Theater of Cruelty

THE DEPARTMENTAL HEART – "It is a real pleasure for me to deny them access"

Zolo Karoli
Forfatter: Maria Rosvoll
Forlag: Cappelen Damm, (Norge)
Anti-Gypsyism is the latest yet widespread form of racism, directed at the Roma. Maria Rosvoll's Zolo Karoli is a feat of a book.


Maria Schwaller Rosvoll has written an important book. In form, it is about a Norwegian Roma – Zolo Karoli – who was shot and killed at the age of 24 in the Buchenwald concentration camp two days before the camp was liberated on April 11, 1945. In reality, it is about much more. As the author says in his preface: "This is not only a book about Zolo Karoli, but also a book about what his mere existence did to us."

And Rosvoll explains: “What emerged in the archive study was our downfall. Not just the doom of the room, the family or Zolo Karoli. No, the downfall of our own, the nation's and European civilization. " Through the book's 206 pages, she elaborates and substantiates this.

After World War II, no one talked about Europe's Roma population being the second ethnic group, besides the Jews, who were tried to be exterminated by the Nazis on racist grounds. Even after the war, West German authorities claimed that when all "Gypsies" were put to death and concentration camps, it was because they were criminals, even newborns. When the war ended, Roman survivors were left to fend for themselves and refused help and ID papers. Norway refused the few Norwegian Romans who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald to return to their homeland, based on §3 of the Aliens Act of 1927, which said that "gypsies and other vagrants" did not have access to the empire. It was first abolished in 1956, eleven years after the fall of Hitler 'Germany. And not until April 8, 2015, seventy years after the war, did Erna Solberg, on behalf of the Norwegian state, apologize to the Norwegian Roma population for "the racist exclusion policy pursued against Norwegian Roma in the decades before and after World War II" (Government. no).

The apology came at the request of Norwegian Romans, but was also based on the HL Center's report "Getting rid of them". Most people then thought that everything that could illuminate what had happened had been brought to light. But four researchers from the HL Center decided to search even more and vacuum archives in several countries. It gave birth to the book An unwanted people, which further revealed the abuses that had such fatal consequences for an entire people. One of the authors, Maria Rosvoll, would not give in either. She had previously, together with Natasha Bielenberg, who is Romani herself, also written a report for the HL Center on anti-Gypsyism, the latest yet widespread form of racism, which is aimed at the Roma. In the book about Zolo Karoli, she then deals with an individual fate, to shed light on it all through one. She wanted to find out "how an individual destiny was shaped by the surrounding society" and "What it was like to be Zolo Karoli".

Zolo and his family

This was a wake-up call. For everything she could find in archives and newspapers was written by his enemies. By people who considered him inferior. Who had power over his life and his death. There were no objections. Nevertheless, she has managed the masterpiece of bringing out human portraits of Zolo and his family from articles and documents that would deprive them of human dignity, even life itself.

Many of the police reports say that Zolo and his family committed the crime of crossing a border or just being there without the necessary documents: documents that the authorities themselves had denied them or taken from them. Other reports contain allegations of theft and violence, which often led to imprisonment, but also often ended up being released again because the charges were unfounded.

Norway refused the few Norwegian Romans who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald to return to their homeland.

Rosvoll shows that for Zolo and his family, life consisted of trying to survive. It was a battle he eventually had to lose. The superiority was too great. But through the book, Rosvoll has given him a life after death. She should be thankful for that.

The book is full of place names like Rjukan and Eidsvoll, or French, German, Belgian and Swedish. There are places where Zolo Karoli and his family have been and been banished from or arrested. The title of a subchapter is called «Padborg, Denmark, January 1934». The story is as follows:

In 1934, the year after Hitler came to power in Germany, Zolo and his family would again try to return to Norway. But in Padborg, on the German-Danish border, they were stopped by the Danish border police. Norwegian authorities had sent notice that their Norwegian papers were no longer valid, and that they were not allowed to enter the country. They were sent back to the German Nazi police, locked inside a railway carriage and detained in Altona near Hamburg. This was the beginning of a forced journey that ended in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

When Tidens Tegn asked the head of the central passport office, Ragnvald Konstad, the following question: "Did the departmental heart not feel any pity for them?" was the answer: “Not the farthest. It is a real joy for me to deny them access. "

So cynical has "the departmental-mental heart" been.

The Roman Resistance Day

Over the centuries, all the world's newspapers, bureaucrats, and missionaries have painted a frightening picture of Romans. Through decades of work and cohabitation with Romans in many countries, I have thought about what kind of image Romans must have had of gawd (non-Romans): There are people who have slandered and persecuted them for centuries, deprived them of their rights, deprived them of their children, chased them from place to place, rejoiced in handing them over to the Nazi police, barricaded them behind barbed wire and sent them to gas chambers and crematoria. There are people who have waited for seventy years, until most were dead, to give them an apology.

What room might want to be "assimilated" to become like them?

Zolo Karoli was in Auschwitz from January 1944 to August 2 of that year. It must mean that he was there on May 16, 1944, when the Romans in the camp revolted. May 16 is now marked as the Roman Resistance Day. Maybe this should be included.

There are people who have slandered and persecuted them for centuries, deprived them of their rights, deprived them of their children, chased them from place to place, rejoiced in having handed them over to the Nazi police, barricaded them behind barbed wire
and sent them to gas chambers and crematoria.

The book ends with the time immediately after the war. A lot has happened to the Romans since then. An important milestone was the Roma's first world congress in London in 1971, which I had the honor of attending. Here Romans from both sides of the then Iron Curtain came together and prepared an action program for the further struggle. Congress also adopted a flag and a national anthem. The congress opening date, April 8, was declared as space nation day. It is now celebrated by Romans all over the world. At the next congress, a worldwide organization – the International Romani Union – was founded.

Since then, there has been a Roman nation-building, a veritable explosion of creativity. (This is the subject of a book I am now about to finish. It picks up the thread where Rosvoll left off.) When she says that "space rarely or never writes books", it is correct for the period she describes, with the exception of The Soviet Union, where in the 1920s and 1930s more than 200 books and periodicals were published in novels. Today, there are books by outstanding space authors in many countries. At the book fair in Frankfurt in 2019, it was both its own big Gypsy Pavilion and a book pavilion from the Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma. Even Norway has got an author – Solomia Karoli.

"There is no Anne Frank or Primo Levi with a room background. No individual brings to life the fate of Rome before and during the war ", writes Rosvoll. Yes, but they have come to light late.

Roman contemporary witnesses

I would like to mention two Roman contemporary witnesses who have gained international fame. Ceija Stojka, who survived three concentration camps and has painted the most shocking pictures from the camps. And Raymond Gurême, who sat with the Josef family in the Limas-Montlhéri camp before fleeing eight camps and prisons and joining the French resistance movement. He published the book Prohibited to nomads (Prohibited for nomads) and was until his death in 2020, a role model for young Romans in many countries.

The Roman contemporary witnesses became known late, because "after World War II they did not have the sympathy", as Rosvoll says with an understatement. Or to quote Noam Chomsky: "Nobody gives a damn about Gypsies."

Fortunately, there are exceptions such as Maria Rosvoll. She's gone back in time and lets us see Zolo Karoli. She has thus made it easier for us to look to the future and see ourselves. This is a feat of a book.

Tore-Jarl Bielenberg
Tore-Jarl Bielenberg
Bielenberg (1935–) is a journalist, lecturer, author and translator. He wrote i.a. written the book Romá / gypsies. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. New book on Roman resistance and nation building is about to be published.

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