Xenophobes attack travelling way of life

Robert Barton Trust evnuk at gaia.org
Mon Mar 21 17:41:12 GMT 2005

The Robert Barton Trust - travellers' support and drop-in - in Glastonbury 
has had to close its doors while workers do everything they can to find new 
sources of funding before they get evicted. The pulling of funding, attacks 
and threats are another symptom of the concerted xenophobic attack on 
travellers across the UK  - see The Guardian articles and this week's 
Central Somerset Gazette lead below.


Due to a total lack of funding it is with great sadness that we have to 
announce the closure of all services at The Robert Barton Trust in 
We understand the impact our closure will have on all local services as 
well as for our more vulnerable clients. Please phone us on 01458 833797 if 
you have any queries.
  Thank You
Sioux How
Project worker
01458 833797


"Stamp on the camps
The Sun, UK - Mar 8, 2005
By MARTIN PHILLIPS. THE Sun today launches a campaign to STOP John Prescott 
giving the green light to illegal gipsy camps across Britain....."

"I've not seen anything like this since the Julius Streicher Nazi campaign 
against Jews"
Mike Jempson,


Stirring up tensions
Roy Greenslade
Monday March 14, 2005
The Guardian

The great parliamentary drama over the terrorism law took second place in 
three popular papers last week to a very different kind of story: the 
illegal encampments of Gypsies and travellers. And the villain of the 
piece, according to those papers, was the deputy prime minister, John Prescott.

Over the course of three days, the Sun devoted 13 pages - including two 
whole front pages - to the subject. The Daily Mail carried six pages and a 
full-length leading article, while the Daily Express weighed in with three.

It was the Mail that set the caravan rolling with a story on Tuesday which 
claimed that Prescott had "told town halls to go easy on Gypsies" by 
granting them "special rights to build homes in the countryside" and urging 
them to "draw back from evicting those who build camps or homes in defiance 
of rules that apply to everyone else".

This was a heavily spun version of what his department really did - or 
"rubbish" as one of his spokesmen said - but it was just the kind of hook 
the Sun's editor, Rebekah Wade, had been looking for. By coincidence she 
had been moved to tackle the topic after being shown an encampment in 
Lancashire and being told by a member of her staff about a similar example 
in Essex.

So her Wednesday front page, picturing a traveller camp with the headline 
"Meet your neighbours ... thanks to John Prescott" eclipsed the Mail's 
efforts. Then, on Thursday, both papers attempted to outdo each other with 
lurid tales and also redoubled their attacks on Prescott.

On Friday the Sun published 28 letters from readers over three pages, 
pointing out that it had been swamped by "angry phone calls, letters, 
emails and faxes from Sun readers whose lives have been made a misery by 
illegal Gypsy camps".

Clearly, the Sun and Mail had touched a particularly raw nerve with a 
public that has grown increasingly alarmed at problems created by Gypsies 
and travellers.

Unsurprisingly, their representatives believe the papers guilty of 
fomenting racism against a group of people regarded by the Commission for 
Racial Equality as being "one of the most vulnerable and marginalised 
ethnic minority groups in Britain".

Emma Nuttall of the Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) organisation 
says: "These papers are whipping up prejudice. They get away with it 
because it's the last acceptable form of racism".

Andrew Ryder, of the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition and also 
secretary of the Labour party's campaign for travellers' rights, agreed. 
"The Sun is stirring up dangerous tensions at a time when there are many 
delicate situations in various places across the country."

He was particularly exercised by a large Sun headline, "Stamp on the 
camps", which he considered might stimulate vigilante attacks. There are 
precedents. A 15-year-old boy, Johnny Delaney, was beaten to death in 
Ellesmere Port in June 2003 and his traveller parents are convinced the 
attack happened because he was a Gypsy.

Ryder says the latest negative publicity has caused Gypsy children to 
suffer from name-calling and bullying.

But it is as well to remember that this coin has two sides. It was 
noticeable in a BBC news report which followed up the papers' stories (a 
first-class example, incidentally, of the way in which tabloids set the 
broadcasters' agenda) that residents living near a camp visited by the 
journalist, Gavin Hewitt, were too scared to speak in front of the camera 
because they said they feared attacks by travellers.

Indeed, several newspaper readers told anecdotes about violence or threats 
of violence they suffered from Gypsies and travellers. Most of the 
complaints were about litter, trespass, noise, general nuisance and, most 
notably, blatant breaches of planning laws.

