Dohány Street 68

In 1944 there were almost two thousand yellow-star houses in Budapest, but the Open Society Archive managed to open only a few more than a hundred for the Midsummer Day presentation. The rest remained closed. The page of the OSA publishes their full list, asking the readers to tell their stories.

I also want to contribute with one house from the almost two thousand. But even if you manage to get in and to record the stage, on which many generations played their stories, what does the stage tell us about these stories? I cannot publish but pictures, into which everyone can imagine a hundred years of history – or add to the post what you know about it.

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“My mother still had an entire drawer of these letters. They purchased land from the 1880s on, piece by piece, as they could, they run farms on them. In the 50s, after the land was taken away, they even feared to keep the papers, even they could cause trouble. They put them on the fire, piece by piece. Only these few were left to me.”

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“My grandfather walked over from Buda to Pest, to Falk Miksa Street, to visit his sister Kamilla, who lived there with her daughter Klárika – her three sons had been already taken to forced labor – in a yellow-star house. As soon as he entered, they sat down to play four hands. It was indeed characteristic for the family that anyone could sit down with anyone at any time to play four hands. They played operettas, arias, but also more serious genres. And time flew while playing, and it was already past 5 p.m., past the time when a Jew was allowed to go out on the street. «Come on, what can go wrong?», my grandfather said, «They will not care about an old Jew!» It did not happen like this. In late November, just as he had walked out, in a thin coat, in shoes with holes, he was driven on foot to Deutschkreuz in Austria.”

The double house at Keleti Károly Street 29-31 was designed in 1909 by the greatest architectural duo of the Hungarian Art Nouveau, Marcell Komor and Dezső Jakab. The two street-front wings designed as apartment buildings, and the house higher up, in the bottom of the garden, for their families. “In order that their legendary co-operation would not be disturbed by anything, they clearly separated everything”, recalls Marcell Komor’s grandson, Tamás Székely, an engineer himself. “On the left side was the Komor apartment building, and on the right the Jakab one. In the upper house, to the left the Komor flat, to the right the Jakab, with separate entrances, separate staircases. Only the Komor office and Jakab office on the first floor were tied together with a single door. On the street front once stood a huge carved gate, with two little gates: the Komor gate to the left, and the Jakab to the right. And we always entered and left through the Komor gate, and the Jakab family always through the Jakab gate, and I do not remember any case when it happened otherwise.”

The sole exception is the photo, which was probably taken shortly after the building of the house. In this picture, Marcell Komor sits at the right side of the house, on the Jakab bench, with his daughter Anna.

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“Only the left side of the building, the Komor house was declared a yellow-star house, the Jakab house was not. A lot of people moved into the house, both acquaintances and strangers. My grandfather stayed there, facing the situation with dignity and calmness.”

The Komor house was hit by a bomb at the end of January 1945, just two weeks before the end of the siege of Budapest. The upper part, the apartment of the Komor family completely burnt down. But the house was plundered long before.

“On 19 March 1944, some German officers came to the Komor-Jakab house, which of course was full of valuables, antiques, sculptures, paintings.
In 1944 Dezső Jakab did not live any more, Marcell Komor was still alive.
Jakab’s widow, Irén Schreiber, * let in the extremely polite and elegant officers, who had crossed the Hungarian border on that morning.
As the old lady had no doubts about the purpose of the visit of the officers, she immediately offered to guide them through the flat, and list the valuables.
The soldiers, however, politely declined this, saying that they have many more places to visit on that day. They only took out a sheet of paper, with the exact and detailed list of all the valuables in the house, down to the last tiny picture frame. At the end of the list a few lines announced that the German National Bank would pay for it all, as soon as the war was over. «Sign here, please», said the schneidig soldiers, who, having accomplished their mission in the Komor flat, moved on.”

Iván Bächer: “Komorok. Egy pesti polgárcsalád históriájából”
(The Komors. From the history of a middle-class family in Budapest), Budapesti Negyed 1996/4

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“I did not stay at home then. I was eighteen, and I served the homeland far away from here. Only after my return home did I get to know what happened. I asked one of my grandfather’s colleagues, an architect, who was carried away together with him as far as Deutschkreuz, although he managed to come home. I asked him about how my grandfather died. He did not want to speak about it at all. Only after a long time did he say, that it was horrible, that it was quite horrible. I did not get to know more about it.”

