Academic journal article Framework

Quintessential Strangers: The Representation of Romanies and Jews in Some Holocaust Films

Academic journal article Framework

Quintessential Strangers: The Representation of Romanies and Jews in Some Holocaust Films

Article excerpt

I sat through nearly ten hours of Claude Lanzmann's magnificent film Shoah hoping to collect some Gypsy references, but to no avail . . . we, too, need a documentary like Shoah.

Ian Hancock (1987, 13)

I want to be able to watch epics such as Schindler's List and learn that Gypsies were a central part of the Holocaust, too; or [watch] other films[.. .]and not hear the word 'Gypsy' except once, and then only as the name of somebody's dog.

Ian Hancock (1996, 59)

The Jews have responded to persecution and dispersal with a monumental industry of remembrance. The Gypsies-with their peculiar mixture of fatalism and the spirit, or wit, to seize the day-have made an art of forgetting.

Isabel Fonseca (1995, 276)

One Holocaust, as we have come to learn at our cost, hides others, one image's symbolic force may obscure another reality. To reclaim the truth of the suffering of the European Sinti and Romani is not to make it 'compete' with that of the European Jews.

Thomas Elsaesser (1999)

Ian Hancock's statements regarding Shoah and Schindler's List, 'both of which have already been canonized as the best films ever made on the Holocaust' (Loshitzky 1997, 105), call attention to the irony that even in the age of commodified victimhood there are still hidden victims. The suffering of some victims, implies Hancock, a Romani scholar and activist, is more publicly recognized and acknowledged and therefore more visible on our film and television screens and ultimately on our memory screens. Not all minorities and not all victims have easy access to the media and consequently to global consciousness and conscience. Blinding ethnocentrism is at work even among ethnic minorities with a history of persecution who very often compete for the dubious 'honour' of being crowned as the 'ultimate victims.' Hancock's statements, which call for a wider public recognition of the Romani Porrajmos (the Romani word for the Holocaust), in which more than 250,000 Romanies found their death from Nazi terror,1 reinforces the notion that for many people nothing has really happened until it has happened on screen.

Whereas the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust has been acknowledged on screen, reaching its climax with the unprecedented global success of Schindler's List (Loshitzky, 1997), the Romani Porrajmos has never been a major topic of any feature film to this day. The reasons for this sad state of affairs are quite obvious, reflecting the marginality assigned to and forced upon the Romani people everywhere in the world and in Europe in particular.2 The fact that there are very few high-profile Romani filmmakers is of course another reason for the absence of the Porrajmos from the film screens. However, the fact that there is only one internationally known Gypsy filmmaker (Tony Gatlif) is in part a symptom of the marginality and invisibility suffered by the Gypsies. Another reason is grounded, perhaps, in what many scholars (mostly non-Romanies, i.e. Trumpener, 1992; Fonseca, 1995) see as the anti-memory or forgetting type of culture which characterizes, according to them, the 'Gypsy way of life' based on oral tradition. Furthermore, since the Romani survivors of the Holocaust were deprived of education and social status, 'there is little in the way of diaries or memoirs to keep the experience in the public domain' (Younge 2003, G3). Another possible, yet rather disturbing, explanation is related to what some Romani scholars, and Hancock (1996) in particular, call 'Jewish exclusivism,' namely the desire to prevent 'dejudaization' of the Holocaust. Exclusivists, notably among them the historian Yehuda Bauer (1980), argue that the Porrajmos is 'fundamentally different' from the Holocaust itself and that the Gypsies were less persecuted than the Jews, the 'supreme victims' of the Holocaust, in Elie Wiesel's (as quoted in Hancock, 1987a, 10) words.

Why the Romany have not been as vocal as the Jews in making the world recognize their Holocaust is a question frequently raised by Romani activists. …

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