Seven heads of families
On 8 May 1945, the German occupying force in Norway surrendered. After five years, the war was finally over. Among those who were unable to share the sense of euphoria in the days that followed were several surviving Jewish prisoners, who were still waiting for transport to take them home. Of the 772 Jews who were deported from Norway during the war, only 34 survived. Sixty-six Norwegian Roma were also subjected to the Nazi racial extermination policy. By May 1945, only four of them were still alive. They found themselves in liberated Belgium, classified as «stateless Gypsies», and still prohibited from entering Norway by the «Gypsy clause» of 1927. Who these people were and what had happened to them after they were turned away by Norwegian authorities in 1934 were two of the questions HL-senteret was commissioned to find answers to.
The seven family heads, turned away by Norwegian authorities in 1934 along with their families. Ill: Archives Générales du Royaume
One evening in late January 1934, sixty-eight Roma were stopped in the Danish–German border town of Padborg. They were on their way to Norway, but the Danish border guards refused to let them pass because Norway's Ministry of Justice had issued instructions that they were not to be considered Norwegian citizens. More than half of the Roma who were turned away had been born in Norway and had held Norwegian identity papers throughout their whole life. In the list prepared by the Belgian immigration police, the 68 individuals were grouped under seven family heads: Kristian Modeste, Karl Modis, Dika Zikali, Czardas Josef, Karl Josef, Oskar Bo Josef and Josef Karoli. They were accompanied by their spouses, children and grandchildren. After a brief internment in Germany, the group spent ten years in Belgium, unwanted and with no rights, until Nazi arrests and deportations of Roma began to escalate in the autumn of 1943.
Sixty-six Norwegian Roma were among those deported from Belgium between November 1943 and May 1944. While Dika Zikali had died by then, her sons Karl and Oskar Bo Josef were deported and murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the other family heads, Karl Modis and Josef Karoli suffered the same fate. At least 21 members of the Modis family, 19 members of the Josef family, and 17 members of the Karoli family were deported to the «Gypsy camp» in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The only Norwegian Roma to survive their time in Auschwitz were Jeanne Galut-Modis, Klara Karoli (né Josef) and brothers Stevo and Milos Karoli. Milos was the only one of these four to return to Norway, though not until 1956 after Norway had repealed the «Gypsy clause».
The descendants of the deported Norwegian Roma stood behind the initiative to investigate what had happened to their family members before, during and after World War II. They also requested an official apology and collective compensation for the way they had been treated by Norwegian authorities. On 8 April 2015, International Roma Day, Prime Minister Erna Solberg apologised on behalf of the Norwegian government for «the racist exclusion policy applied in the decades before and after World War II».
Text: Jan Brustad