Contemporary witness Franz in April 2014 on Markus Lanz's talk show
Photo: imago stock&people / Future Image / IMAGO
Philomena Franz survived several concentration camps, including those in Auschwitz and Ravensbrück.
When the 100th birthday of the musician and author is celebrated on July 21, 2022 in the small Bergisch town of Rösrath, it should be a special day, also for this country.
Actually, even Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth wanted to congratulate her personally, “on site”, as she wrote, but now she doesn’t take the opportunity.
It is planned that Franz will also talk about her life, which is so terribly connected to her German homeland.
She was born in Biberach in Baden-Württemberg in 1922 and was part of a large and successful family of musicians.
As she once described it, her mother also had Jewish roots and her father was a Sinto.
As a child she performed with her family, sang and danced, also abroad.
Later, however, it was taken over by the National Socialists
persecuted, she had to leave the girls’ high school in Stuttgart, was used as a forced laborer, deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943 and tattooed with the identification »Z 10550«.
It was not the only camp in which the young woman was put, she was even taken to Auschwitz a second time.
She told SPIEGEL a few years ago: »We had to work at the crematorium.
I can't even tell how high the human ashes lay there.
And she was like pebbles.
We had to shovel them away on trucks.”
Almost her entire family was murdered by the Nazis.
Franz, the survivor, wanted to do something about forgetting, she spoke to schoolchildren and also on talk shows, wrote books, and was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit with Ribbon.
She lives in Bergisch-Gladbach, Rösrath was the center of her life for a long time.
The Philomena Franz Forum was also founded there in 2021, which is now taking her birthday as an opportunity to honor her on two days: with a poetic night prayer on the eve of the birthday and with an academic conference on the history of the Sinti and Roma in Germany as well as a concert on 21 July.
Offer of a greeting
Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth had originally promised her meeting.
"I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the jubilee in Rösrath," she wrote to the organizers in March.
Shortly after taking office, she could not foresee whether she would be able to attend the conference on time.
A few weeks ago, the forum received the message that Roth would not come, either to congratulate him or to attend the conference.
Matthias Buth is the founder of the Philomena Franz Forum.
The poet, essayist and lawyer used to work in the culture department of the Chancellery.
He told SPIEGEL that one of Roth's advisors had phoned him that the Minister of State for Culture was not coming.
Instead, he was offered a greeting from the Minister of State for Culture.
But he "thankfully declined."
His reason for this: “You have to look a hundred-year-old concentration camp survivor in the eye.
Ms. Roth missed that chance.«
The fact that Roth wrote a short contribution for a book accompanying the conference that he published is not enough for Buth.
With her visit, the Minister of State for Culture could have set a »cultural-political sign«, he says.
No one expected her to stay for the entire duration of the conference.
Why doesn't Roth show up?
A spokesman for the Minister of State for Culture announced that Roth regretted not being able to come.
He does not want her letter to be understood as a promise, but “there was never one”.
But she took part in the commemorative publication for Philomena Franz for this occasion.
The commemoration of the brutal, systematic crimes of the Nazi regime against the Sinti and Roma has been a core concern of Claudia Roth's political work for a very long time, emphasizes the spokesman and also states that Roth very much "hopes and would be happy if she Philomena Franz could also meet personally at one of the upcoming important commemorative events.« As an example, he cites the »ceremony for 10 years of the memorial for the Sinti and Roma murdered under National Socialism in October in Berlin«.
For the then 100-year-old Philomena Franz, one of the last contemporary witnesses in the country, a trip to Berlin might be too far.
Buth says: "Philomena Franz reflects us, Germany and the present," she should now be honored.