The Nuremberg Laws were enacted 85 years ago. Sinti and Roma are still discriminated against in Germany today. Erich Schneeberger fights against it.
Erich Schneeberger, chairman of the Association of German Sinti and Roma in Bavaria Photo: Sonja Och
taz: Mr. Schneeberger, if you enter the term “Sinti” in an internet search engine, you almost only get hits for the combination “Sinti and Roma”. Are the two groups really that inseparable?
Erich Schneeberger: No. I myself belong to the group of Sinti and we have never called ourselves Roma. Us Sinti are mainly found in Western Europe, the Roma are more at home in the East. We Sinti have been living in German-speaking countries for almost 700 years. Of course, a lot of the local culture stuck with us.
Born in Stuttgart in 1950 and raised in Nuremberg, is a trained businessman and has been chairman of the Bavarian State Association of German Sinti and Roma since 1998.
What makes a Sinto a Sinto?
First there is the language, Romany. It is the most important link in our cultural identity. Romanes comes from Sanskrit and is the oldest Indo-European language still spoken in Central Europe. However, it is only passed on orally, there is no written language. But then there is also a way of life that is typical of Sinti. This includes the special cohesion of the family and respect for old age. Even if that has subsided a bit now.
Along with Frisians, Danes and Sorbs, Sinti and Roma are together the fourth national minority in Germany – when they are actually two different minorities.
Yes, that bothers us and as Sinti do not want to be lumped together with groups from Romania or Bulgaria. But I’ve almost got used to the fact that we’re always perceived as a unit. Of course there are also some things we have in common. Both groups have their roots in India. Above all, we have the persecution in the Third Reich in common. The Nazis made no distinction between Sinti and Roma. For them they were all “gypsies”.
And thus the goal of the National Socialist extermination policy. Your parents were also in Auschwitz.
My father was arrested when he was just 17 years old as a so-called work scabber – absurdly at his place of work. It was the same with my mother. And then they came straight to Auschwitz. That was in March 1943. It was a miracle that they survived at all. Almost all of my other relatives, my grandparents, most aunts and uncles have been murdered. After the liberation, my parents ended up in Stuttgart, where they met. I was born there too.
Did your parents talk to you about what you experienced?
Yes, that was always an issue for us. My father in particular told a lot. Only the very worst experiences he left out. But, for example, he told how they always had to stand naked in Auschwitz when it was extremely cold – which was particularly bad for Sinti, who are very shameful. These SS henchmen already knew how to humiliate and demoralize people. For us, Christmas was never a festival of joy, but a festival of tears. The parents cried and lit candles for the dead relatives.
Exactly 85 years ago the Nazis poured their racial ideology into law here in their hometown of Nuremberg and passed the Nuremberg Race Laws. And today? The NPD posters: “Money for grandma instead of Sinti and Roma.” And according to the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, Sinti and Roma are met with more rejection than any other group in Germany.
That’s because they don’t know us. Anyone who knows Sinti personally does not usually have this resentment. The Sinti live unrecognized in the big cities, in the high-rise buildings, which are not noticed as different. But if you see reports on television about Roma, who live in the most miserable slums in Romania, and project these living conditions onto the people here, then totally distorted images emerge – and these resentments. In order to reduce it, we therefore want to emphasize equality. That people see: Human children, they are no different from us.
But even if they were different – that would not justify any discrimination. And the Roma in Romania …
… of course it is not our fault that they have to live in this misery. Yes, I think so often. But the majority society probably always needs minorities that they can marginalize and blame for their own mistakes. If someone posts “money for grandma instead of Sinti and Roma”, they should think about how many Sinti and Roma contribute to the gross national product through their work. Of course, that doesn’t even occur to such racists.
The right-wing extremists are spreading their messages of hate more and more openly. Violence is also increasing again. How badly are Sinti and Roma affected?
The Nuremberg Race Laws were issued on September 15, 1935. They were the basis for the persecution and discrimination of Jews in Germany. From January 1936, the Nazi regime transferred the measures to the Sinti and Roma living in Germany.
Half a million German Sinti and Roma fell victim to the National Socialist murders, around 90 percent of their population in Germany. According to estimates, around 12,000 Sinti still live in Bavaria today. In Germany there are around 50,000 Sinti and 20,000 German Roma. There are also 130,000 to 140,000 Roma who have immigrated from Eastern Europe.
The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma represents the interests of the Sinti and Roma as a national minority. In cases of discrimination, they should also stand up for the immigrant Roma. Two years ago the Free State of Bavaria committed itself in a state treaty to the special obligation to protect the minority of the Sinti and Roma and to respect them in the state and society.
The situation is very oppressive for us. And now it’s not about us as a national minority. But we see how the attacks on our Jewish fellow citizens are just increasing again. And it has always been like this: if you took action against the Jews, then we were the next group. The victims today are initially the Roma who immigrated from Eastern Europe. Because some of them beg in the city centers, they are the ideal enemy for these racists.
Do you also experience discrimination yourself?
Of course. I’ll give you an example: like many Sinti, I used to have a camper van, a wonderful vehicle. And with him I wanted to go to the campsite in Kochel am See. My wife, who doesn’t show that she is a Sinteza, first spoke to the tenant, but when he saw me, it was immediately said: “For God’s sake. Sinti don’t come to my campsite. ”My wife said:“ Why don’t you try it with us! You will see that you are satisfied with us. ”Finally he let himself be softened. And when we left after 14 days, he said: “Mr. Schneeberger, you can come back at any time, you are always very welcome.” Because he got to know me. Do you understand?
Yes, yes. But how humiliating is that – to have to “soften” a racist?
Of course that hurt me. But this still happens regularly today. We keep getting calls from Sinti to whom something like this happens. Another example: We have been living in our current apartment for 35 years. And there are still two or three families in our house who don’t greet me. They believe that they are something better – because I am a Sinto.
Anti-Semitism has also increased in Germany in recent years. In Germany, however, there is also a particularly high level of sensitivity. Are there also those with antiziganism?
No, this is not existing. Because we don’t have a lobby in society. If a Jewish citizen is insulted or injured, it causes an outcry. Rightly! But that’s not the case with us. Or have you heard of Roma members being stabbed in Berlin? Or that three Roma were among the victims in the attack in Hanau? Or that the assassin from the Munich OEZ also murdered a Sinto and two Roma.
But this lobby, as you call it, comes out of historical guilt. And that is the same with the Sinti and Roma.
That’s true. Even so, the genocide of the Sinti and Roma has never been recognized as that of the Jews. Our mission arises from this.
And that is called educational work?
Exactly. Knowledge protects against racism. At least a bit.