Brahms: 5th Hungarian dance for piano four-hands. Mirka Lachowska and Edgar Wiersocki, 2008

Yellow-star houses

Seventy years ago, on 15 July 1944, the decree of the Mayor of Budapest was published, the effect of which was that the more than two hundred thousand Jews of Budapest – who since 5 April had been required to wear the yellow star – had to move, within a week, into the houses assigned to them. The gates of these houses had to be marked, in the words of the decree, with a “canary-yellow Star of David”. The Jews crowded into these houses – several families were put together in one flat – could leave the house for only two hours a day, between 3 and 5 p.m. From Governor Horthy’s failed attempt to break away from the war and the Nazi takeover on 15 October, until the end of November, when the inhabitants of the yellow-star houses were further moved into the Budapest Ghetto, the Nazi detachments also often harassed and carried away those living here. There were about two thousand such houses in the capital, which now can be seen together for the first time in the map composed by the Open Society Archive of Budapest.

The OSA, which for more than a year has been collecting and publishing on a separate site and a facebook page the documents and recollections connected with the yellow-star houses, yesterday organized, on the longest day of the year, together with the former and present inhabitants of these houses, their first presentation. The impressive program encompassing more than two hundred sites extends from on-site commemorations and survivors’ recollections through concerts and film screenings organized in the courtyards to walks that cover several houses.

On Saturday morning we are gathering in the courtyard of one of the yellow-star houses around Teleki Square, where the famous rag-fair – in my childhood only a food market – operated before the war. It was a poor slum, just like now, the first stop of the Jews coming from the countryside to the capital. Thirty thousand Jews lived here, 15% of those in Budapest, crowded into large blocks with inner courtyards and external corridors. It is no coincidence that almost every building in the main street of the neighborhood, Népszínház Street, which started from Teleki Square in the direction of the downtown, was a yellow-star house. In the few exceptions, the inhabitants themselves applied for this status in the Mayor’s office, supporting their request with an envelope with ten thousand pengős – 60 times the average monthly wage – so they could remain in their own flats, relates Tamás Márton in the courtyard of number 46, who has been living there since then.

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The walk is conducted by the young researchers of the apartment synagogue of Teleki Square. Once there were in the neighborhood more than fifty places of worship like this, apartments converted into small synagogues, almost one in each block of flats, but now there remains only this one. The Gláser Jakab Memorial Foundation, named after the recently deceased, legendary leader of the synagogue, has been trying to reconstruct the disappeared Jewish world of Teleki Square and its neighborhood by collecting data and doing interviews with the last witnesses. We will also review their first publications, planned for this autumn.

“It was 15 October 1944, when Horthy proclaimed the half-day long temporary breakaway from the war. I will never forget it: it was Sunday, just like the day of the Nazi occupation. A day of joy. We got to know that Hungary left the war, and turned against the Nazis. The first thing that happened was that the adults went down and took the yellow stars off the gates. And then, on the afternoon of the same day, still in daylight, from the direction of Homok Street the Nazis and the Hungarian gendarmes appeared, through the roofs. They howled us down to the courtyard. I was so scared and seized by such a panic, that I told to my mother to jump down from the fourth floor, to commit suicide. My mother’s reply to me was a spank on the seat of my pants. We went down, we were lined up, then we had to march with our hands up, children and elderly alike. Through the Népszínház, Kun and Rákóczi Streets, the Kerepesi Street, to the Tattersall [the racetrack].” (Interview of the Memorial Foundation with Iván Bánki)

The interviews refer to several hitherto unknown historical threads. For example, the role of the Jewish gangsters, who – as we also know from the novels of the local author Endre Fejes – were dominant figures of the eighth district, just as infamous before the war as now. Several witnesses make mention about a certain Miklós Lantos who, dressed in Nazi uniform, took over from real Nazis the command of Jewish groups which were being led to execution, thus saving them. According to others, more than one local Jewish gangster dressed up as Nazis, and thus were able to get near to the unsuspecting Nazis and “settle them with a brick”, and they even organized an armed resistance lasting several days in Népszínház Street after the 15 October coup. This is also commemorated by a plaque on the wall of Népszínház Street 46. But whether it really happened like that, or it is simply good to believe that even the defenceless had their own Robin Hoods, is not known for sure. Each witness remembers differently. Some say there was no uprising at all, only the Nazi caretaker of the house number 59 shot out to the street, in order to stir trouble for the Jewish inhabitants of the house. One thing is sure: the victims.

