first time, and it was a woman, moreover, who had opened up the issue. This meant breaking a basic taboo within the framework of the Olah Romani community, where women do not usually have the right to appear publicly unless asked to do so by a male relative.

In addition to her literary talent, Ceija discovered she had artistic and musical talent as well, like her brothers Karl and Mungo. Despite her age and the pain it caused her to recall the events of the Second World War after so many years, she tirelessly participated in public debates, educational programs, and readings.

The following excerpt is from an interview conducted with Ceija Stojka by Karin Berger; translated from the Czech translation of We Live in Seclusion (Žijeme ve skrytu), 2008, pgs. 63–67

Q: Did you have any specific reason for deciding to start writing this all up?

A: I wanted to talk to someone, but I didn't have anyone who would listen to me, and paper is patient. […] Once I started, the memories just gushed out of me. […] It was often rather difficult to write, because my partner had no understanding for it. It had never even occurred to him that I might pick up a pencil - at the most, whenever I had to sign for something. Once […] I took [part of the manuscript] and went to see my brother. "Karel, be so good as to read this." "Please, that chicken scratch? Throw it away!" […] In the end, though, I didn't let anyone dissuade me. Even when they told me I was supposed to go cook in the kitchen, I didn't listen to them. […] I had experienced so much and I had to fight with it so Auschwitz couldn't hurt me anymore. […] I did it, but I had to live through Auschwitz a second time. […] I get terribly angry whenever I have to hear someone say "the Auschwitz lie". For those of us who passed through that concentration camp, and for those who lost people there, that's a horrifying thing to say. […] Am I supposed to try to explain something to a person who says "Auschwitz - that's all nonsense. If it was so horrible, then why are you here? How can you be alive?" It can't be explained to them, it's impossible. I always look at someone like that and try to guess how old he is. If he's younger, then I tell myself well, he can't know. However, many people who experienced that same era still don't understand what went on then either.

Books by Ceija Stojka:

This article draws on a text by Helena Sadílková, published in the textbook Druhá směna (Second Shift) (Praha:  ROMEA, 2012).
ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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