Porrajmos. Art and the Romani Holocaust

Friday, 22 November 2019 - 6pm
Sabatini Building, Auditorium and Floor 3

Spanish and English, with simultaneous interpretation

Organised by:

Museo Reina Sofía

In collaboration with:


With the support of:

Foro Cultural de Austria in Madrid

Inside the framework of the exhibition Ceija Stojka. This Has Happened, (Museo Reina Sofía, 22 November 2019 – 23 March 2020), this encounter reflects upon the relationship between art and memory in relation to the Romani genocide (porrajmos in Romani) during the Second World War. The session will comprise a round-table discussion between film-maker and writer Karin Berger, anthropologist David Berna and artist and researcher María García Ruiz; the screening of Canta gitano (1981) by French-Algerian film-maker Tony Gatlif, of Romani descent; and a concert performed by the gypsy association Mujeres con Propósito (Women with Purpose), from Madrid’s Embajadores neighbourhood.

The different gypsy ethnicities in Europe have endured a long history of persecution and discrimination since they first settled in the continent in the 15th century. However, the genocide planned by Nazi Germany is, without question, the worst example of the systematic extermination of the Romani people on European soil. Known as the porrajmos, this event in history is overshadowed somewhat by other tragic events from the same period, such as the Holocaust, and, even today, despite the loss of between 255,000 and 500,000 human lives, it is not remembered, either socially or politically, the way it should be. Behind it are numerous issues associated with the place of the gypsy community in today’s European nations, namely: their exclusion from official records and their transnational, nomadic past; in short, the stereotyped imagery of otherness, misunderstood as something intrinsic yet caused by sustained structural discrimination. The reasons stated above mean the surviving memories of the porrajmos do not possess the same recognition as survivors of the Shoah, and are less monumental in scope and yet to be fictionalised in popular culture or with any form of poetic and autobiographical expression that differs from the simple narration of facts.   

In this respect, personal writing — such as diaries — visual arts, and performance arts form all-important manifestos to express the significance of the porrajmos. One such example is the artist Ceija Stojka (Kraubath, Austria, 1933 – Vienna, Austria, 2013), a gypsy from the Lovara community who survived the Auschwitz, Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen concentration and extermination camps, together with just five members of a 200-member extended family. 

Stojka rendered an account of this traumatic experience four decades later through writing, painting and drawing in what was an intense exercise of remembrance. Breaking the silence she had kept for so many years on the persecution that she personally and the gypsy people collectively suffered was not only of huge symbolic significance; it also fostered the associationism of the Romani community and the vindication of reparation policies in her country. Therefore, upon her death in 2013, she was recognised as one of the most emphatic European voices against discrimination and historical amnesia, and this activity analyses her story and the work of other Sinti and Romani gypsies who drew on the visual arts, film and music to narrate the porrajmos.


Karin Berger is a film-maker and writer. In her work she explores women’s historical struggles against National Socialism, whilst challenging stereotypes in representations of the Romani people. She has directed two documentaries on the artist Ceija Stojka: Ceija Stojka. Porträt einer Romní (Ceija Stojka. Portrait of a Romani Woman, 1999) and Unter den Brettern hellgrünes Gras (The Green Green Grass Beneath, 2005), and has edited three of the artist’s autobiographies: Wir leben im Verborgenen (We Live in Seclusion, Picus Verlag, 1988), Reisende auf dieser Welt (Travellers on this World, Picus Verlag, 1992) and Träume ich, dass ich lebe? (Am I Dreaming That I Am Alive?, Picus Verlag, 2015).

David Berna is a professor in the Department of Social Anthropology and Social Psychology at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). A specialist in gypsy studies, he has published a broad number of essays on sexual identity and the gypsy community, for example “Cartografías desde los márgenes. Gitanos gays en el Estado español” (Cartographies from the margins. Gay gypsies in the Spanish State), in Lucas R. Platero (ed.)., Intersecciones: cuerpos y sexualidades en la encrucijada (Bellaterra, 2012), and “Un golpe de estado y dos billetes de autobús. Mujeres gitanas, sexo y amor en la dictadura” (One coup d’état and two bus tickets. Gypsy women, sex and love in the dictatorship), in Raquel Osborne (ed.)., Mujeres bajo sospecha. Memoria y sexualidad 1930-1980 (Fundamentos, 2012).

María García Ruiz is a visual artist and researcher. She has a degree in Architecture and is currently working on her PhD in Philosophy at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the ways of inhabiting that characterised gypsy nomadism at the turn of the 20th century and are related to avant-garde art and architecture. Moreover, she curated, with Pedro G. Romero, Máquinas de vivir. Flamenco y arquitectura en la ocupación y desocupación de espacios (Machines for Living. Flamenco and Architecture in the Occupation and Vacating of Spaces, CentroCentro, Madrid, 2017–2018).

Mujeres con Propósito is a group made up of gypsy women who are residents in Madrid’s Embajadores neighbourhood and who, over the past ten years, have gathered to share and learn. As a collective they have undertaken forms of art and music, participating in different social projects in the neighbourhood.


Sabatini Building, Auditorium

Andalusian gypsy singing with Mujeres con Propósito

Round-table discussion with Karin Berger, David Berna and María García Ruiz

Screening of Tony Gatlif’s Canta gitano
France, 1981, colour, sound, digital archive, 14’

Sabatini Building, Floor 3

Andalusian gypsy singing with Mujeres con Propósito in the rooms of the exhibition Ceija Stojka. This Has Happened