Karl Stojka was born on April 20, 1931 in a Rom family of the Roman Catholic faith in Wampersdorf in the Austrian province of Burgenland. Karl had five brothers and sisters. The Stojka family had been living in Austria for over 300 years, travelling across the country as horse dealers in their caravan. When Germany invaded and occupied Austria in 1938, Jews, Sinti und Roma were immediately excluded from society and turned into outcasts. From 1939 on, it was forbidden for them to leave or change their place of residence. So Karl's family settled in Vienna in 1939. His father supported the family by working in a factory. Karl and his brothers and sisters attended elementary school there down to 1943
The Nazis repeatedly arrested Sinti and Roma and confined them in concentration camps. At the end of 1941 Karl's father was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, and later in the camp Mauthausen , where he was murdered. Karl's sister Kathi was taken in 1942 to the Lackenbach camp . Just after Karl turned 12, he was arrested at school and deported with his mother and other brothers and sisters to the co-called »Gypsy camp« in Auschwitz-Birkenau . He was transferred from there to the concentration camp Buchenwald, and later to the camp Flossenbürg. He survived the death march and was liberated in April 1945 by American troops. After the war, Karl Stojka began to paint, trying by means of art to deal with his experiences of persecution. If you go on to further pages, you can see his paintings and read his comments on them
»In 1942, four Gestapo officers arrested my father and took him from the family. We children were all crying a lot. My mom quickly gathered together and packed a few things for him. I can still remember: my dad was wearing a bright plaid suit. He was sent to Dachau and then brought before the Second District Court in Vienna and held there. We were allowed to visit him there. He was standing in the visitors' room behind a very small grid so that you could hardly see him. He was pleased to see us, but all I could feel of his kiss on my lips was the cold iron of the grid. After just a few words, they took him away. My mom, my grandmother and we children were all crying. Two months later a letter came from in him, written in Mauthausen. He said there that he hoped to see us again soon. Two weeks after that we received a package containing his plaid suit, a death report (›weak heart‹) and a small box containing some bones and ashes. That's all that was left of my 32-year-old father.«
»Fifty years ago [in November 1940] the Gypsy camp Lackenbach was set up in Burgenland. We Gypsies were mistreated and persecuted there from 1940 to 1945—and we still are suffering from that today 50 years later. My sister Kathi and my uncle Lulo, my aunt Mala with her children and all my relatives cried many tears in the Lackenbach camp, we suffered much misery, beating and hunger. In that small Austrian town, whose name I shall never forget, there are many Roma and Sinti buried under the meadow and the trees.
»In March 1943, my mother and the children were arrested. I was at school, and four or five SS men entered our classroom. All the pupils had to stand up and say ›Heil Hitler‹. I did that too. The teacher, her name was Fischer, told us to sit down and then she called me over to her. The men took me with them. They brought me home, where the SS and Gestapo were already waiting. My mom said to me: ›Thank God you're here‹, then we had to get onto a truck and leave our home in Vienna, District 16, Paletzgasse 42. We were brought to the police jail Roßauerlände. In the cells and corridors there were hundreds of Gypsies. After two or three days, they put us on a train, and it went to Auschwitz-Birkenau.«
»Auschwitz-Birkenau June/July 1943: I was together with my relatives in Block No. 10 when my mom brought my brother Hansi with blood poisoning to the medical barracks. She had little hope of ever seeing her child alive again. I ran over to Hansi and wanted to take him back out, because the only way the prisoners left the medical barracks was ›through the chimney‹. But the next day my brother came to us and told my mom about a beautiful dream he had had: a beautiful white woman had filled his body with wonderful warmth and had healed him. My mother looked up to heaven, where the smoke was rising from the crematorium, and thanked God and the Holy Virgin. The medical barracks was not for healing people. It was a place for the dying, for people destined to die. The prisoners called it the vestibule of the crematorium [where they burned the bodies of the dead].«
»Mein brother Ossi. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, after we were tattooed with our prisoner number we were brought to the Gypsy camp. Ossi was six years old. There was not much to eat, mainly turnips. One day my brother came down with typhus and they sent him to the medical barracks. But there was no doctor there, and Ossi died, also because of starvation. He was no criminal, he was just a simple Gypsy kid."
»The colors in Nature are something that has accompanied me all my life. In a great love for Nature, I searched again and again for the beauty and purity of colors. Brown like the earth, blue like the sky, green like the trees, and red like blood. I see my life here on this earth only as a kind of journey in transit, that's what I believe. And that through the colors in my paintings, so strong and powerful, I am preparing the way to the next life. Everywhere there is life, hope, love and faith. When I paint a picture, I don't just paint the house, the flowers, the fields or the tree. No, I paint what is inside my body, what my heart says, my blood and soul. Because only if you believe in a soul, only if you believe there really is another life after this one, can you paint these paintings.«