Among the German Sinti and Roma there is hardly a family that was not affected by the persecution by the National Socialists. At least three quarters fell victim to the genocide, so that only a few thousand survived, the majority of whom returned to their old homes.
Marlo Thormann, born in 1960, and Kelly Laubinger, born in 1989, are descendants of Nazi persecutees and live in Neumünster, a medium-sized town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Their lives were and still are shaped by the experiences of violence of their parents, grandparents and relatives during National Socialism. They, as well as other Sinti and Roma, were deported from Neumünster to the Polish camp Belzec in May 1940. Three members of the Laubinger family were murdered there, another relative in Auschwitz, and the relative Wilhelm Thormann in Dachau. Those who survived imprisonment often returned to Neumünster, including Kelly Laubinger’s grandfather Otto Laubinger, who was born in 1928.
Due to continuities of police persecution and stigmatisation by mainstream society, the majority of survivors and their families lived in social isolation until well into the 1970s and 1980s. Thus, while the memory of the genocide was kept alive in private, a broad social debate was avoided.
Marlo Thormann was confronted with the suffering of those close to him on a daily basis from an early age already:
“I overheard a lot. They told a lot, and when it was over, people started crying, of course I always noticed that. I experienced and saw how the survivors of the genocide tormented themselves after 1945, how some women couldn’t have children because the Nazis did experiments. I grew up with that. The first generation was never asked by people from the majority society. The memory was always kept and passed on in private circles, in the family, out of fear, but there was no opening up to the outside because people didn’t want to attract attention.”
For the survivors, the efforts and struggles for financial compensation were a particularly painful experience. These turned out to be extremely small or were completely denied. The lack of state recognition of the genocide prevented a new beginning for Sinti and Roma after 1945.
This also meant that the children and grandchildren of the survivors or relatives had to provide help and were involved in the exhausting processes. Marlo Thormann, for example, remembers his childhood and youth: “I still knew people writing claims to get a little money, a little reparation or a little pension, which was always refused in the first decades. It was extremely difficult to get compensation.“
Kelly Laubinger considers her upbringing, but also the stories told directly by her grandparents, to be of decisive importance for her own development:
“It was always the case in previous generations of our family, for example with my great-grandfather, that we were brought up like that in our childhood: Don’t become class president or top scorer, don’t stand out, don’t apply for politics. […] I simply grew up being told things about the times. My grandmother also used to talk about people who were murdered in the camp. We have a very strong family connection. I can’t say I was only brought up by my parents, no, I was also with my grandparents every day.“
The experiences of Marlo Thormann and Kelly Laubinger are paradigmatic for thousands of other families of German Sinti and Roma. Only the self-organisation of the minority, which was able to obtain state recognition of the genocide by Helmut Schmidt in 1982, the founding of associations and federations as well as the support of committed individuals from civil society, especially since the 1990s, set movements of remembrance in motion in the Federal Republic of Germany through numerous local and regional initiatives. The process of coming to terms with the past continues to this day on a decentralised basis, individual fates of the genocide are still being researched, and their public representation through memorials continues to be contested.
In Neumünster, the knowledge of the majority society about Sinti and Roma and the Nazi crimes committed against them is still low and characterised by stereotypes, says Kelly Laubinger: “My grandmother always said: When the first so-called guest workers came, they were happy because they were no longer the only people with dark skin in the city. They were no longer conspicuous in Neumünster. People don’t know anything about Sinti and Roma. Only the stereotypes from television that they wear colourful clothes, make music and dance around the campfire. That always shocked us.”
It was not until 2013 that the citizens of Neumünster were made aware of the fate of the Sinti and Roma during National Socialism through an interview by the historian Ingo Schumann with Otto Laubinger on “Freies Radio Neumünster”. Eight years later, on 15 May 2021, a memorial was erected in Neumünster next to the former collection point “Haart 38″, which brought the 42 deportees into the public historical consciousness of the citizens of Neumünster by mentioning their names in the inscription. The civil society initiative ” Runder Tisch für Toleranz und Demokratie Neumünster e.V.” (Round Table for Tolerance and Democracy Neumünster), the survivor Otto Laubinger, his descendants and the Association of German Sinti and Roma Schleswig-Holstein e.V. had fought for a social recognition that the Neumünster families had to wait decades for.
First requests for the implementation of the memorial in 2017 and 2018 had initially remained completely unanswered by the city council. It was only after stronger pressure from the network that the city council finally dealt with the issue, but in the debates at the meeting, only representatives of the parties discussed the issue from the perspective of the majority society. The members directly affected had not been invited to present their views. The descendants of the deportees were also hardly included in the decision-making process regarding the aesthetic design and the choice of location. Even at the unveiling of the memorial, Kelly Laubinger was only given the opportunity to speak to the citizens of Neumünster present on her own initiative and with the request to keep her speech as short as possible. Because the FDP, NPD and the Alliance for Citizens (Bündnis für Bürger, BfB) fundamentally rejected the memorial, the positive city council decision to erect it was delayed by several months. The fact that her grandfather Otto Laubinger had died in the meantime is particularly close to Kelly Laubinger’s heart: “He fought for the memorial in Neumünster here. He also went public. He told his story to anyone who wanted to hear it.“
For Kelly Laubinger and Marlo Thormann, the ultimately successful erection of the memorial was a door-opener and starting point for further educational work about the genocide as a means of combating social marginalisation. Together with her father, Kelly Laubinger founded the Sinti Union Schleswig-Holstein e.V. with the aim of raising awareness and empowering other people from the communities. This is done through lectures in educational institutions and in front of political parties such as the FDP, interviews for newspapers or podcasts, presence on social media channels, workshops and talks with politicians at local and state level.
