Ceija Stojka has died at 79, and the artist and Roma Holocaust survivor dedicated much of her life to telling the story of her experiences during World War II.
Ceija Stojka was one of hundreds of thousands of Roma rounded up and detained by Nazis during the Holocaust, and the BBC says that of her extended family of 200, only five people including Stojka survived the imprisonment in concentration camps.
According to the broadcaster, Stojka spent much of her time after she escaped death at the camps ensuring that the story of the Roma — more colloquially known as gypsies — and their losses at the hands of Hitler’s regime.
She recalled her experience at Auschwitz, saying that the memory stayed with her constantly throughout her days:
“I have survived on paper and pieces of leather when I was hungry … I remember Auschwitz every waking moment of my life.”
Ceija Stojka was later recognized by the European Roma Cultural Foundation in Budapest, Hungary as an “outstanding Austrian Romani woman … and a key figure for the history, art and literature of Romani culture in Europe.”
Ceija, born in 1933, was liberated from Bergen-Belsen at the age of 12, but bore a tattoo received during her imprisonment throughout her life. Her father and brother did not survive, but Stojka, her mother and four remaining siblings returned to horse-trading and other Roma ways of life after they were freed.
It was later in life that Ceija became an artist, painting scenes of Roma life before the Holocaust as well as depicting her memory of the camps. And in later life, she remained an activist for Roma people, lamenting in the past few years after a series of Roma killings:
“How is it possible at the beginning of the new century that the Roma population … is still humiliated and maltreated – and sometimes killed as it happened in Hungary – for the only reason of being Roma? … Let my grandchildren live.”
Later this year, a documentary about Holocaust victims that were not Jewish and featuring Ceija Stoja, titled Forget Us Not, will be released.