In 1945, Walter Winter, a German Roma (actually, Sinto) who survived Auschwitz along with his brother Erich, came back home. At Cloppenburg “the lads with whom we had gone to school and played football were now local authority civil servants”, he remember in his Memoirs, Winter Time. But this fact didn’t make easier the hard effort to recuperate their property, families and lives after so much suffering: Walter and Erich were send to several concentration and extermination camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen), before been forced to serve as soldiers on the Russian front in April 1945. Miraculously, both of them survived.
When they returned, the local authorities, supposedly denazificated, tried to register them as “stateless” because their Sinti origin: “They knew precisely who we were –Walter wrote in his Memoirs-. Nevertheless, they wanted to register my brother Erich and myself as being stateless”.
“I said, ‘Just a minute! You’re not going to write that! Don’t you dare write that (…). Didn’t we go to school together? Didn’t we play football together?’
‘And didn’t we used to live here? Didn’t we grow up here?’
‘And do you want to write stateless! Don´t you dare! We were born here!’ – I brought my fist down the table with a loud bang (…).
‘All right’, he said, ‘all right, all right!’
(…) He then wrote German”.
The personal combination of decision and self-control, that probably helped him to survive during the prior years, also served to “re-conquest” the German nationality in 1945. But his case wasn’t common. As Thomas Neumann and Michael Zimmermann, the historians who edited WinterZeit (the German original edition was published in 1999), quoted in the Postscript (“Sinti and Roma in Post-War Germany”) the defeat of the Nazi regime didn´t mean the recognition of all its victims. Particularly, the Roma people. They were not only denied victim status (arguing that their persecution was not for racial reasons but for their “asocial” and criminal behaviour), but also they continued to be confronted with repression and discrimination. “More over, the same ‘Gypsy specialist’ remained in the Criminal Police after the war and continued the so-called ‘campaign against the Gypsy nuisance’ which, during the Nazi period, had been responsible for the recording, registering and collection of data on all ‘Gypsy and vagrants’ in the Third Reich and which led to their persecution, deportation and subsequent genocide. These officials also often appeared as ‘experts’ in compensation proceedings allowing the perpetrators to determine the validity of survivors’ claims” (p.153).
Some times words seem unnecessary, but in our days they are more necessary than ever. Open societies need to deal with their past but, even more, to connect the past with the present.
Is not of less importance to think and be careful about the meanings of the words we use.