Johann "Kalitsch" Horvath

Johann Horvath, in his lifetime known as "Kalitsch" by most of the inhabitants of the Burgenland county town Oberwart (Austria), undoubtedly belongs to those people who are commonly called "originals". Until his death in 1983 he was one of the most important persons of authority in the Roma settlement Oberwart [Burgenland-Roma]

His biography, including some contradictory details, was marked by the internment in concentration camps and overshadowed by terrible strokes of fate: born in 1912, he married his first wife Juliana in 1935 and founded a family (Johann, born in 1933, Theresia, born in 1935, Irene, born in 1938). Deported to Auschwitz during the National Socialist era, he was the only one of his family to survive the horrors of the camp.

After his return, Kalitsch not only had to deal with the loss of his wife and children, but he also was left with nothing – no accommodation and no income. When the 20 survivors of the formerly 300 settled Roma came back to Oberwart, the houses of the "gypsy colony" längst dem Erdboden gleichgemacht worden. had all been destroyed. This is why Kalitsch and the others were lodged in the barracks next to the knackery.

With great efforts Johann Horvath tried to make a new life for himself and acquired a humble prosperity – at least compared to his comrades. In the 1950ies he managed to buy a plot of land and build a small house, after having commuted to Vienna until his retirement, working as an unskilled worker on building sites.

Kalitsch at this point was living with his first wife’s sister, and was the father of another five children (Karl, Helene, Alexander, Johann, Ludwig). In 1966 he married his partner Elizabeth (1924-1985), called "Lulu". During the 1980ies he had to endure another stroke of fate when his daughter Helene died under tragic circumstances at a young age. She left him five children for who Kalitsch and "Lulu" cared until the end of their lives. In March 1983 Johann Horvath died at the age of 71 because of lung cancer.

Notwithstanding the tragic experiences during National Socialist perecution Johann Horvath kept his unbroken optimism and his joie de vivre. His lovable character made him an outstanding and very popular person. In view of his terrible experiences, his family’s well-being was always his priority. Resignation was an unknown word for him, and he wouldn’t accept it from his children. On many matters Johann Horvath’s judgement carried weight; but he had also earned the Gadže's respect, who realized that he played an important role in the settlement and thus called him "mayor", referring to an old tradition.

Those who knew Kalitsch personally particularly remember his pronounced hospitality and how fond he was of children. Kalitsch’s house was, as a meeting point for the young and the old, the true center of the Roma settlement over decades. There was always a pot of coffee on the stove, where the guests helped themselves. Also serving brandy was a tradition of the house. When the living room was full, the now grown-up children of that time tell, he was in his elements. The passionate storyteller captivated the audience with funny or instructive, sometimes ribald stories. Without intending to, Kalitsch thus made a great contribution to the preservation and passing-on of Roman (Romani variety of the Burgenland-Roma) and the oral tradition to younger generations.

Music was another of Johann Horvath’s passions. Income permitting, he liked to buy new instruments. Together with his son, Kalitsch maintained the tradition of the "Neujahrsspiele" (New Year’s Concert), in the circle of his old friends he often sang songs about the concentration camp. Also, his long stays in the inn "Zambo" and his penchant for card games became legendary.

In the course of research on the conditions of life of the Burgenland-Roma in the 60ies and 70ies, the journalist Mirjam Wiegele met Johann Horvath. Contrary to most Roma, who shy away from the public, Kalitsch made no secret of his bitter experiences. His openness towards strangers, in this case even a journalist, was extraordinary. Through Mirjam Wiegele, Kalitsch’s accounts reached the general public. Her articles appeared in various newspapers and magazines, stirred the public, and started a process of critical examination of the fate of "Austria’s long-forgotten minority". A long-lasting friendship between Kalitsch and Mirjam Wiegele resulted from their professional contact.

More than 30 years ago Mozes Heinschink met Johann Horvath. This meeting resulted in records of Kalitsch with the help of which at least a part of his repertoire of fairy tales and songs will not fall into oblivion. One of "Kalitsch's" favorite fairy tales, the "Märchen vom dummen Hansi", along with other fairies and songs was published in 2000 in the collection "O Rom taj o beng / Der Rom und der Teufel" and in the subsequent CD "Schun, so me phukavav ... / Hör, was ich erzähle ..." by the Romani Project Graz. With these collections, "Kalitsch" the storyteller, the "mayor", the contemporary witness, the grandfather figure, and the beloved authority posthumously received the tribute he is entitled to.


(2000) Johann "Kalitsch" Horvath. In: Romani Patrin 2, pp. 4-7.
Mayerhofer, Claudia (1988) Dorfzigeuner. Kultur und Geschichte der Burgenland-Roma von der Ersten Republik bis zur Gegenwart, Wien.
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Johann "Kalitsch" Horvath (1912-1983) and children of the Roma settlement in Oberwart (Burgenland [Austria]), 1974
Mozes Heinschink, Johann "Kalitsch" Horvath (1912-1983), Mirjam Wiegele, Elisabeth "Lulu" Horvath