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Frankfurt – Auschwitz. Documentary-artistic exhibition on the extermination of the Roma and Sinti

An exhibition of the Förderverein Roma e. V. and the artist Bernd Rausch

August 11, 2009 to September 11, 2009

On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the »Gypsy Camp« Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Förderverein Roma e. V. will present a documentary-artistic exhibition in the rooms of the former detention center Klapperfeld in Klapperfeldstraße 5, Frankfurt am Main. Through the different ways of presentation, the exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to deal with the persecution and extermination of the Roma and Sinti under National Socialism in a versatile way.

The documentary section of the exhibition focuses on the perpetrators, the extermination of the Roma and Sinti in Auschwitz, and the memories of the victims and survivors. Photos, descriptions, lectures and films, including an interview conducted by Valentin Senger in 1962 with the Nazi racial researcher Eva Justin and a contribution on the vita of the Romni Maria Weiss, explain the position of the city of Frankfurt am Main in the network of the National Socialist extermination policy.

16 pictures by the Saarbrücken artist Bernd Rausch focus on the extermination, both of individuals and of the Roma and Sinti community, by the National Socialists.

The work of the Förderverein Roma, the sponsor of the exhibition, is presented on three panels.

Accompanying program

August 14, 2009
7:30 p.m. // Talk with Lothar Winter, Amari Bacht, self-help organization, Roma Union in Ffm.

August 27, 2009
7.30 p.m. // Talk with Dr. Peter Sandner, historian and author of the book Frankfurt-Auschwitz

September 3, 2009
7.30 p.m. // Talk with Ursula Rose, Romni from Ffm. and Leika Peter Böttcher, Roma-Union Ffm.

September 11, 2009
7.30 p.m. // Final concert with members of the Philharmonic Association of Roma and Sinti, Ffm.

Contribution to the exhibition

August 2, 2009 marked the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the »Gypsy Camp« Auschwitz. In one night alone, approximately 3,000 Roma and Sinti were gassed as part of the intended complete extermination on so-called racial grounds. Three months earlier, the men, women and children at Auschwitz successfully resisted the first attempt at mass murder. More than half a million Roma and Sinti were killed in the Nazi era in a planned, targeted manner and by means of industrially functioning machinery. The exhibition »Frankfurt Auschwitz« was presented for the first time on the occasion of this memorial day on August 11, 2009 in the former police prison Klapperfeld in Frankfurt am Main. The claim of the initiators of »Faites votre jeu« five years ago coincided with the understanding of the exhibition. Lively, socially relevant criticism, historical debate, independence, authenticity and courage formulate common principles. The fact that at the same time the history of the Klapperfeld, with its focus on National Socialism and its use after 1945 up to the deportation prison, was impressively documented, was a congenial addition. The disputes with the municipality and the fight about the existence and the free design of the house marked out the political framework conditions.

Thus developed the beginning of a series of presentations of the exhibition Frankfurt-Auschwitz with the later stations Paulskirche, Memorial 9 November, DGB-Haus, Alte Oper, IG-Farben-Haus, Uni-Bockenheim and – beyond Frankfurt – Documentation Center of the German Sinti and Roma, Heidelberg, Brussels, on the occasion of an EU conference on the situation of Roma, Documentation Center Prora on Rügen and Stadtbücherei, Bad Homburg. Other locations for the next two years will be Wiesbaden, Saarbrücken, Frankfurt, Börsenverein des deutschen Buchhandels and Seeheim-Jugenheim.

Only a few survived and were all too often confronted with the quickly denazified deeds in offices and compensation authorities after 1945. As a rule, little had changed in their attitude toward the victims, apart from the possibility of eliminating an entire population group, which no longer existed. The experience of the second persecution continues to shape the survivors and their children‘s children to this day. Confrontation with basic racist attitudes, discriminatory practices and inhumane generalizations are part of the everyday life of Roma and Sinti. Assigned roles, such as scapegoat, have led to attacks, pogroms and murder for decades – especially in Eastern European countries. In the meantime, it has once again become good manners, even in enlightened circles, to talk about the »Gypsy« and, beyond all historical realities and obligations – especially in Germany – to cite the supposedly character-related personal misconduct, the supposedly »antisocial« behavior of the Roma as reasons for their continued oppression. No one risks anything today by speaking in a derogatory, contemptuous, and generalizing manner toward a group of people that now represents the largest ethnic minority in Europe. The exhibition »Frankfurt Auschwitz« was created against the background described above and intends, in the form of a documentary and artistic part, to exemplify concepts such as guilt, responsibility, individuality, extermination, resistance and perspective.

Above all, before all, and underlying all, lies the civilizational rupture of Auschwitz. It programmatically designates the approach to the artistic part. Kasimir Malevich painted his »black square« in 1915, and it became the symbol of modernity. The black square replaced the icon of »God‘s triangle«, which dominated the darkness that lasted for centuries. Modernity shattered twenty-five years later in the Nazi concentration and extermination camps. The extermination of European Jews, Roma and Sinti, and millions of others cut the path of modernity that could have carried. The images are an outcry and a remembrance towards those who were murdered. The Holocaust precedes all discussion. The images are at the same time rapprochement and destruction.

As unbounded as the crime of extermination by Germans was during the time of National Socialism, as radical was the destruction of culture. The representation is delimitation. To want to understand the extermination presupposes the will of fixation on what happened and at the same time makes clear that what happened does not withstand fixation.

In its artistic part, the exhibition Frankfurt – Auschwitz shows pictures about the extermination of individuals in a pictorial (alienated) form and about the erasure in an abstract form. The first picture »The broken square« (hope, extinction, annihilation, destruction of modernity) opens the access to the representation. Roma and Sinti are in the center of the picture-examination, the liquidation of the »gypsy camp« Auschwitz-Birkenau. The images show wounds that are open, destruction that remains, sites of the deed, the dead that do not remain silent. They are images of the annihilated. The extermination has made wounds in the inner and outer nature of the people who are present. They are testimony of grief and accusation, are cries that do not fall silent.

Penetration and ambivalence in content and form, doubt throughout the production process, destruction, decay, confrontation image by image were the level on which the images were created, which have as their subject individual murdered and the totality of all individuals. The annihilation is at once abstract/objective and pictorial/subjective. The death of the murdered individuals represents in many of the exhibited pictures a unity with the annihilation of all.

It was not the claim of a historically differentiated and complex documentation that moved the initiators. Rather, it was at the same time the manageable and provocative, the comprehensible and contradictorily torn examination of the persecution and extermination of Roma and Sinti under National Socialism as well as their impact history up to the present. The accompaniment of the exhibition by events with Roma and Sinti – which describe the experience of ignorance and mass murder and its traumatic consequences for generations just as authentically as the presentation of years of civil rights work and individual life plans – demonstrates, in addition to document, image, film and art, the core of the counter-information to the prevailing cliché against the »Gypsy«.

Joachim Brenner, Förderverein Roma, Frankfurt am Main
Bernd Rausch, Künstler, Saarbrücken

Source: Publication »Five years of Faites votre jeu!«, published in August 2013 (pages 30/31, original in german language)

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