“On 17 October 1944, around 9 in the morning the noise of a tremendous gunfire filled the neighborhood of Népszínház Street and Teleki Square… One of the house caretakers told us in secret that there is a fight between the Nazis and the Jews shooting from the windows… From the house opposite number 59, soon there were twenty-one bloody corpses lying in the road.” (Interview of the Memorial Foundation with Dr. József Balázs)

In the courtyard of number 59, former witnesses now remember the events. According to Endre Jakab, the women and children were driven to the racetrack, while the men, twenty-two by number, including his father, were ordered to the front of the house, and there shot one by one. The grandson of one of them, Nick Barlay from London, has been researching the history of his family for many years, and now reads from his book, recently translated to Hungarian, what he has managed to find out about his grandfather’s death.

The commemoration comes to an end. But before the participants of the tour could spread out to take in the further programs, Tamás Adler, the leader of the tour, takes out a bottle of kosher plum brandy distilled in Teleki Square. We toast to the birthday of Ferenc Reisler, who just told us his memories of seventy years ago. Le hayim, we say according to the Jewish custom, to life.

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“Memorial street lamp. The eternally burning light placed here commemorates the inhabitants of this Jewish district”

In Lublin, at the entrance of the parking lot established on the place of the Jewish quarter blown up by the Nazis and leveled by the Communist regime.

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Gitanos de Crimea

Gitanos de Crimea, en: Christian Geißler, Malerische Darstellungen der Sitten und Gebräuche… unter Russen, Tataren, Mongolen und anderen Völkern des Russischen Reichs, Leipzig 1804

Distinguir los subgrupos étnicos gitanos repartidos por los diversos países, que se relacionan entre ellos siguiendo los ajustados grados de una escala que va desde los que son parientes o amigos hasta los enemigos acérrimos, es tarea casi imposible para un no iniciado. Esto es especialmente cierto en Crimea, donde las divisiones tradicionales por tipos de artesanos, dialectos y linajes se doblan con un criterio ulterior básico: si el gitano en cuestión es tártaro, o no.

Gitanos pudientes de Crimea a principios del siglo XX: Gobierno de Stavropol

Tras la conquista rusa de fines del siglo XVIII, para prácticamente todos los grupos étnicos, ya fueran judíos, armenios o gitanos, había dos clasificaciones: tártaros y no tártaros, los «nuestros», y los «recién llegados». Como consecuencia de quinientos años de dominación tártara, incluso los grupos étnicos que debido a su religión u ocupaciones mantuvieron su identidad, habían adoptado la lengua tártara en detrimento de la materna. Los armenios de Crimea y los judíos karaítas, con el tramo de la Ruta de la Seda desde Crimea a Polonia bajo su control, hablaban tártaro ya en la Lemberg de finales del siglo XVII, y reservaban el armenio o el hebreo tan solo como lengua litúrgica. El pequeño grupo de estos últimos que sobrevive en la Halich galitziana todavía hoy talla sus lápidas funerales utilizando caracteres hebreos pero en idioma tártaro. Y ambos grupos se distinguen de los armenios de habla armenia y de los judíos askenazi de habla yidis que se trasladaron a la península de Crimea después de la conquista rusa.

