The 2022 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Photo Credit: Dr. Heidi R. Lewis

Click here to view a slideshow of pictures, and follow @FemGeniuses and|or @AudresFootsteps on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook to see more pictures and videos.

Multimedia Podcast Index:

The RomaniPhen Feminist Archive + the Romanja Power Walking Tour with Estera Iordan” by Christiana García-Soberanez
A Conversation with Jasmin Eding” by Eliza Strong
Jewish History & Culture Walking Tour + Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt with Adam Schonfeld” by Bridget Hanley
BlackEurope: The Beginnings of Black Self-Organization in Europe” by Erin Huggins
German Colonialism Walking Tour w/ Josephine Apraku + the Neues Museum” by Amalia Lopez
A Conversation with Sharon Dodua Otoo” by Latra Demaçi
The Wall Museum + the Berliner Unterwelten Tour” by Margalit Goldberg
Blackness in America and Europe: Where the Grey Space Exists” by Monica Carpenter
A Conversation with Dana Maria Asbury, Mona El Omari, and Iris Rajanayagam” by Vicente Blas-Taijeron
Graffiti & Street Art Walking Tour + the Urban Nation Museum” by Alexis Cornachio
A Conversation with Judy Lynne Fisher” by River Clarke
Queer Berlin Walking Tour w/ Mal Pool + the Schwules*Museum” by Riley Hester
A Street Art Workshop with Berlin Massive” by Judy Gonzalez

To read and|or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous #FemGeniusesinBerlin, click here

The RomaniPhen Archive Feminist Archive + the Romanja Power Walking Tour with Estera Iordan

by Christiana García-Soberanez

Photo Credit: Dr. Heidi R. Lewis

The word “Holocaust” means “a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God” in Hebrew. The Hebrew word for Holocaust is “Shoah,” which means catastrophe or calamity. Both are widely  known terms used to describe the persecution of Jewish people during World War II (WWII). So, when people think of the Holocaust, they most often think of the persecution and genocide of Jewish people in Europe.

However, many people do not know there were other communities targeted by Nazis, including people with disabilities, homosexual people, Black people, and the Roma and Sinti. During our walking tour, we learned almost 1.5 million Roma and Sinti were killed as a result of persecution during WWII, but this is rarely talked about or even known. The experiences of Roma and Sinti have been erased from history, but today, we remember Pořajmos (often translated in English to “to swallow in”), the word Sinti and Roma people use to describe their persecution during the Holocaust.

Photo Credit: Christiana García-Soberanez

Roma and Sinti people were often categorized as asocial and criminal, forced to wear brown|black triangles to signify their status. The criminal label has affected the way they are viewed as not being victims of WWII, and to this day, these stereotypes follow them, allowing the justification of stigma and stereotypes to continue in Germany and throughout the world.

During our tour, led by Romani activist Estera Iordan, started at the RomaniPhen Feminist Archive and continued with three sites that are important for telling the history of Roma and Sinti people during WWII. At RomaniPhen, Romani history is preserved, serving as a united space for Romani in Germany and as a cultural center aimed at aiding Romani people and fighting oppression. For example, they donate necessities to people in need and educate youth about their identity and self-esteem building so they can be proud. For example, Estera spoke about one her own idols, a Romani women who survived the war and went on to paint her experiences of terror, which brought light to the experiences of Roma and Sinti people during the time. Counternarratives like this are important fpr combating the erasure of Roma and Sinti and the stereotypes that follow them today.

Photo Credit: Dr. Heidi R. Lewis

Our next stop was the Stolpersteine honoring Johann Trollmann, who was persecuted during the war. Trollmann was a very famous champion boxer in Germany. Throughout his lifetime and career, he endured discrimination for being Sinti. For example, after holding the Light Heavyweight Champion title, Trollman was stripped of his title. Also, for his final fight, he was forced by the Nazi regime to lose under the threat of deportation of his family. Soon after losing, he and his family were still deported, and he died in a concentration camp. At the memorial we also learned about how Romani people migrated to Europe. Romani people originally came from southern India and arrived in  Europe as enslaved people. Since Europeans thought they were from Egypt, they were labeled with a racial slur. As I wrote earlier, there is a long history of stigma and stereotypes about Romani people that labeled them as criminals, contributing to the justification of their persecution.

Photo Credit: Christiana García-Soberanez

Our next stop was the Topography of Terror, which was once the Racial Eugenic Research Center that contributed to the persecution of Roma and Sinti people. We learned about the unethical medical experiments conducted on Romani people, including those conducted on Otto Rosenberg, who was a child during WWII. After the war, Rosenberg worked to bring light to the medical horrors Roma and Sinti people endured at the hands of Nazis like forced sterilizations. We also learned about two of the major perpetrators, a nurse and doctor, who were able to work after the war because they were not prosecuted. These perpetrators were not punished for their crimes because documentation and proof were destroyed and Roma and Sinti people were not viewed as victims of the war. Roma and Sinti people who were experimented on suffered great health consequences that disabled many, which continues to take a toll on their communities. This history of unethical medical experiments, as well as the lack of recognition of those experiments, has contributed to medical distrust and disparities in medical care in the Roma and Sinti community to this day.

