Thursday, November 29, 2012

Remembering Settela; Refelctions Upon Visiting the New Monument to the Genocide of the Roma-Sinti in Berlin

by Richelle Budd Caplan, Director, European Department, International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem

On this overcast, misty morning in the heart of Berlin, I could feel the eyes of Anna Maria “Settela” Steinbach staring at me from the sky. Settela was born in Limburg, the Netherlands, in 1934. Settela was deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz-Birkenau on May 19, 1944 together with other members of her family.

The iconic photograph of “Settela” has appeared in so many films documenting the deportation of Nazi victims to exterminations camps. In essence, her face has become a “child Madonna,” symbolizing the many train shipments of “human cargo” to be murdered in Nazi-controlled Poland during the 1940s.

Although for decades Settela’s identity was assumed to be that of a Jewish girl, in 1994 a Dutch journalist, Arie Huibrecht Dignus “Aad” Wagenaar, uncovered that Settela Steinbach came from a Sinti family.

The new memorial to the genocide of the Sinti and Roma, adjacent to the Brandenberg Gate and the Reichstag, designed by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan, places an emphasis on the unknown faces of the victims. The poem by the Italian poet, Santino Spinelli, encircles the pool of water, mirroring the endless sky. Just as in other memorial basins, visitors have thrown coins, leaving their wishes and hopes. The names of ghettos and camps where Sinti-Roma genocide victims were persecuted and killed are engraved in stones that form the circumference of this newly dedicated memorial.

Somber, but not overpowering music filtered by speakers placed on tree trunks creates an appropriate mood for those who enter. The trees in the Tiergarten Park greet the visitors as if to say, “We have been waiting for you.”

This memorial has been a long time in the making, and it provides a central place to commemorate the genocide of the Roma-Sinti under National Socialism. It is hoped that many school groups will visit this memorial, especially after studying about Nazi racist ideology and legislation, listening to the voices of the victims and learning about families who once lived in Europe, like the Steinbachs from the Netherlands.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jarmila’s Diary

"I pray every night. I believe in God. But nobody knows about it. With a heavy heart I showed my first and second entry in my diary, but I’ll never show the third one. But I have to return to what I want to write about. So, I believe in God. My teacher influenced me. Not only me, but the entire class. Before the first session, just before school starts, we pray. That would be nothing. She mentions God frequently, and many girls now believe. I am not attending Religion classes, but I can still believe in God. I pray every night (in the morning I do not have time to pray). At first I wanted to hide it since in our family nobody believes in God except our German maid whose name is Kristl. She believes in God.
So for now, goodbye my diary, now I am going to read fairy tales. I love to read."

An excerpt from Jarmila’s diary, dated Dec. 31, 1934 (translation by Alice Lutwak):

Czech Holocaust diary given a permanent home in Israel

by Andrew Silow-Carroll in the New Jersey Jewish News

For decades, Alice Lutwak’s family protected two diaries — one leather-bound, the other wrapped in patchwork cloth — written by a young girl in prewar Czechoslovakia. Beginning on Christmas Day 1934 when she was 11, Jarmila Steinova wrote about her grades, school trips, her faith, and the growing menace from Nazi Germany, which inspired her to write a poem: “The Germans with their raised fists are screaming.We are not worried about their threats.”   Eight years later, Jarmila and her family would be deported first to Terezin, and then to Auschwitz. Read more here in this moving article by Andrew Silow-Carroll.

In April 2011, Yad Vashem embarked on an 11th hour rescue operation to collect personal items from the Holocaust era.  Since its inception, the Israeli national "Gathering the Fragments" campaign has received more than 65,000 photographs, documents, works of art, artifacts and other personal items from 4,100 individuals in Israel. The campaign was created to reveal the unique stories that lie behind each obect, and preserve the items themselves for future generations in order to enable researchers, educators and the general public to learn more about the fate of the Jewish individuals and communities destroyed as well as those that survived and thereby ensure that they are not forgotten.

To learn more about donating personal items to the Gathering Fragments Campaign write