Gitana de Crimea echadora de cartas

El primer grupo de gitanos «tártaros» de Crimea, los gurbets (que se autodenominan turcomanos) llegaron a la península de Crimea —según su propias tradición— a la par que los tártaros, como tratantes profesionales de caballos. Conservaron este oficio hasta la revolución de 1917. Llevaban sus caballos a las ferias de los alrededores, no sólo en el interior de la península sino por toda la estepa de Novorossiya (Nueva Rusia), y la fortuna de sus miembros más ricos se estimaba en veinte mil rublos de plata. Los otros dos grupos más o menos nómadas de gitanos «tártaros» se identificaban principalmente por sus ofcios o labores artesanas: los demerdzhis eran herreros o caldereros ambulantes, los elekchis fabricaban cedazos y tejían cestas, los dauldzhis eran los músicos de las bodas tártaras y las celebraciones del Ramadán. Aunque todos ellos se declaraban musulmanes sunitas, los tártaros los miraban con recelo ya que a la vez mantenían una serie de costumbres chiítas derivadas de sus orígenes iraníes. Algunos de estos grupos supuestamente utilizaban la jaculatoria «No hay otro dios sino Alá y Mahoma es su profeta» con el añadido de «y Ali es como Dios»; y en el mes sagrado de los mártires chiítas recorrían las aldeas con banderas y tambores, lamentándose por Hassan y Hussein.

Gitanos de las montañas de Crimea. Litografía de August Raffe, 1837

Después de la conquista rusa comenzó la afluencia de tártaros no gitanos –conocidos como «lakhins», es decir, polacos– desde otras regiones del imperio, principalmente de Moldavia y Besarabia. Por su profesión, eran principalmente ayudzhi, domadores de osos, titiriteros ambulantes que, además de montar el circo del pueblo, completaban sus escasas ganancias con la cartomancia, la quiromancia y otras prácticas mágicas por el estilo. Hablaban vlach y se declaraban musulmanes, pero no iban a la mezquita; celebraban sus fiestas de acuerdo con costumbres pre-islámicas y en el alistamiento del censo de 1835 dictaron sus nombres de forma doble, musulmana y no musulmana: «Mehmet , es decir, Kili, Osman, es decir, Arnaut, Hassan, quien también es Murtaza…» Su nomadismo se interrumpió con un decreto del zar en 1809 que los obligaba a asentarse. Desde entonces empezaron a aprender los oficios artesanos de los grupos gitanos anteriores, con los cuales, sin embargo, mantuvieron siempre una distancia.

Caldereros gitanos de Bajchisarái. Litografía de August Raffe, 1837

En las grandes ciudades los gitanos se establecieron en barrios propios, donde cada subgrupo mantenía su identidad aparte. La colonia más grande era la Tsiganskaya Slobodka de Simferopol, a las afueras de la antigua ciudad tártara. A principios del siglo XX se contaban allí cerca de trescientas familias romaníes –de ocho a diez personas en cada una– que en su mayoría practicaban la herrería, eran carboneros y vendedores ambulantes de carbón, o fabricantes y reparadores de artículos domésticos. Pero por entonces rusos y tártaros también vivían en buen número en el Slobodka, que era considerado el barrio marginal de la ciudad, un nido permanente de enfermedades, y que a pesar de todos los intentos de reforma se mantuvo así hasta la década de 1940.

«Esta zona», escribe N. A. Svyatsky en su Sobre los gitanos de Rusia y de Crimea (Simferopol, 1888), «no es similar a nuestras calles. Con su aspecto primitivo y desordenado más parece un campamento gitano itinerante. Las diminutas casas pobres se amontonan sin ningún orden, donde les place. A veces unas pocas en fila; y luego el área entre ellas y el próximo grupo de  casas es un descampado común donde las familias gitanas viven su ruidosa vida cotidiana, despreocupada y bulliciosa. Las casas gitanas son en su mayoría una sola habitación de tres por tres metros sin cocina, despensa ni cualquier otra dependencia. La habitación está prácticamente vacía, a menudo incluso sin una estufa. La estufa común está en el patio, en un lugar llamado ‘carro’, protegida del viento por una simple pared de arcilla».

