“…don’t forget the photos, it’s very important…” – The National Socialist Persecution of Central German Sinti and Roma
Between the mid-1930s and the end of the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma (“Gypsies”) fell victim to the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime and its allies. This exhibition presents the experiences of nine German Sinti and Roma families under National Socialism and and the post-war experiences of the survivors. It draws on a unique collection of photographs in the University of Liverpool Library. The photographs were taken mainly in and around Dessau-Rosslau, Anhalt, between 1932 and 1939, by the photo-journalist Hanns Weltzel. Weltzel took a keen interest in these marginalised people and formed close relationships with them, documenting their lives both on film and in print. Through his contact with members of the Gypsy Lore Society, based in Liverpool, a number of his pictures came to be in the UK.
Taken at a time when the Nazi regime was already persecuting “Gypsies”, Hanns Weltzel’s photos show a mutual respect between photographer and subjects, in sharp contrast to the state propaganda designed to represent Sinti and Roma as criminal and workshy. They are intimate documents of daily life, work and leisure, of normality sustained against a backdrop of ever worsening living conditions.
In 1943, the people in Weltzel’s photographs were among the first to be deported en masse to the “Gypsy Family Camp” in Auschwitz-Birkenau, following years of harassment, internment and abuse. Though often horrifying and tragic, their stories also include examples of courage and survival, of resistance and escape. In this sense they are representative of the wider experience of the genocide of Europe’s Sinti and Roma between the 1930s and 1945.
In 2016 Jana Müller, of the Alternatives Jugendzentrum Dessau (Alternative Youth Centre Dessau), and Eve Rosenhaft from the University of Liverpool began to develop the exhibition, bringing together work they had both been doing independently. Public and private archives and the memories of survivors helped to identify the people in Weltzel’s photographs and provide information about what happened to them.
Juxtaposing Weltzel’s photos with official photos and documents, the exhibition shows the systematic processes behind the removal, and ultimate murder, of the people in the pictures. The documents are evidence of the way in which everyday racism slid too easily into “scientific” racism and outright persecution, helped along by ordinary people for whom the “Gypsies” were unwelcome neighbours.
The images and texts are presented on 25 two-sided pop-up banners measuring 100 x 215 cm each. The full exhibition requires a space of about 180m2. The pop-ups fall into distinct groups, as follows: Title + 4 / 5 / 4 / 4 / 4 / 3 . This allows for relative flexibility in their placement. It is also possible to reduce the overall size of the exhibition by excluding up to 4 of the family histories (up to 7 pop-ups). The banners are bi-lingual (English and German). For display in the UK, there is an additional title banner, and an English-language fold-out guide to the exhibition can also be provided for visitors.
The 35-minute documentary What Happened to Unku can be made available for viewing in the exhibition space, or as part of an associated programme of events. The film can also be viewed independently on YouTube (see YouTube Films).
A smaller version of the exhibition is available. This comprises 6 double-sided 100 x 215 cm pop-up banners, and includes the stories of two families.