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7 June

In Words and Pictures

History seminar and launch of Otto Pankok Art Exhibition at Greenwich University. As in previous years Greenwich University hosted a History seminar - again hosted by Professor of Romani studies Thomas Acton.

This years seminar was on a theme of Persecution and Genocide as triggers of Romani History.


Sinti and Roma children who were abused by SS Doctor Mengele in medical experiments in Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp (Mengele was the camp doctor of the section B II e which was called "Zigeunerlager": "Gypsy camp" by the SS).

Artworks by Otto Pankok


Otto's work is on display until 26 June

The Programme of the Day

  • Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma “Telling the German Public about the Holocaust against the Sinti and Roma”
  • Janna Eliot, translator of Settala , and the author of Settela's Last Road, based on it, “The face of the victims”.

SettelaThe Sinti girl Settela S. on the deportation train from the camp Westerbork in the Netherlands to Auschwitz on 19th May 1944. She was murdered there in the gas chambers in August 1944.

  • Dr Brian Belton, YMCA George Williams College: “Earlier persecutions of Gypsies/Travellers in England and their legacy today.”
  • “A Butterfly Flaps its Wings” – a photography exhibition by Zsuzsanna Ardó which was be projected onscreen during the lunch hour.
  • Valdemar Kalinin, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham Education services: “The Soviet Romani contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany”.
  • Dr Ethel Brooks, Rutgers University: “The uses and meaning of testimony on genocide, reflecting on material from the Shoah visual Archive”
  • Gabor Boros of the Boros Ensemble: “The links between the nineteenth century Magyar appropriation of Romani music and Hungarian anti-Gypsyism today”
  • Damien LeBas jr. of Travellers Times: “Did it all change? Reflections on the new Romani historiography.”
  • Launch of All Change: Romani History through Romani eyes, the collection of papers from the 2008 Greenwich Gypsy, Roma Traveller History Month Seminar, which has just been published by the University of Hertfordshire Press.
  • Private View: Stephen Lawrence Gallery in the University of Greenwich The Otto Pankok Sinti Exhibition, Curated by Moritz Pankok

Otto Pankok exhibitionFollowing the seminar many of those present were able to enjoy music from Sinti musicians and refreshments whilst attending the launch of the second GRTHM flagship Holocaust exhibition – the first showing in Britain of the work of the German artist Otto Pankok. The exhibition was opened by Otto’s great nephew Moritiz Pankok and the key speaker from Germany Mr Romani Rose from the Documentation and Cultural centre. He spoke of Otto Pankok's significant support for the Sinti people throughout the period of NAZI rule and after.

The Context of the Seminar

The new Gypsy/Roma/Sinte/Traveller politics of the second half of the 20th century is often attributed to the realization that the Nazi Holocaust showed that old survival strategies no longer worked. This took a while to seep through. At first people just wanted to forget, then the terrible necessity of remembering became evident. As with the Jews, the testimony of survivors began to be recorded, provoked partly by the beginnings of holocaust denial and historical revisionism, some of it from unlikely quarters. But while some Jewish scholars sought competitively to minimise Romani suffering, others, such as Miriam Novitch and Donald Kenrick were pioneers in documenting the Porraimos.


Deportation of the Remscheid Sinti and Roma to Auschwitz in March 1943.

Putting the Romani holocaust into historical context, however, required a much more general critique of the accepted story of the Roma. For the Nazi holocaust was hardly the first genocide of Gypsies. Attention turned to the genocidal persecution of Gypsies/Roma/Travellers in the 16th century, as Europe’s nation states were being born, and the historical aftermath of marginalisation and slavery, which equally had to be acknowledged with pain. Mateo Maximoff, himself interned in a Vichy concentration camp, was the first Rom to write about the Nazi holocaust after 1945. During his life as a writer he moved from early denial of his family’s slave past to making it the subject of one of his most important novels Le Prix de la Liberté.

The qualitative difference between genocide, and mere persecution and marginalisation began to emerge. A different set of questions were posed about origins were posed in our 2008 seminar. A revised general narrative of the last 500 years of Romani history saw existing Gypsy/Romani/Traveller group identities as beginning to take their modern form through the survival strategies in different countries after the 16th century genocides, and then being thrown into the melting-pot by the 20th century genocides – which are not yet concluded, as we hear of the UN’s ongoing complicity in the slow poisoning of Roma in the concentration camps at Mitrovica, and listen to the ranting of Italian fascists in government again. And yet we balk at a Romani history which will define Gypsies/Roma/Sinte/Travellers just by their victimisation.

But although it may be the experience of racism, anti-Black, anti-Jewish, anti-Gypsy which brings those groups together politically, racism cannot be allowed to define them. Like Black History Month, Gypsy/Roma/Traveller Month seeks to bring together the diverse experience and cultural achievements of different groups. Through real, critical history we can dispel the “mystery” of the past, and by looking at its historical roots deconstruct contemporary racism, and put another narrative of community relations in its place. This is the challenge that faces the speakers at our seminar.