La cuestión de quién era tártaro y quién no se volvió importante de verdad en la década de 1940. El ejército alemán de ocupación, que en Crimea contó con el apoyo de los tártaros, distinguía a los judíos (caraítas y krimchaks) y gitanos considerados de nacionalidad tártara, de los «otros» judíos y gitanos destinados al exterminio. Por tanto, estos gitanos –ayudados por los tártaros, ciertamente– se dejaron alistar como tártaros. Cuando el 9 de diciembre de 1941, los hombres del Einsatzgruppe «D» rodearon la Tsiganskaya Slobodka y comenzaron a hacer subir a los camiones y a llevarse para su ejecución a quienes vivían allí, la acción fue detenida por la protesta del gobierno tártaro. Y en Bajchisarai, donde ya se había juntado a los gitanos locales para eliminarlos, el jefe del gobierno local tártaro se presentó en persona ante el comandante de la unidad alemana y le pidió que seleccionara al azar a tres hombres de entre aquellos gitanos. Entonces, bajándoles los pantalones en presencia del comandante y señalando su miembro circuncidado, anunció que renunciaba a su cargo porque no podía asumir la responsabilidad de la cooperación de la población si los alemanes eliminaban a los musulmanes. La acción también fue detenida en este caso..

Usul-usul. Canción tradicional tártara de Crimea

El 18 de mayo de 1944, cuando regresaron las autoridades soviéticas a Crimea formaron los convoyes con la población que debía ser deportada siguiendo las listas alemanas, incluyendo así a los gitanos que constaban como tártaros. A la protesta de los gitanos, respondieron: «Los alemanes sabían exactamente quién era judío y quién era gitano. Si no os llevaron, es porque sin duda sois tártaros.» Entre los sobrevivientes de los gitanos deportados solo unos pocos padecieron la terrible experiencia que los tártaros, vueltos ilegalmente a Crimea desde la década de 1960, tuvieron que afrontar. La mayoría de ellos vive en la región de Krasnodar, donde todavía mantienen sus caldererías itinerantes y sus oficios artesanos.

En Tsiganskaya Slobodka ya no hay gitanos tártaros, pero el lugar –como un molde social– aún reproduce constantemente la miseria, vertiéndola luego hacia todo el casco antiguo tártaro. La entrada al distrito está al lado de la Mezquita Blanca, donde terminamos nuestro paseo anterior por Simferopol. Aquí se encuentra la antigua mezquita gitana, desde 1945 casa para oficiales soviéticos que la comunidad tártara ha intentado sin éxito recuperar para el culto. Junto a ella se alza el palacio de la Madre del Mundo, la Reina del Trono de las Hadas, la Gobernante de la Tierra, Faraona, Esfinge y Mesías. La reina nos recibe al entrar en el barrio, y por un pequeño donativo como vasallos nos entrega su benevolencia y protección. Que definitivamente vamos a necesitar.

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La pobreza es la misma pero la «ruidosa vida cotidiana, despreocupada y bulliciosa» ha desaparecido. Las casas están en ruinas, las puertas cerradas –como si hubiera algo que robar en esos patios desolados de un solo piso–. Un niño pequeño y una vieja se asoman detrás de una puerta. En las calles sólo merodean los perros solitarios rebuscando comida en los contenedores abiertos, y de vez e cuando un transeúnte mira con sospecha a los desconocidos, sin aceptar el saludo. Cualquier tienda o pub, si existe, está cerrado. Desde el portón trasero de un camión aparcado ante un puesto de reciclaje de basuras se venden tres sacos de patatas y unos trozos de sandía.

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Las calles cada vez más pobres, estrechas y empinadas se diluyen en una grande y vacía llanura rocosa. Una meseta  dominada por una bandada perezosa de cuervos que permiten a la gente acercarse mucho hasta que echan a volar con graznidos de enfado en el último instante. Un coche vacío en la cima de la colina, sin que se vean sus pasajeros por parte alguna. En la ladera, las ruinas de la Neapolis Scythica, el bastión de la antigua fortaleza escita. Desde aquí se divisa el barrio industrial de Simferopol. Dos personas mayores procedentes de las fábricas acortan campo a través, mientras que un hombre con aspecto de ex-funcionario soviético pasea con un musculoso perro. Se detienen sin dejar de mirar a los desconocidos hasta que, después de rodear la colina, desaparecemos de nuevo en el laberinto de la antigua ciudad vieja.

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Una vieja gitana se sienta delante de un patio amplio, mirando a la calle. «¿A qué le estáis sacando fotos?» «A cómo es la vida aquí, cómo viven.» «No hay nada interesante en eso. Todo puede desaparecer sin que nadie se acuerde. En vez de eso, tomad una foto mía, así os llevaréis algún buen recuerdo.»

