Don’t close up!

Workshops, Performances and Discussions organized by the Stories Exchange Project

Czech Republic

18 and 19 September 2000

Eva Bajgerova
Romany Advisor
Regional Government Office
Usti nad Labem

I think the worst thing that can happen to Roms is to close up.

There’s one thing that I’m happy about: that young people are willing to communicate – not only with other Roms, but also with whites. I tell them: ‘Communicate, have fun, mingle, live together.’

Let’s help our young people not to close up, please!

In our neighborhood association we work with small kids, and we took them here to Terezin, during the so-called Terezin Days. That’s when everything opens up in here, and there are various activities. We got close to a group of English-speaking people: it was a Jewish group. And there was a guide with them and the head of the Jewish group invited us with the kids to join them. She actually said, ‘Come and walk with us We have a lot in common. We were here as well.’ And the kids got to talking with the Jewish group and they learned about what happened here, how kids lived here.

That was the best way for them to learn what happened here. It was much better than sitting at school and learning history ‘1943 this, 1944 this, 1945 that.’ It was the best way of learning about history, the mingling of these two groups, the Jewish group and the Romany group.

Zuzana Podmelova
Terezin survivor
Lecturer, Jewish Museum, Prague

This girl here – I’m seventy-nine and you’re a girl to me—- when you were talking I felt that you were speaking from my very heart.

Don’t close up, mingle with people. You’re not Roms to me: you’re people to me. And I don’t want you to call me gadja [white woman]: I want you to call me ‘friend.’

I have the same feelings, I have the same pains. I like and dislike very similar things.

We have to get closer, we have to destroy the barriers that are between us. And it’s not only a question of education: it’s a question of trust – and mistrust: and mistrust has to be overcome if we are to start to communicate.

Listening to you makes me really happy. How beautiful your language is, and how close you are to us Jews in everything you’ve said so far. We don’t see any differences. Let’s give all kids equal opportunities to get education, to live the way they live.

What you all have to do is – you have to overcome this complex of being less than others. I had to overcome it, this inferiority complex is a big problem and I managed to overcome it even though there are moments when it still comes back to me. Sometimes I’m not sure that I’m doing the right thing. But I think this complex has to be overcome by opening up: that will make it easy for you to overcome it.

When you played music here today I felt really good. I was singing in my heart. I loved it because it was so beautiful and so enjoyable. You’re so capable. You’re so talented. It’s your culture: your culture is a lot about music. But music is not enough. You have to become one hundred per cent citizens of the Czech Republic.

The most important thing is to stop others from saying “You’re this, and I’m that.” Let’s stop that. Let’s let the world know that you’re the same as others.

This Jewish girl here, she’s seventeen. She has prepared a project. And she has come here with her father because she wanted to meet you. So you see, young white people are interested, and that’s one of the most important things. So please be optimistic. See your future positively. Don’t close up.

This is what I want to say: don’t close up. Try to get close to us. We will do everything to get close to you. There are many of us who have good will and want to cooperate – not only us who are here but many other people: we have to look for them.

Zuzana Elbertova

I’ve come here on the invitation of the Jewish Museum. I’ve been working on a project called Vanished Neighbors. This was a project that were offered to us at school. We were told that we were to write the story of a family who had disappeared during World War II. Because I am from a Jewish family, and my father is, we had already been talking about things like that and this gave us the idea to really go ahead and do it. My father helped me a lot.

My father learned that he was of Jewish descent only about ten years ago. In the early 90’s friends of his father told him what had happened to his family. It’s a sad story.

My grandfather, the father of my father, came from Slovakia but we don’t know much about his past and we don’t think we’ll be able to find out.

My grandmother, my father’s mother, comes from Hungary and her entire family perished in Auschwitz, in the gas chamber.

She was a forced laborer in an aircraft engine factory in Berlin, and then towards the end of the war this labor camp was being liquidated and all the inmates had to take the death march. But my grandmother managed to escape.

Later she was caught again and ended up in a small town and said that she were in a labor camp and got lost when the place was being liquidated. People believed her and let her work in the kitchen there until the village was liberated by the Red Army.

My grandmother ended up back in Berlin, and then in the town in Hungary where she was born. That’s where she learned that both her parents died in Auschwitz and her brother Peter died fighting on the border between Hungary and Austria. So she lost her entire family and all their property.

She worked in Budapest for awhile in a clinic and then she moved to Bratislava, met my grandfather and started to work as an accountant in his company. They got married and had a child, Tomas, my father. But she was really haunted by the past. She converted to Roman Catholicism and had my father baptized because she wanted to protect him in case anything like that happened again to the Jews.

But she never told him about this, and all the documentation that was preserved in the family was hidden from him, and he never knew until quite recently, from a friend of his father.

I’m glad I could tell the story of my family, because I think it is important to speak about things like that.

Mr. Elbert [Zuzana’s father]

I’ve always felt that I was missing a family. All my relatives had grandparents and aunts and I never had anybody. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in why that was. Only after I was told did I begin to be more interested in the story—and in the history of World War II. Only now am I searching for roots.

I used to feel that I didn’t have the same understanding of things as other people. It’s only now that I’m realizing why that was.

Emilie Horackova

I was also affected by the past, by the fact that my father, a Rom, was deported with his family to Auschwitz.

His entire family perished as well: only my father survived. He was then just ten years old. And from Auschwitz he was sent to Buchenwald and then to Dachau. He went through the most atrocious camps there were.

So the War deprived me of a family on my father’s side.

It also affected me in another way.
After my father met my mother and I was born, he was somehow lost for me. All the experiences he had when he was liberated from Dachau – I don’t even know where he was brought up: this all influenced him. And in sixty-eight when the borders were opened and I was just one year old my father left the country.

So I understand what you mean when you say you felt differently about certain things. I was also confused in that way. And even though my mother lived here I always felt that I was different. And I think I have been deprived of many things because of this family history.

But I’m also richer in many ways by having looked into it.

About a month ago I talked in Prague with one of my father’s friends. He said, “When we were in the camp together he stole dog food and took it back to the rest of us in another part of the camp.”

This little really took me by surprise. Otherwise the only thing I have from my father is his name.

I’ve never seen him; I just have a couple of pictures.

Zuzana Podmelova

You said it made you richer in a way. And I don’t know what I would have been like if I hadn’t gone through the experience of Terezin.

For us this was school. We learned to live in a community: we learned to share. There was a feeling of cohesion, of helping one another I learned not to think only of myself and my own benefit.

And Helga Hoskova here: she was only a child then. And now she has a large family, and should be with them. But she sees it as her duty to talk about these experiences.

I work at the Jewish Museum. Many German visitors come there, and it took me a while before I could overcome my hostility when I saw Germans crying over the information about the thousands of people who perished. But then I saw one young woman, and I was able to go to her and console her. I told her that she was not to blame, and that this is not going to happen again.

All of us who went through this experience – I think we brought back a lot. We learned a lot for our future lives.

I don’t know to what extent or how much you believe in God – but for some reason it was just myself who survived. We were seventeen members in my family, and I’m the only one who survived, and so I try to work hard not to be sad, to give some hope to other people that this is not going to happen again.

It’s not a Jewish issue, it’s a human issue – and so it’s also your issue: a Romany issue.

But there’s only one world, and we’re all part of it.

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