Kelly Laubinger: “Of course, I often get asked: How can you put so much work into it, where do you get the strength from? And then I answer that it’s the family that stands behind me, but also other people from the community. I think our work is important for the future and we hope that more Sinti and Roma in Germany will open up to the outside world. Because what happened could only happen because people knew nothing about the minority. Education comes with safety for us.“
Ongoing vandalism at the memorial site has prompted the Sinti Union Schleswig-Holstein e.V. to take active action together with citizens’ initiatives of the majority society and to go public in order to preserve a dignified commemoration at the memorial site, which is a place of mourning for the Sinti and Roma, also for future generations.
 See Zimmermann, 1996, p. 381
 See Schumann, 2021, pp. 14-22; brochure by historian Ingo Schumann: https://rundertisch-neumuenster.de/projekte-aktionen/
 See Widmann, 2001
 See Robel, 2021, pp. 167-189
 See Stengel, 2019, pp. 16-23
 See Gress, 2022
 The author traces the genesis of these sites from 1980 to 2021 in a dissertation project.
 As in many places, members of the minority initiated the memorial in Neumünster together with allies from the majority society. To a certain extent, this contradicts research by the historian Heike Krokowski, who, through eight interviews with children and grandchildren of surviving Sinti, determined that the interviewees saw only the majority society as responsible for coming to terms with the genocide and making it visible. Cf. Krokowski, 2001, pp. 202-206, 271.
 See https://freiesradio-nms.de/2018/vorerst-kein-denkmal/, Accessed: 13.06.2022; Antrag Bernd Delfs (SPD), 30.01.2018, Signatur 0426/2013/An, https://www.neumünster.de/verwaltung-politik/politik/ratsversammlung, accessed: 15.02.2023
 Interview with Kelly Laubinger, 28.01.2022
 See “Gedenkstätte für verschleppte Sinti und Roma in Neumünster offiziell eingeweiht“, Holsteinischer Courier, 22.08.2021
 See https://freiesradio-nms.de/2018/vorerst-kein-denkmal/; Minutes of the Neumünster City Council meeting 17.12.2019 TOP 15 “Gedenktafel für deportierte Sinti und Roma” Vorlage: 0464/2018/DS. The individual speeches of the meeting can be viewed on the homepage of the City of Neumünster at https://www.neumuenster.de/verwaltung-politik/politik.
List of sources
- The statements by Kelly Laubinger and Marlo Thormann are taken from two narrative interviews by the author on 28.01. and 15.04.2022.
- Request Bernd Delfs (SPD), 30.01.2018, Signatur 0426/2013/An, https://www.neumünster.de/verwaltung-politik/politik/ratsversammlung, last accessed: 15.02.2023.
- https://freiesradio-nms.de/2018/vorerst-kein-denkmal/, last access: 13.06.2022.
- “Gedenkstätte für verschleppte Sinti und Roma in Neumünster offiziell eingeweiht”, Holsteinischer Courier, 22.08.2021.
- Gress, Daniela: Nachgeholte Anerkennung. Sinti und Roma als Akteure in der bundesdeutschen Erinnerungskultur, in: Neumann-Thein, Philipp/ Schuch, Daniel/ Wegewitz, Markus (ed.): Organisiertes Gedächtnis. Kollektive Aktivitäten von Überlebenden der nationalsozialistischen Verbrechen, Göttingen 2022, pp. 425-460.
- Krokowski, Heike: Die Last der Vergangenheit. Auswirkungen nationalsozialistischer Verfolgung auf deutsche Sinti. Frankfurt a.M./ New York 2001, pp. 202–206, 271.
- Robel, Yvonne: Auf der Suche nach Brüchen. Überlegungen zu einer Geschichte des bundesdeutschen Antiziganismus nach 1945, in: Fings, Karola/ Steinbacher, Sybille (ed.): Sinti und Roma. Der nationalsozialistische Völkermord in historischer und gesellschaftspolitischer Perspektive, Göttingen 2021, pp. 167–189.
- Schumann, Ingo: Sinti und Roma aus Neumünster im Nationalsozialismus. Eine Bestandsaufnahme, Neumünster 2021, pp. 14–22.
- Stengel, Katharina: „Wieder hatten wir keine Rechte, standen wieder auf der Straße.“ Die verfolgten Sinti und Roma in der westdeutschen Nachkriegsgesellschaft. Einsicht, Bulletin des Fritz Bauer Instituts (2019), pp. 16–23.
- Widmann, Peter: An den Rändern der Städte. Sinti und Jenische in der deutschen Kommunalpolitik, Berlin 2001.
- Zimmermann, Michael: Rassenutopie und Genozid: die nationalsozialistische „Lösung der Zigeunerfrage“, Hamburg 1996.