GYPSY – Die Geschichte einer grossen Sinti-Familie – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith

GYPSY – Die Geschichte einer grossen Sinti-Familie
Dotchy Reinhardt
Price € 18,90 in Germany, € 19,50 in Austria and SFR 33,80 in Switzerland
288 Seiten, Hardback with dust cover
ISBN 978-3-502-10190-1
Publisher: Scherz Verlag

Dotschy Reinhardt is a a Sintiza, that is to say a Gypsy woman from the Sinti groups of the Romani People, and of the famous Reinhardt family from whence also the most famous Jazz musician of all times sprang, namely Django Reinhardt, and was born 1975 in Ravensburg, Germany.

While the Sinti groups of Gypsies have been living in Western Europe, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Britain for many hundreds of years they still, whether in Germany or elsewhere, have to battle injustices and discrimination on a daily basis. In some places this is obviously worse than in others.

Dotchy Reinhardt not only has a great style of music, she also has a great style of writing and when she talks about her childhood, spent with her grandmother in Ummenwinkel it brought memories of my own childhood flooding back to me in a very vivid way, as I too am of a Gypsy family.

While I full agree with her explanation as to the word Zigeuner personally as a Sinto I have no problems with that word in the same way as i have no problem with the word Gypsy. I know many Romani, Sinti and Roma, who have use the word Zigeuner themselves and also in the English world Gypsy. If used by ourselves with pride then and and all bad connotations it may have from the Nazi era, I am referring here to the word Zigeuner, is banished. We have to deal with things like that in that way and not in a way of suppressing them and forcing others to use other terms. It is our pride in being what we are even to the extent of using those words that the Gadje may or may not have given us but that have been misused by them to have bad connotations with pride. Such actions will take the wind out of the sails of people that use the words in a negative manner.

We must face the fact that even today the term Sinti and Roma is being used in the same way as was Zigeuner before, such as in police reports, and in Romania the term “Roma” has also got negative meaning, same as Zigeuner.

The book is extremely well written with feelings and political insights direct from a Sintiza, though one that may have been influenced by some of those that may or may not have a hidden agenda, in that the author seems to accept that Sinti are part of the Roma, which, of course, they are not.

There will, no doubt, be and probably already have been some people that will say that Dotschy Reinhardt said too much in this book as far as the Sinti ways and cultural things are concerned though I think that she has done a great job of putting across some of the things without actually giving anything away.

Although the Holocaust is being touched in a small way only as, as Dotschy says, she has no direct experiences – obviously, she is too young for that – nor has she learned much from her direct ancestors directly, though her own family lost many in the camps and some are the survivors of camps as well.

However, in one chapter she describes the battle of her grandfather – though she did not actually get to know him properly – for recognition as a Nazi victim and for some compensation and the way this was fobbed off again and again by the authorities who then were still run by the same people, basically, who tried to exterminate the Gypsy People of Germany and the occupied Europe. Still in the late 1940s when it was already the “Federal Republic of Germany” - a supposedly democratic country – handbooks and guidelines were issued to police officers as to how to deal with the “Gypsy menace”. In addition to that, though not mentioned in the book, several offices of the police forces in Germany and even at Interpol existed – and probably still exist despite claims to the contrary – that were basically entitled as “Office to Combat the Gypsy Menace” and such.

In this regard the book give a great insight in the problems faced daily by Sinti and Roma in Germany (and elsewhere).

In her book Dotschy permits the reader a deep insight – as deep as permitted – into the life and soul of the Sinti, the life and importance of the family, and much more.

In the last pages of the chapter entitled “Borstenvieh und Schweinespeck” she shows exactly where Gypsy community is superior to that of the Gadje, namely in the clan government and clan living, where people support each other; not necessarily financially but in other ways. That kind of support is much more important often than finances. This is just the kind of support that all may need to rediscover in this uncertain time that the world is facing at this moment.

On page 196 of the book Dotschy cites an Uncle of hers, Hannes Pfisterer as saying that “Roma have a different history and that the Roma are a different people” and with the entire statement, as further discussed on page, I can but agree. He makes the same arguments here as to the German-speaking peoples, that is to say that no one would call the Swiss, Austrians, and Germans one people simply because of the fact that they speak a related language.

Some people might disagree with some of what Dotschy has said and written, simply because she has come close to what some people consider the Taboo or, some would say, may have even crossed the line. Especially here in regards to the mentioning of the fact that the eating of horse meat is against the Sinti law and one or the other aspect that also may have been mentioned.

However, in my opinion, and that is the opinion of an older Sinto, some of those things should be mentioned for people to understand who we are and even must be mentioned. Also in order to show the differences between us, the Sinti and related groups, and the Roma. The horse fact also point to the differences between us and the Jews and hence that we cannot be a lost tribe of Israel.

I found this book to be an extremely interesting and enlightening read, one that at times catapulted me back in memory to the very days of my own childhood, and the truth expressed by the authoress in this book makes it one that I can wholeheartedly recommend to the readers.

There are some parts of the book regarding Gypsy issue and Gypsy politics where I do not necessarily agree with the authoress but then that is Dotschy's own understanding of things and that's the way it has to be.

Personally, I have, for instance, have no problem with the word “Zigeuner” and I know many German Gypsies that have not either and then there are others that do, in the same way as I have no problem with the word “Gypsy”.

All in all this is a brilliant book that is not just the autobiography of a brilliant singer and musician who happens to be a Sintiza and of the Reinhardt clan of great renown; it is also and especially the story of the family from which Dotschy Reinhardt stems and of its history.

This is a book that should be read by all and a translation of it into the English language is needed sort of yesterday.

The book is well written and is very much down-to-earth, not that I had really expected anything else from a true Sintiza, though a modern one. Dotschy Reinhardt has done her People, our People, the Sinti, proud with that book. Well done!

I have immensely enjoyed this book and can most highly recommend it.

While this is a review in English the book itself, alas, is so far only available in German but those of that can read German would be well advised to get a-hold of a copy of this book. It is well worth the price and the read.

© M Smith (Veshengro), January 2009