The Lovara family Stojka is among the best known artist families in Austria. Ceija, Karl and Mongo are known to art lovers in the whole of Europe as sculptors, writers and singers. Karl Ratzer, Karl’s son, and Harri Stojka, Mongo’s son, have inherited their father’s artistic talent and are today renowned jazz musicians. Additionally, Ceija, Karl and Mongo Stojka untiringly serve as contemporary witnesses at various functions, on the radio and in schools and, with their commitment, shape political ideas, tolerance and democracy.
The Stojkas are relatives of that group of Lovara who emigrated from Hungary and Slovenia to Austria in the second half of the 19th century [History of the Vlach-Roma] Until the beginning of the 20th century almost all Lovara families worked as horse dealers. After that time, following a wandering trade became increasingly difficult. The Roma should be made to settle or else leave the country. In order to inhibit traveling, their draught and pack animals were taken away. The Stojka family managed longer than others to avoid the authorities and to continue with their traditional professions. This is why in Ceija’s, Karl’s and Mongo’s memories terrible experiences alternate with times of happiness and luck in the years up to 1939.
"My brother Karl tells the story of his birth (note: 1930):
"A river flows through Wampersdorf, which marks the border between Lower Austria and Burgenland. On the Lower Austrian side there was a camp where our families stopped off. My mother was shortly before delivery, and went into the caravan. (...) When I was born, the women wrapped me in a white linen cloth and shouted from the caravan: Wakar, bale Schawo si tu, najis Deweleske! – Wakar, you have a son again, God be blessed! Father took me, ran to the river and washed me. He also put me under several times. This is what he told us later at the campfire. I had curly, golden hair and thus was the pride of the Gilestschi. Mother was overjoyed. Now I was her great love. Father also loved me very much, but his favorite was Mongo, whom he rarely let out of his sight. (...) For my baptism, Petak sold four horses, his son Garli three, Leitschi sold two and father sold three horses. The baptism lasted several day. Many Rom[a] and Sinti came to the celebration. They danced and sang. Father was so proud."" (Mongo Stojka, 2000)
Mongo was born in 1929, Karl in 1930 and Ceija Stojka in 1933. Together with their older sisters, Mitzi and Kati, and a younger brother Ossi, their parents and grand-parents they were the family nucleus. Most journeys were undertaken with the whole family. Friendly, and related families banded together to some sort of economic society, which shared the knowledge and experiences – concerning campsites, markets, horse dealing and rearing, but also concerning customs and traditions – and passed this on to the children and the children’s children. The mother, Sidi, is described as a strong, cheerful and tradition-conscious woman in her children’s memories; even though she was illiterate she radiated a feeling of safety and security because of her vision and intelligence. The most formative influence for their development was probably their father, Wakar Horvath:
"Our father, born in 1909, had been a modern and open-minded man already in his youth. He was able to read and write, which was not self-evident, as between the wars the authorities were very lenient as far as the "gypsies" compulsory school attendance was concerned. When our father turned twenty, the Rom[a] were still living very strongly in their tradition. So, for many Rom he was a model. Wakal knew how to dress fashion-consciously and tastefully. Most of the time he was wearing suits from England. (...) The Rom who knew him admired him."
IIn traditional Roma societies, school education was not held in high regard for various reasons. Firstly, of course, because the influence of the Gadže-teachers was not to be controlled, and because of their distrust of official institutions [Gadscho (Gadžo)-Das-Gor]. Secondly, education for the Roma was and still is integrated in a very different system of values, and refers to a knowledge that is passed on by word of mouth; which is – compared to the understanding of education of the Non-Roma – by far more concerned with the present and everyday life. These two understandings of education do not necessarily exclude each other, a fact which is proven by the Stojka family up to this day.
Apart from the desire for education, their father’s artistic talent and his self-confident manner rubbed off on Ceija, Karl and Mongo Stojka. Knowing one’s worth is almost impossible for members of discriminated minorities because of oftentimes insurmountable obstacles. And all their lives it would have been easy for the Stojka family to find more than enough reasons for capitulating and staying "in hiding": for instance the subliminal prejudices they could come to terms with up to a certain degree, or massive discrimination up to the systematic extinction which caused an almost total extinction of the Stojka family. The suffering, the degree of which can only be guessed by outsiders, is present up to this day. Only because of the strong will to live and the strong personalities of the surviving members of the Stojka family it is not the pain that gets the better of them and prevents all contact with the majority population.