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Crimean Gypsies

Crimean Gypsies, in: Christian Geißler, Malerische Darstellungen der Sitten und Gebräuche… unter Russen, Tataren, Mongolen und anderen Völkern des Russischen Reichs, Leipzig 1804

To distinguish the Gypsy ethnic subgroups living in various countries, which place each other at various points of the scale extending from relative to enemy, is an almost hopeless task for the outsider. This is especially true in the Crimea, where traditional divisions by crafts, dialects and lineage is duplicated by a further, essential criterion: whether the Gypsy in question is a Tatar Gypsy, or not.

Wealthy Crimean Gypsies at the beginning of the century. Stavropol government

After the late 18th-century Russian conquest, for virtually all the ethnic groups, be they Jews, Armenians or Gypsies, there were two classifications: Tatar and non-Tatar: “ours” and “newcomer”. As a result of five hundred years of Tatar rule, even the ethnic groups which, due to their religion or occupation, maintained their identity, adopted the Tatar language in place of their mother tongue. The Crimean Armenians and Karaim Jews, with the section of the Silk Road from the Crimea to Poland in their hands, spoke Tatar even in late 17th-century Lemberg, and used Armenian or Hebrew only as a liturgical language. The small group of the latter that survives in Galician Halich, which we will write about, even today carve their gravestones in Hebrew characters, but in the Tatar language. And both groups distinguish themselves from the Armenian-speaking Armenians and Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews who moved into the Crimea after the Russian conquest.

Crimean Gypsy fortune teller

The first “Tatar” group of Crimean Gypsies, the Gurbets (who called themselves Turkmens) according to their own traditions arrived in the Crimea together with the Tatars as professional horse traders. They retained this profession until the revolution of 1917. They took their horses around to the fairs, not only in the peninsula, but in the whole steppe of Novorossiya, and the fortune of their wealthiest members was estimated at twenty thousand silver rubles. The other, more or less nomadic groups of the “Tatar” Gypsies were also organized primarily by crafts: the Demerdzhis were itinerant blacksmiths, the Elekchis sieve-makers and basket-weavers, the Dauldzhis the professional musicians of Tatar weddings and Ramadan celebrations. Although all of them declared themselves Sunni Muslims, the Tatars looked upon them with suspicion, because they also practiced a number of Shia customs, referring to their Iranian origins. Some of their groups allegedly used the confession “There is no god, but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet” with the addition of “and Ali, the God-like”; and in the holy month of the Shiite martyrs they roamed the villages with flags and drums, mourning Hassan and Hussein.

Crimean mountain Gypsies. Lithography by August Raffe, 1837

After the Russian conquest, an influx of the non-Tatar Gypsies, called “Lakhins”, which is to say Poles, started from the other regions of the empire, primarily from Moldova and Bessarabia. By profession, they were primarily Ayudzhi, bear-leaders, wandering entertainers, who, in addition to the village circus, earned their meagre bread by cartomancy, chiromancy and other magic practices. They spoke Vlach, and declared themselves Muslims, but they did not go to mosque, celebrated their feasts according to pre-Islamic customs, and at the time of the 1835 census dictated their names in double, Muslim and non Muslim-form: “Mehmet, that is, Kili, Osman, that is, Arnaut, Hassan, who is also Murtaza…” Their nomadism was ended with the Tsar’s decree of 1809, which forced them to settle. After that time they learned the crafts of the earlier Gypsy groups, from which, however, they kept their distance until the very end.

Gypsy smithy in Bakchisaray. Lithography by August Raffe, 1837

In major cities the Gypsies settled down in Gypsy quarters, where the various subgroups maintained their separate identity. The largest colony was the Tsiganskaya Slobodka in Simferopol, on the outskirts of the Tatar old town. In the early 20th century, nearly three hundred Roma families were counted here, with eight to ten people each, who mostly practiced blacksmithing, charcoal burning and peddling, or prepared household goods. But by that time Russians and Tatars also lived in a fair number in the Slobodka, which was considered the slum of the city and an eternal nest of disease, and in spite of every attempt it remained so until the 1940s.