Nuttall counters that examples of bad behaviour by travellers are no more 
prevalent than those committed by settled people. The evidence provided by 
Sun readers from around Britain suggests otherwise.

While she rightly points to the centuries of prejudice against Gypsies - 
and, probably, all itinerants - there is little doubt that the papers are 
rep resenting the sincerely held views of a vast number of people.

But have the papers chosen to concentrate their fire on the wrong target in 
their accusations against their favourite whipping boy, Prescott? At its 
heart, the crisis of illegal encampments has been generated by a political 
failure, not by the government but by local authorities.

Nuttall, Ryder and a spokesman for Prescott's department make out a 
convincing case that the problem stems from the repeal in 1994 of the 
Caravan Sites Act. In effect, this removed the pressure on local councils 
to set up proper sites and Labour, then in opposition, did warn that it 
would result in the criminalisation of travellers and Gypsies because of 

So it has come to pass. Several authorities have turned a blind eye to the 
problem by refusing to set up any sites whatsoever, creating a severe 
shortage. That's why Prescott's office issued a guidance note last Monday 
which, far from urging councils "to go easy", reminded them of their 
obligations to set up authorised sites.

Whether the Mail misread Prescott's advice by accident or design, it 
certainly misunderstood one central aim: to halt the unauthorised 
development of sites by announcing the introduction of more effective 
enforcement powers against Gypsies and travellers who break the law.

The truth, despite the deep-seated prejudice, is that these people have to 
live somewhere and papers could play a hugely beneficial role if they were 
to pressure recalcitrant local authorities to do their duty. What does that 
editors' code say about acting in the public interest?


'We had the same pain'

Most people know about the millions of Jews murdered in Hitler's death 
camps; less is known about the 500,000 Gypsies who also died. Walter Winter 
is determined that this must change

Emma Brockes
Monday November 29, 2004
The Guardian

For many years, Walter Winter did not speak of the events that took place 
in his life between the ages of 20 and 25. After the war he put his head 
down and worked: in his family's funfair business and on the business of 
marriage, to Marion, with whom he raised six children in the corner of 
north-east Germany where the Winters had lived for as long as he could 
remember. At 84, he lives there still. "We are tough," he says, referring 
to his storm-battered family and, more generally, to the race to which it 
belongs. "We are tough because we have had to be."

Herr Winter and his wife live in a flat decorated with reminders of a world 
that has long since ceased to exist. There is a grandfather clock and a 
case displaying a china tea-set and, mounted on the wall, a violin 
surrounded by paintings of Roma scenes of yore: old-fashioned tubular 
caravans with horses out front and children tumbling over each other on the 
steps at the back. This way of life was still just about in evidence when 
Winter grew up, one of nine children, in the years before what he calls 
"the forgotten Holocaust". In 1943, Winter and two of his siblings were 
transported to the "Gypsy" camp at Auschwitz. His sister Maria's 
eight-year-old twin daughters died at the hands of Josef Mengele; Winter's 
wife, Anna, whom he met in the camp, and their new-born baby died after 
being transported to Ravensbruck. His brother Erich was sterilised.

"They want it to be forgotten," he says. "Ja. There is a tradition of 
persecuting the Sinti. Always, always."

There are not many written accounts of the half-million or so Roma or Sinti 
- travellers related to them - who died in the camps, because, says Winter, 
theirs is traditionally an oral not a literary culture. Unlike the Jewish 
victims of the Holocaust, many of whom came from the educated 
middle-classes, the Sinti generally made their living on the land. Winter's 
own family travelled in the caravan doing seasonal farm work and 
showbusiness. They were talented horsemen and women - Winter himself used 
to do a circus act, which involved jumping on to the back of a moving horse 
- and gifted mechanics and electricians. "They didn't weld," he says, "but 
everything else."

Even in the 1920s, they would be escorted to the border of each German 
county by the police. "An example," says Winter, through an interpreter, 
"was when I was six years old. My parents were having coffee in the 
morning, on a day we were due to move on. A policeman came to the door of 
the caravan and told us to leave right away. My mother said, 'We can't 
leave immediately, the children are having breakfast.' But the policeman 
didn't want to wait. He took out the baton and my father started to pack 
up, rapidly. But it wasn't fast enough for the policeman. He first whipped 
the horses, then he hit my father."