In 1939, the children were suddenly shaken out of their carefree youth and the security of the family. Ceija Stojka remembers: ["Racial-biological evaluation" of the Gypsies]
"At that time, in 1939, we were somewhere in Styria; and my family heard that we were not allowed to travel about anymore. It got worse and worse for us, so one day my father decided to go to Vienna. (...) One day, the Gestapo came to fetch our father from the camping place. They came in a small car and shoved him into it. We children stood there, crying tears for our father. He waved at us once again, then they drove off with him. We never saw him again. The Gestapo put a Spanish fence around our small wooden house and forbid us to be outside of this fence. Yes, we already felt Auschwitz in freedom. The people of the SS often carried out raids. They pushed in our door, tore us from our beds, shone their battery lights into our faces. It got less and less bearable. (...) The message that our father was dead was dreadful. For days we were in an indescribable stupor. We never got over our father’s death. (...) In 1941 the Gestapo came to us to the Paletzgasse. At 6 o’clock in the morning they pushed in our door. They had extremely big battery light in their hands, and shouted at us children: "Hurry, hurry. Get up! Where is your mother?" (...) Now they drove us to Roßauer Lände, to prison. The small children cried, we only wore very little. I wouldn’t be able to tell this once more, because in my memories I re-live everything as if it had happened yesterday. If I were able to write down all my thoughts, this surely would be an endless book of suffering. But my memories run faster than my hands on the paper. (...) When the room was filled to such an extent that not even a mouse could have squeezed in, the transport to Auschwitz was arranged. We were squeezed into a wagon, I had lost one of my shoes and couldn’t find it. I couldn’t even bend down, it was that crowded in the wagon. After a long journey the train finally stopped. We were begging for water, we were almost dead from thirst and hunger. They calmed us and said: "The water is too rusty, perhaps you can get water at the next station." That’s the way it went until Auschwitz."
Ceija later was deported to Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen, Karl and Mongo survived the concentration camps Auschwitz,, Buchenwald, and Flossenbürg and the ensuing march of death. They barely avoided death themselves, and had to watch almost their whole family being murdered.
"I was an innocent child of only 11 years, when Hitler’s Nazis arrested me in school, abducted me, stole me my name and turned me into a number and a slave, made me hunger, beat and tortured me. The Nazis had murdered my father and my brother. They had taken everything I loved and treasured from me. I didn’t have a past anymore, no present, and even less so a future."
How did Ceija, Karl and Mongo Stojka’s life continue? They were left with nothing and had lost not only their family but also the carriers and guardians of their culture. A life as they had kown and loved was unthinkable. To make matters worse, the genocide of Roma and Sinti was not present in the consciousness of Austria’s population. Application for reparations were dismissed with threadbare arguments, bureaucratic delays or by Nazi-like comments. Notwithstanding the constant discrimination, the ignorance and the cynicism, Ceija, Karl and Mongo Stojka were able to build a new life for themselves and to again find their joie de vivre. In an interview with historian and film-director Karin Berger Ceija Stojka tells about the liberation by the Allies:
"We survived with whatever mother brought from her acquaintances who were not in a concentration camp. All over Austria there was a famine. (...) Somehow we managed. If you survive in a concentration camp, you can also survive in freedom." (Ceija Stojka, 1988)
In order to make up what she had missed, Ceija herself decides to go to school again in 1945, and slowly the rest of the family find their way and open up new prospects. They found a new economic pillar in trading carpets and cloth, and founded own families in the following years. They continued to travel about, but instead of horse carriages they used cars. In the beginning they drove together, later they visited markets all over Austria with their families. The experiences made as children at horse markets certainly helped Ceija, Karl and Mongo to become accepted and successful business people.
However, other – artistic – talents lay dormant, which should only surface later. Their children, not directly concerned by the horrors of the National Socialist regime, could display their talents earlier. Karl Ratzer, Karl’s son, and Harri Stojka, Mongo’s son, achieved world fame as jazz musicians.
