Roma Artist CEIJA STOJKA. What Should I Be Afraid of?

Book presentation in the framework of
salz kammer gut 2024. European Capital of Culture. Bad Ischl. Salzkammergut: “Hoffnung: Das war was uns stärkte” / Ebensee / A / 07/06-09/29/2024

The Austrian Cultural Forum New York dedicates this volume to a truly remarkable woman:
Ceija Stojka.(*) The first English-language monograph on [… the writer and artist …,] with unpublished texts and diary entries by Ceija Stojka.(**) | Editing of the original German version of the essay by Simona Anozie / Co-translation from German to English of the text and the poems by Ceija Stojka published in the volume.

simona anozie | stephanie buhmann | lorely e. french | michaela grobbel | susanne keppler-schlesinger | carina kurta | with poems and images by ceija stojka
curators stephanie buhmann | lorely e. french | susanne keppler-schlesinger | carina kurta

translation from german to english
simona anozie and alexandra reill | stephanie buhmann | lorely french | michaela grobbel | carina kurta
editors stephanie buhmann | lorely french | carina kurta

publishers austrian cultural forum new york / hirmer publishers | munich / d | new york city / us | 2023
publishing house hirmer publishers | munich / d | 2023
hard cover, 104 pages, 45 color illustrations
ISBN 978-3-7774-4272-3

specification of contribution:
editing of simona anozie’s essay in german | co-translation of the text and of ceija stojka’s poems from german to english alexandra reill

[Ceija Stojka] was a survivor of three concentration camps, self-taught artist, courageous activist, dedicated mother, grandmother, matriarch–and a moral compass for many.(***) Beginning in the 1980s, Stojka created over a thousand drawings and paintings, whose subjects range from landscapes and recollections of her happy, prewar existence as part of a large horse-trading family to the mounting oppression of the Roma under the Nazi regime. Having survived the three concentration camps Ravensbrück, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz as a child, Stojka left behind an oeuvre depicting her personal experience of arrests, exterminations, survival, and liberation, which was shared by millions. This book serves as an extension of the comprehensive Ceija Stojka exhibition that [… was] hosted by the Austrian Cultural Forum New York [… in] 2023.(****)


As a child my grandmother loved horse trading and selling rugs, riding to the markets, life in the wagon, and traveling over the country roads of Austria. She knew the map by heart, better than any GPS, and later in life she was a very good driver. When I was riding with her, she showed me the places where the families had stationed their wagons. 
Every time she returned from visiting another country, she was always happy to be home again: “I am a root from Austria.” When she was in Japan to give a lecture, she ate only potatoes; anything else felt too unsafe for her. Ceija Stojka loved Austria, despite the dark times she had to experience. Once I asked her: “Why did you all stay here?” That wasn’t even a question for her. She would not have felt comfortable in another country—“a root that is also not to be transplanted.”
Her fears and nightmares, my grandmother did not like to reveal. But from time to time, they broke through, whether she wanted them to or not. Sometimes, when we were cooking and my mother Silvi peeled the potatoes too thickly, she would say: “With this peel… I would have had two days of food…, in Auschwitz.” Or—I was looking to buy a car. At the used-car dealer we saw an SUV, but because it had a sticker with an eagle on the side, she right away refused to let me buy this car. She also did not like any tattoos because of her concentration camp number. I always knew that what she had experienced as a child had not only been really dark. It was pure horror. We did not have to talk much…
I was even more proud when she had written her first book: “Wir leben im Verborgenen. Erinnerungen einer Rom-Zigeunerin”(“We Live in Secrecy. Memories of a Romni-Gypsy”) in which she describes the terror that she and our family were exposed to in the concentration camps. As the first autochthonous Lovara woman she had told her story in the 1980s, thereby breaking with the traditions and the patriarchal Roma community. As a woman you don’t simply go out into the world. Besides, you do not talk with “Gadje” about “Roma affairs”. Romanes was still kept secret; being a Rom or Romni was hidden. Concentration camp victims kept silent about their survival.
She had conquered her fears. She had broken her silence, and from this moment on she turned to the world, gave talks against forgetting, and went into schools to recount what she had experienced. She received numerous awards for her work as a witness.
And she kept writing. “Reisende auf dieser Welt” (“Travelers in this World”) looks at her life after the war and the hardship to rebuild a “normal” life. In “Träume ich, dass ich lebe?” (“Am I Dreaming I’m Alive?”) she remembers the atrocities of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the liberation by the British army. Then, in 2008, “auschwitz ist mein mantel” (“auschwitz is my coat”) appeared, with poems and pictures.
Besides writing, painting was her passion and another way to vent the torments that needed to be expressed. After her first book, she had thought she had broken through the wall of her fears, but again and again, she was forced to fight with them. She had to bring the horrors out in words on paper and in pictures on canvas. She had to live through it again and again, when she wanted to be sure that she would never have to experience it again.