These and other scenes are recalled in his book, Winter Time, which has 
been transcribed by academics from interviews he has given them. It was not 
a happy experience, not so much for the pain of reliving the memories - 
although that was difficult enough - but for what Winter sees as the 
high-handedness of "experts" on the Holocaust. He is suspicious of people 
who rate education over experience and felt thoroughly patronised by the 
encounter. There is also some bitterness surrounding the divergent fortunes 
of the various survivor groups, although Winter voices these tentatively. 
"This is a terrible discussion," he says, of the hierarchy of pain, of who 
"owns" the Holocaust. But he feels compelled to point out that, while in 
most of Europe being openly anti-semitic is taboo, it is quite acceptable 
to be openly anti-Gypsy, a fact you don't have to look further than 
Britain's rightwing tabloids to confirm.

In 1939, the total population of Roma and Sinti in Germany and its occupied 
territories is estimated to have been just under a million. They spoke 
Romani, a language based on Sanskrit. In 1938 they were the subject of a 
circular by Heinrich Himmler entitled Combating the Gypsy Nuisance, in 
which all Sinti above the age of six were divided into three groups: 
Gypsies, part- Gypsies, and nomadic persons behaving as Gypsies. Attempts 
to exterminate them were less systematic than those directed at the Jewish 
population - they were classified as lower-priority enemies - but they were 
none the less identified in public by black triangles (for "asocials"), 
green patches ("criminals") or the letter Z (for Zigeuner - Gypsy) and 
transported in large numbers to the death camps.

The Winter family was settled at this time in the Wittmund region of 
north-east Germany, where they owned a house and where the children went to 
school, lodging with a teacher when their parents took to the road. They 
were, says Winter, "popular and successful". Several of his brothers played 
in the German national football squad, until they were kicked out in 1933 
for being "non-Aryan". Similarly Winter was thrown out of the German navy, 
to the embarrassment of his peers, where he was on track for a commission. 
The training would save him more than once in the camps, when the SS 
responded to his comportment as a professional soldier.

By the mid-1930s, Winter's father was advising his family not to speak 
their language in public. Stories went around of Romani- speaking 
infiltrators, employed to befriend Sinti communities and betray them to the 
authorities. They were also identifiable by their names. "Most Sinti are 
Catholics," says Winter. "Since the camp, I don't want anything to do with 
the church. The priests opened the marriage licence books and showed the SS 
which names were Sinti." There was overlap between Jewish and Sinti names; 
Weiss, Rosenberg, Bamberger were common to both communities.

These methods of denouncement left a mark on the Sinti which has yet to 
disappear. In Sinti-populated regions of Germany, there is a move to put 
lessons in Romani on the curriculum, but Winter's generation are against 
it. "If people can speak our language, they can identify us," he says 
darkly. "Why does anyone else want to learn it?"

When his brother and sister were picked up by the police, they were living 
in a town some distance from their parents. Winter went to find out what 
happened and was himself arrested. The rest of his family escaped 
imprisonment thanks to the protection of the head of their regional 
government, who had been at school with Winter's mother. (Seven of his 
eight siblings are still alive, one of them a millionaire from having 
patented a funfair ride.) Winter and his siblings, plus two further 
cousins, were interned in the family camp in Auschwitz. This is a subject 
that arises during those terrible competitions over who suffered the most: 
the relative merits of being interned with, as opposed to separate from, 
one's family. Winter says, "Seeing family suffer could be even harder than 
being separated from them. But the comparisons are useless. It wasn't worse 
for one group or another. We had the same pain."

The Sinti had a reputation in the camps, he says. They were tough and 
courageous, and from long experience of odd-jobbing, could turn their hands 
to anything. They were also, he says, stunningly naive. On one occasion, 
Winter's brother hit a guard over the head with a spade handle when he 
tried to rape a woman from his block; incredibly, he wasn't executed. And 
Winter himself confronted Mengele over the starvation rations being issued 
to the camp children. Mengele was temporarily charmed by his chutzpah and 
marginally increased the rations; but it did not save Winter's nieces.

He wakes up sometimes and thinks he is still in the camp. It has been hard 
on his wife, Marion, this compulsion of Winter's to talk about what 
happened. She is 20 years younger than him, half-Sinti, half-Jewish, and, 
when I meet her husband, she is in hospital after a stroke. Winter tells me 
ruefully he is learning to cook for himself. He rolls up his sleeve in what 
I think is a gesture of domesticity. "Now," he says, extending his arm, "I 
will show you my number."