“This area”, writes N. A. Svyatsky in his On the Gypsies of Russia and the Crimea (Simferopol, 1888), “is not similar to our streets. With its primitive and disordered look it appears rather like an itinerant Gypsy camp. The tiny, poor cottages are built without any order, where they like it. Sometimes a few in a row, and then the area between them and the next houses is a large common courtyard, where the Gypsy families live their noisy, carefree and bustling everyday life. The Gypsy houses are mostly one single, three by three meter room, without kitchen, pantry or any other outbuilding. The room is mostly empty, often even without a stove. The common stove is in the courtyard, at a place called “chariot”, protected from the wind by one single clay wall.”

The question of who is Tatar and who not became really important in the 1940s. The occupying German army, which in the Crimea counted on the support of the Tatars, distinguished the Jews (Karaim and Krymchaks) and Gypsies considered to be of Tatar nationality from the “other” Jews and Gypsies destined for extermination. The Gypsies therefore allowed themselves to be enrolled as Tatars, with the support also of the Tatars. When on 9 December 1941 the men of Einsatzgruppe “D” surrounded the Tsiganskaya Slobodka, and started to put on trucks and carry away for execution those living here, the action was halted on the protest of the Tatar government. And in Bakhchisaray, where the local Gypsies had already been collected for execution, the head of the local Tatar government reported himself to the commander of the German unit, and asked him to select any three men from the Gypsies. Then, dropping down their pants in the presence of the commander, and pointing to their circumcised organ, announced that he resigns his position, because he cannot take responsibility for the co-operation of the population if the Germans massacre Muslims. The action was halted this time, too.

Usul-usul. Crimean Tatar folk song

On 18 May 1944 the Soviet authorities, on returning to the Crimea, also composed the trains of the Tatars to be deported based on the German lists, thus including the Gypsies listed as Tatars. On the protest of the Gypsies they replied: “The Germans exactly knew who was a Jew and who was a Gypsy. If they did not take you away, you are certainly Tatars.” Among the survivors of the deported Gypsies only a few undertook the ordeal which the Tatars, illegally returning to the Crimea from the 1960s, had to face. Most of them live in the Krasnodar region, where they still carry on their itinerant blacksmith and peddling crafts.

On the Tsiganskaya Slobodka there are no Tatar Gypsies any more, but the site as a social mold still constantly re-produces misery, pouring it out into the whole Tatar old town. The entrance to the district is next to the White Mosque, where we finished our previous walk in Simferopol. Here stands the former Gypsy mosque, since 1945 a house for Soviet officers, which the Tatar community has unsuccessfully tried to retake for the purpose of mosque. Next to it rises the palace of the Mother of the World, the Queen of the Fiery Throne, the Ruler of the Earth, Pharaoh, Sphinx and Messiah. The Queen receives you at the entrance of the quarter, and for a small vassal’s fee she provides you her benevolence and protection. You will definitely need it.

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Although the poverty is unchanged, the “noisy, carefree and bustling everyday life” has gone. Run-down houses, locked doors – as if there were anything to steal from the one-story long courtyards. A small child and an old woman watch from behind the doors. On the streets, there are only the lonely dogs in search for food in the open sewers, and sometimes a passer-by who looks suspiciously at the stranger, not accepting his greeting. Any shop or pub, if it exists, is closed. In front of a waste recycling post they are selling three bags of potatoes and a few pieces of watermelon from the back of a truck.

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The increasingly poor, narrow and steep streets dissipate onto a large, empty, rocky plateau. The plateau is dominated by a lazy band of crows, they allow people to approach quite near, skirring up only in the last minute. An empty car on the hilltop, its passagers are nowhere to be seen. On the hillside, the ruins of the bastion of the former Scythian fortress Neapolis Scythica, from here you can already see the industrial quarter of Simferopol. Two old people coming from the factories cut across the field, while a man looking like a former Soviet party functionary walks with his robust dog. They stop and stare at the stranger until he, having walked around the hill, disappears again into the labyrinth of the former old town.

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An old Gypsy woman sitting in front of a long courtyard, watching the street. “What are you taking pictures of?” “On how life is, how you live here.” “There is nothing interesting in it. May it disappear without anyone remembering it. Take a picture of me instead, so you have some nice memories.”

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