Romani artist and Holocaust documenter Stojka dies

VIENNA (Reuters) - Romani artist Ceija Stojka, whose work helped expose the Nazis’ persecution of the Romani people, died in a Vienna hospital on Monday aged 79, her publisher told the Austria Press Agency on Tuesday.

Holocaust survivor Stojka wrote one of the first Romani autobiographical accounts of Nazi persecution, the 1988 book “We Live in Seclusion: The Memories of a Romani”, and dedicated decades to telling her people’s story through music and art.

The Romani people, like the Jews, were sent to concentration camps by Germany’s Nazis during the Second World War. Up to 1.5 million were murdered in an attempted genocide.

Austrian-born Stojka survived internment in the Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Ravensbrueck concentration camps, along with just five other members of her 200-strong family.

“I reached for the pen because I had to open myself, to scream,” the activist said at an exhibition in Vienna’s Jewish Museum in 2004.

The Budapest-based European Roma Cultural Foundation on Tuesday described Stojka as an “outstanding Austrian Romani woman ... and a key figure for the history, art and literature of Romani culture in Europe”.

The foundation’s executive director, Timea Junghaus, wrote in an email to Reuters: “She was a role model for the present generation and an inspiration for the future generations of Roma in Europe.”

Stojka began painting at the age of 56, often using her fingers or toothpicks instead of brushes to apply acrylic paint and ink.

Her works, many of which are recreations of her experiences in the concentrations camps, have been described as “eerie” and “childlike” by viewers of her exhibitions around the world.

Romani people are still subject to forced assimilation or segregation, cultural repression, eviction and other forms of discrimination in many countries, especially in Europe.

The European Union estimates there are between 10 and 12 million Romani people in Europe, making them the continent’s largest ethnic minority, although populations are hard to count, since many choose not to register their ethnic identity. (Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Louise Ireland)