Ceija was the fifth of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsy parents. The Stojka’s family wagon traveled with a caravan that spent winters in the Austrian capital of Vienna and summers in the Austrian countryside. The Stojka’s belonged to a tribe of Gypsies called the Lowara Roma, who made their living as itinerant horse traders.
“I grew up used to freedom, travel and hard work. Once, my father made me a skirt out of some material from a broken sunshade. I was 5 years old and our wagon was parked for the winter in a Vienna campground, when Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. The Germans ordered us to stay put. My parents had to convert our wagon into a wooden house, and we had to learn how to cook with an oven instead of on an open fire.”
“Gypsies were forced to register as members of another “race.” Our campground was fenced off and placed under police guard. I was 8 when the Germans took my father away; a few months later, my mother received his ashes in a box. Next, the Germans took my sister, Kathi. Finally, they deported all of us to a Nazi camp for Gypsies in Auschwitz/Birkenau. We lived in the shadows of a smoking crematorium, and we called the path in front of our barracks the “highway to hell” because it led to the gas chambers.”
After the death of her youngest brother in Birkenau from Typhoid, Ceija, her mother and one of her sisters were separated from her two older brothers and another older sister and transferred to the Ravensbruck concentration camp where they endured horrific cruelties at the hands of a sadistic female guard named Dorothea Binz. In a desperate bid to escape her torments, Ceija, her mother and her sister begged their way onto trucks taking fresh workers to the Bergin Belsen concentration camp, where Ceija recalled “Here is where the real misery began”.
Ceija was subsequently freed in the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945. She has become an artist of some renown in Austria for her vivid and moving images of the holocaust.
You can read more about Ceija in the blog entry about her interview here: http://forgetusnotmovie.com/2010/10/14/here-is-where-the-real-misery-began/