We are not sad
That we dead in Bergen-Belsen
Subjugated by hunger thirst
and floggings
Death is The Redemption
As beautiful As birth
But shall the mass graves
rise up threateningly
One giant bird
and soar over to those
who are Guilty of their deaths
live on restlessly in their thoughts
Mass graves here and there
Am I guilty
The bird of humans passes by me
I am lucky
i was not among them

After Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbrück, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was where she was at the end.

On occasion of the 45th anniversary of the liberation, she was invited to the memorial site.
She drove her car the entire long way, my aunt Nuna in the passenger seat, and I in the back. We spent the night at a rest stop. A double bed stood in the room; a fold-out Murphy bed was mounted to the wall. Right away she said to me: “You are not sleeping there. You are going to sleep with us.” The Murphy bed reminded her far too much of the wooden bunks in the barracks.
The next day we drove on. It was obvious that her fears were creeping up more and more with every kilometer we drove. Shortly before we arrived, my grandmother immediately recognized the tall, dark conifers that stood along the road. The sunny light of the day had disappeared, the shadows of the trees made everything dark… There was no air to breathe there… The journey through the forest seemed endless… That is when I realized how hidden the place was…
And then, all of a sudden, there was the huge area where the concentration camp had stood.

On the vast grounds of Bergen-Belsen Ceija searched for “her” barrack. Where in 1945 the corpses had been piled up in front of the shacks, today there are the mass graves, on each of the mounds a sign—3,000, 4,000, 5,000 dead… The barracks are demolished and burned down; but my grandmother found the place where “hers” had stood.
And she found her “tree of life”—the tree whose leaves and bark she had chewed, whose resin she had sucked on. At first she was not sure; it had been a small, young tree; in the meantime, 45 years had gone by, but Ceija remembered that it had had a notch on its crown. She followed her feelings, went up to a tree—completely brittle and rotten it was—and saw the notch, and knew it was “her” tree. She embraced it. And saw it all in front of her again.
At that moment, a thin branch broke from the dead tree. It had also died in the camp.
She took the branch with her. As a sign, it is in each of her paintings.

My grandmother Ceija was very fragile and yet a passionate, loving, strong, and unshakable woman who always stood behind her family. She began to paint on a day when she was watching me draw as a child. It must have been one of those many moments when she chose life again. The demons of horror plagued her until the end, but she never stopped threatening them. Ceija Stojka painted and wrote every day: 

Nature is my life, I like to hold on to a tree.”

Vienna, April 2023

Roma Artist CEIJA STOJKA. What Should I Be Afraid of? presented at
— salz kammer gut 2024. european capital of culture. bad ischl. salzkammergut / ebensee / a / 24
— the wende museum on youtube / int / 24
— the wende museum / culver city, ca / us / 24

Roma Artist CEIJA STOJKA. What Should I Be Afraid of? featured by
— national fund of the republic of austria for victims of national socialism / vie / a / 24
— chicago. the university of chicago press / chicago / us / 24
— austrian cultural forum new york on instagram / int / 24
— sonoma state university / rohnert park, ca / us / 24
— google.books / int / 24
— allevents in culver city / culver city, ca / us / 24
— eventbrite / nyc / us / 24
— / solothurn / ch / 24
— austrian embassy washington / washington / us / 23
— zukunftsfonds der republik österreich / vie / a / 23
— kontakt. the art collection of erste group and erste foundation / vie / a / 23
— fresco. das magazin für kultur- und kunstgenießer / munich / d / 23

(*) Keppler-Schlesinger, Susanne: in: Buhmann, Stephanie / French E. Lorely / Keppler-Schlesinger, Susanne / Kurta, Carina [Eds.]: Roma Artist. CEIJA STOJKA. What Should I Be Afraid of?. Preface, Hirmer Publishers, Munich 2023, p. 6.
(**) Hirmer Publishers [Ed.]: ROMA ARTIST CEIJA STOJKA. What Should I Be Afraid of?,, last access: 03/15/2024. Translation from German to English: Alexandra Reill, 2024.
(***) Idem.
(****) [Ed.]: Roma Artist Ceija Stojka. What Should I Be Afraid of?. Synopsis,, access: 03/15/2024.
(*****) Initial text release with permission of Simona Anozie, kanonmedia online, Vienna 07/14/2023. Translated from German to English by Simona Anozie and Alexandra Reill, Stephanie Buhmann, Lorely E. French, Michaela Grobbel, and Carina Kurta. Vienna / New York City, NY / Forest Grove, OR / Rohnert Park, CA / Marseille 2023. Edited version: kanonmedia online, Vienna 12/2023.