Ceija Stojka art work

Over a thousand drawings and paintings, created over a time span of more than twenty years, constitute the pictorial work of Ceija Stojka. Begun in the end of the 1980s, following  an important work of memory and writing initiated a few years earlier, the work is built around two major thematic and distinct axes. The first are the "light pictures", memories of happy times that preceded the war, depicting life in the wagons, family, markets and the celebration of a generous and lush nature. The second are the "dark pictures", showing oppression against the Roma under the Nazi regime, including arrest, atrocities, exterminations, survival and liberation. Ceija Stojka paints and draws the events of her life as her memories emerge. Nevertheless she takes several years to realize her first representations of the camps.

When we traveled

In the works describing this period, Ceija Stojka figures a life before horror, in harmony with nature. That life is one of a child born on May 23 1933 in Kraubath, Styria, from a line of horse dealers, the Lovara, who came to Austria in two main waves of migration : from Hungary and Slovakia in the second part of the 19th century and, from Hungary again in 1956. On the back of some paintings, Ceija describes this nomadic and clan life. Many Roma are already settled at the time and the Stojka family will be forced to do so under Nazi laws following the Anschluss in 1938 and will have to transform the wagon into a wooden cabin. The threat hovers: the pink, orange, purplish skies suggest dusk, in all its metaphorical dimensions, before the cold and the snow of a winter that will last for many years.

The hunt

Ceija Stojka's mother, Sidonie, manages to hide her children for long months after the arrest of her husband, Karl Wackar, who will be deported to Dachau and executed at Hartheim Castle, refurbished in 1940 into a center of Euthanasia (Austria). The family gets help from friends and information about planned razzias. Sometimes they find shelter in a park in the 16th district of Vienna, not far from their house then surrounded by barbed wire. On March 3, 1943, Ceija, her mother and her siblings are locked up in the Viennese prison of Rossauer Lände. The works depict this period, the stalking and arrest of his family, and more widely, the persecution of Roma.

Experiences in the camps

The Stojka are deported to Auschwitz, where they are registered on March 31, 1943 and detained in section B-II-e, known as the "Zigeunerlager" (“Gypsy Camp”). The point of view of the child adopted by Ceija Stojka is exacerbated here, notably by the paintings framing at the height of the SS boots. Ceija Stojka uses different levels, the one of the dead at the ground level, or that of the bird overlooking the camp, or that of the escapee on the other side of the barbed wire. Always accurate in her descriptions, striving to date the episodes she represents, Ceija Stojka tells the story of life in the camps Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück , Bergen-Belsen: for calls, humiliation and torture, forced labor, promiscuity in the barracks, details on some guards (including Dorothea Binz, Frau Rabel), corpses, smoking crematoria, the arrival of the British Army and the liberation of Bergen-Belsen camp on April 15, 1945.

Back to life

It will take Ceija Stojka and her mother long months to reach Vienna from Bergen-Belsen, after the liberation of the camp. The difficult return to life is expressed in the landscapes the artist paints. After years of starvation and hunger, Ceija Stojka paints the Austrian countryside with its fields and crops, woods, mountains and flowers. The sunflower, "the flower of the Rom", which looks for the sun and represents hope, is the recurring motif along with the Virgin Mary, thanks to whom Ceija claims to have survived. This is also the time when Ceija is selling fabrics from door to door. Later, the Stojka family takes over the life of street vendors and sell carpets on markets. Her return to life is accompanied by the birth of her three children: Hojda in 1949, Silvia in 1951, and Jano in 1955. Ceija Stojka depicts them on some of her paintings alongside other members of the family, including Karl her brother, and Kalman her husband.

Using Format