Photo Credit: Christiana García-Soberanez

Last, we visited the Memorial to Sinti and Roma Murdered under tha National Socialist Regime. The memorial is a circular pond full of water intended to represent the tears shed by Roma and Sinti victims. The pond also reflects the sky, intended to symbolize the heavens, surrounded by stones with the names of concentration camps. In the center of the pond, there is a triangle intended to represent the patch Roma and Sinti were forced to wear where a fresh flower is placed daily (see video below). After the war, Jewish people were compensated by the German government, which was not the same for Roma and Sinti people. As Nicola Lauré al-Samarai and Sara Lennox write in “Neither Foreigners Nor Aliens: The Interwoven Stories of Sinti and Roma and Black Germans,” “The Nazi genocide not only severely affected this population; the government’s refusal to pay compensation also led to the collapse of the entire social and vocation structure of the community” (174). Pořajmos has had long lasting effects on Roma and Sinti communities, which have not been addressed due to the continuation of stigma and stereotyping. However, like other victims of the war, Roma and Sinti people often lost their sense of belonging and community.

The discrimination and stigma against Roma and Sinti people continue today. As al-Samari and Lennox point out, “Volksgemeinschaft,” a concept for German people sharing common ancestry, erases Roma and Sinti history and affects their struggle against oppression. Roma and Sinti people are continuously treated as second class citizens, and they continue to endure stigmas and stereotypes associated with their identity. For example, the “G” slur is still widely used and was even written at the memorial for Johann Trollmann and the Memorial to Sinti and Roma Murdered under tha National Socialist Regime.

Photo Credit: Dr. Heidi R. Lewis

Still, Romani and Sinti continue to fight oppression and stigma through activism and community-building. One example of this is the RomaniPhen Feminist Archive. By learning about Roma and Sinti stories, we are able to disrupt the dominant narrative with counternarratives.

Reflecting on my own experience participating in the tour, it was very sad to hear how long it took for many of these memorials to be established and to see the use of the “G” slur. These memorials raise awareness and educate people about the experiences of Roma and Sinti people, but they also reinforce harm. Having studied the Holocaust in college, I was aware of the persecution of Roma and Sinti people, but I was blind to the continuation of oppression and discrimination due to the mass erasure of their history and resistance. Learning about the work of activists like our tour guide Estera and the RomaniPhen Feminist archive makes me hopeful about a future in which the history of the Pořajmos and the struggles Roma and Sinti people face today are more widely known.

Video Credit: Dr. Heidi R. Lewis

Video Credit: Christiana García-Soberanez

Christiana García-Soberanez (she|her) is a proud New Mexican born and raised in Albuquerque. She is currently majoring in Sociology and minoring in Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies at Colorado College (CC). At CC, she serves on leadership for the Native American Student Union (NASU), is involved in SOMOS (the Latinx affinity group), is a mentor for the Bridge Scholars Program, and is a leader for Outdoor Education. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, camping, rock climbing, watching movies, and spending time with friends. This is her first time visiting Europe, and she is excited to be studying in and exploring Berlin.

Some Final Thoughts on the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

IMG_8271It’s been a while since I contributed to “Some Final Thoughts.” So, bear with me, please, as I shake some of the rust off.

Despite earning tenure and promotion to Associate Professor this spring, this year had its rough spots—some worse than others, especially the death of one of my closest aunts. Because of that, a few people—some who I thought were close to me and others who I knew weren’t—recommended that I cancel this course. In some strange way, I’m glad they did, because it reminded me of two very important things:

  1. A lot of people who compliment me on this course have no idea what it is, what it does, and/or what it means—not just to me but to my students and my friends and comrades in Berlin.
  2. This course means a lot to me and my students and my friends and comrades in Berlin.

My faith in the course was rewarded by a great group of students. They were thoughtful, kind, patient, interested, curious, and outright hilarious. I had so much fun with them, and I miss them already even though it’s only been one week since the course concluded. I could fill this page with memories:

  1. Charles declaring, “Those two left at the same time.”
  2. Me and Charles, singing, “If you liked it, you shoulda put a ring on it.”
  3. Laila’s hilarious faces and hand gestures—I wish I could type the sound she made to complement her monster face and hands.
  4. Dana’s and my “cheese fight.”
  5. Our first long-distance trip in the course.
  6. Izzy’s visit.
  7. The constant references to John’s future run for Senate.
  8. Sarah’s broad-shouldered dinner jacket.
  9. The search for mom jeans and the finding of a pair “in pristine condition.”
  10. Dereka’s new nose ring.

And as always, we had such a great time with and learned so much from everyone in Berlin who gave their time and energy to the course. Best of all, I think everyone knew just how much we appreciated them, because these students made every effort to ensure that from start to finish. If you haven’t yet, please check out the student podcasts (index below) and share them with anyone you know who may be interested in what we study here.

2018 FemGeniuses in Berlin Podcast Index:
Click here to view a slideshow, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures and videos!

Jewish History & Culture Walking Tour and the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand” by Noah Shuster
ReachOut Berlin” by Madi Doerre
Examining German Colonialism” by John B. Capers, Jr.
Joliba Interkulturelles Netzwerk” by Laila Marshall
Romanja Power and Cultural Preservation at the RomaniPhen Feminist Archive” by Anna Wermuth
Talking Feminisms on Reboot.FM” by Sarah Leve
1968 and The Berlin Wall” by Abby Williams
Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh” by Charles Meyer
The Queer Berlin Walking Tour and Visit to the Schwules* Museum” by Dereka Thomas
LesMigraS” by Diana Muñoz
Street Art & Graffiti Walking Tour and the Urban Nation Museum” by Zoë Frolik

To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here