French Receives Grant For Transcription Of Roma Holocaust Survivor's Notebooks

Roma artist and Holocaust survivor Ceija Stojka with Pacific German Professor Lorely French,FOREST GROVE, Ore. — For decades, the persecution and genocide of European Roma people during World War II was largely ignored.

While between 250,000 and 500,000 Roma are estimated to have died during the Holocaust, the German government did not even officially recognize Roma as victims of genocide until 1982. The Austrian government recognized Roma as their own ethnic group in 1992.

For much of her academic career, Lorely French, professor of German at Pacific University, has been devoted to documenting the life and legacy of Ceija Stojka (pictured at left with French), a Roma artist and activist from Austria who survived incarceration in three concentration camps as a child and became a spokesperson for the recognition of the Roma genocide.

French was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a collaborative research project, “The Notebooks of Austrian Romani Writer, Artist, Activist and Educator Ceija Stojka.”

The project aims to transcribe, annotate, translate into English and plan for the digital presentation of 33 unpublished notebooks of Stojka, who passed away in 2013. The notebooks are in German and Romany.

The project is an extension of the work French recently completed to translate three of Stojka’s memoirs documenting her life during the Holocaust. “The Memoirs of Ceija Stojka: Child Survivor of the Romani Holocaust,” the first-ever English translation of Stojka’s works, was published by Camden House/Boydell & Brewer in 2022.

The memoirs provide one of the few written records of the plight and oppression of Roma people during World War II.

The project has personal meaning for French, who began studying Stojka in the late 1990s. “My family has the legend that our paternal grandmother had perhaps been a Roma or Irish traveler before she immigrated to the U.S., although the details on that story have never been totally confirmed,” French said. “Still, Roma remain very forgotten, ignored and discriminated against. Ceija Stojka became a guiding light for me in understanding pieces of their multifaceted cultures.

“The personal connection with her has kept me interested as more and more was unveiled about her memoirs, poems and artworks.”

French had the opportunity to meet with Stojka while in Austria in 2003 as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Klagenfurt and returned in 2009 to conduct more interviews with her.

French will collaborate on the project with Carina Kurta, the director of the Ceija Stojka International Association, in France; and Nuna Stojka, the daughter-in-law of Ceija Stojka, in Vienna. Kurta and French will spend this fall transcribing the notebooks before traveling to Vienna in January, where Nuna Stojka will assist with transcribing Romani texts.

The transcription project is the latest in a series of public displays of Ceija Stojka’s writings, poetry and artistic works that French has played a key role in developing. An exhibit of her paintings that is co-curated by French, Dr. Stephanie Buhmann and Carina Kurta, “What Should I Be Afraid Of? Roma Artist Ceija Stojka,” is on display at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York until September 25.

A similar exhibition featuring Ceija Stojka and other Romani artists will open in November at the Wende Museum in Culver City, California. The exhibition will feature “Die Mama,” a painting that is part of Pacific University’s permanent art collection.

French thanked a number of students who have assisted in her research over the years. Kristin (Almgren) Miller ’09, Maria (Walters) Vander Mullen ’09 and Jacob Artz ’09 all accompanied French on her 2009 trip to Austria to interview Stojka and document her artwork. That work helped produce the exhibition that French co-curated with Dr. Michaela Grobbel that took place at Pacific, Sonoma State University and the West Branch Gallery in Stowe, Vermont in 2009 and 2010.

Mitchell Ulrich ’22 and Sonja Henderson ’22 assisted with the translation of the 2022 book while Hayden Christensen ’25 served as an editor and research assistant over the summer thanks to a Pacific University undergraduate research grant.

Pacific University is the only comprehensive university in Washington County, Oregon, serving more than 3,600 undergraduate, graduate and professional students in the arts and sciences, business, education, health professions and optometry.

Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023