In the mid 1980ies the Stojkas wanted more and more to express the horrors they had had to suffer and not to accept the population’s ignorance concerning this suffering. Karl turned to art in 1985, and Ceija – as first Austrian Romni published her autobiography in 1988 – that is at a time when the public was not aware of the history, particularly during National Socialism, of the Roma and Sinti. Concerning the National Socialist persecution of Austrian Roma and Sinti there were only two monographies published at that time: Selma Steinmetz’ "Österreichs Zigeuner im NS-Staat" (1966) and Erika Thurners "Nationalsozialismus und Zigeuner in Österreich" (1983), both of no influence outside the academic circles.
Ceija Stojka’s autobiography was innovative in another way, too: in traditional Lovara society her writing, and on top of that for a Gadže audience, was the breach of a taboo. Drawing other’s attention to oneself was considered a man’s job and was only acceptable for women if they were asked to do so. Ceija Stojka answers Karin Berger’s question if there was one particular moment for her when she began writing:
"I wanted to talk to someone. But there was no one there to listen to me – and you can say whatever you like on paper. At first it was difficult, but once I had started my memory jolted into action. (...) I only wrote for half an hour at a time, then I already had to cook. While I was cooking or serving food or doing the washing-up, I stored my memories in me, my thoughts were already with my papers. (...) Then I ordered all those papers, took one and went to my brother. Karl, I said, would you be so nice and read that? – That scribbling, throw it away! – Yes? And I was embarrassed by my scribbling and went away. Still, I kept all my papers and stored them in the kitchen, where no one else would linger. And whenever I had a new page ready, I added it to the pile. In the end, nobody could stop me." (Ceija Stojka, 1988)
Ceija Stojka had extraordinary things to tell, and people listened to her. "Wir leben im Verborgenen" (1988) caused a stir in German-speaking countries. For the first time, a Romni opposed this life "in hiding", opposed oppression and silence. Ceija Stojka’s autobiographies – in 1992 the second part "Reisende auf dieser Welt", was published – had a great part in the development that Austria’s Roma increasingly brought their situation before the public in the following years, in order to draw attention to their history and present situation and to point out the failings and duties of society.
Ceija’s brothers followed suite: in 1994, Karl Stojka published his autobiography "Auf der ganzen Welt zu Hause", in 2000 Mongo Stojka’s "Papierene Kinder" appeared. These books are not only extraordinary as far as their content is concerned, but also concerning their style. Unsentimental, terrifyingly detailed descriptions alternate with personal and intimate passages. The oral tradition of the Lovara, which can be associatively expansive and very direct at the same time, is reflected in their writing. Apart from their literary qualities, Ceija, Karl and Mongo’s publications made an important contribution to the general public’s knowledge of the Roma’s and Sinti's culture and history, and served to anchor the injustice they suffered in people’s minds.
They emphasize this matter of concern in the following years through other artistic activities. Ceija and Karl Stojka also became known as artists. Their pictures of memories fill the public with enthusiasm because of their artistic qualities and at the same time upset because of their content. They show the horror in a merciless, direct and personal way, so that a distant contemplation is impossible. Today, Ceija, Karl and Mongo’s pictures are famous from Europe over America even to Japan. It is a particular honor for Karl Stojka that his works have been exhibited in the Capitol in Washington. In 1992 Karl Stojka was awarded the highest decoration of the Holocaust Memorial Center and in 1999 he was awarded the academic title of honor, "Professor". Also Ceija and Mongo’s works received numerous prizes.
After literature and art, music is the third artistic field of activity. The traditional Lovara music has been an integral part of their daily life since their childhood. Encouraged by an increasingly sensitized public and by the success of their literature and pictures, Ceija, Karl and Mongo brought the traditional music of their ancestors out into the open. Concerts and CD productions followed.
In view of the pain they suffered and the public humiliations which lasted over decades, Ceija, Karl and Mongo Stojka’s untiring commitment in serving as contemporary witnesses, re-living their pain again and again, cannot be valued highly enough. The highest respect is due for the service they do our society and particularly the youth.
In April 2003 Karl Stojka died at the age of 72 after a long illness. However, memories of him and his artistic works live on. Ceija and Mongo Stojka are still active in art and social politics. They are among the last of a virtually extinct culture. They pass on the customs and traditions of the Lovara to their children and their children’s children. They allow the majority population to get an insight into this culture. Their life and work is a constant appeal to humanity, tolerance and against forgetting.