In the years after the war, unlike many Jewish survivors, the Winters went 
back to the area of Germany they had lived in before. So did most Sinti 
survivors. You have to understand, he says, they were not sophisticated 
people; they didn't speak English; the idea of emigrating to America was 
just too wild to countenance. So they picked up their lives as best they 
could. Almost immediately on their return, they were accused by their 
neighbours of "stealing water". Discrimination was no better than before 
the war, and, says Winter, the British soldiers stationed in Hamburg 
totally overlooked it. So it has pretty much continued over the years. In 
the 1980s, Winter testified in a war crimes trial against Ernst Konig, an 
officer in the gypsy camp at Auschwitz, who committed suicide after being 
sentenced to life imprisonment. Winter was shushed for his angry outbursts 
during the trial. "The judge said, 'Be quiet, we want a fair trial'. I 
said, 'And who treated us fairly?'"

These days, he says, "the neo-Nazis are more accepted than the Sinti in 
Germany". He is furious with Chancellor Schröder for, earlier this year, 
opening an art gallery funded by Christian Friedrich Flick, the grandson of 
a Nazi industrialist. "The exhibition was bought with dirty money from 
slave labour," he says. In protest, he has resigned his membership of the 
Social Democratic party. He has no quarrel with fellow survivors; they 
alone understand each other. But he wishes the activist children of 
survivors - he is talking of the Jewish population - could be more 
inclusive of the Sinti; he believes they are still looked down on for being 
working class. "Juden, juden, juden," he says. "Sinti, nix." He travels to 
Berlin regularly to campaign for the building of a memorial to the Sinti 
victims, so far in vain. "Here is this 84-year-old man," says the 
interpreter, "travelling to Berlin to demonstrate ..." his voice breaks and 
he gets up suddenly and leaves the room.

Sinti in public positions are still loth to admit to their ethnicity. So 
Winter goes into schools and universities and tells his story. From his 
years on the carousel, he is a natural showman. He believes the story still 
needs to be told because there are plenty of people who, to various 
degrees, deny it. A few years ago, Winter was on holiday in Gran Canaria 
when an elderly German couple asked what the number on his arm was. "You 
people are my age," he said. "You know what it is."

Does he wish that, like Israel, there could be a Sinti state?

"Ah zo," says Winter, shaking his head against the idea. "Ich bin 
Deutscher. Ich bin Deutscher."

· Winter Time: Memoirs of a German who Survived Auschwitz is published by 
the University of Hertfordshire, price £



18:00 - 17 March 2005

Central Somerset's most controversial charity was forced to close down this 
week after one of its workers was hospitalised following an assault. For 
eight years, the Robert Barton Trust (RBT) has provided help and support to 
hundreds of disadvantaged and socially excluded people. However, this week 
project workers reluctantly revealed that the centre would close.

It was planned that the facility, based in Silver Street, would shut at the 
end of April, because of a funding crisis, but due to a serious incident on 
Monday, workers had to close it with immediate effect.

A male worker was set upon as he left the centre by a man thought to be a 
disgruntled client angry at the announcement. The Robert Barton worker 
suffered a serious eye injury, but was released from hospital later in the 
week and is now recovering.

According to project worker Sioux How, this "tragic consequence" of the 
annoucement shows the strength of feeling among their vulnerable clients.

She added that the decision to close immediately was to ensure the safety 
of staff and other clients. She described the news as a "tragedy for 

"The trust plans to use this time to focus solely on the ongoing funding 
process and redeveloping the service in order that the needs of all 
involved can be met, " she said.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported 
us over the last six years and we hope that we can emerge from this setback 
stronger and more determined that the ethos and vision of the Robert Barton 
Trust lives on." The decision to close came after much of the trust's 
funding came to an end.

Any extra money in the pipeline will not make the centre sustainable.

Ms How said: "What now shocks us is that we have about 300 people out there 
with no support, so the town and other agencies need to be prepared.

"Some won't have access to hot food, or care and compassion." She added 
that although staff are now working on winding up the trust, a new 
organisation with similar aims was likely to be formed.

"I am really sad because of the amount of work we have done, " she said.

"We have done amazing things with individuals, and it is sad when we are 
remembered by some people by the negative things in the town.We had so many 
plans for the future and were building some broken bridges in the town." 
However, for some the news has come as a great relief. Among them is town 
councillor Ted Higgins who said "good riddance" after years of trying to 
shut down the centre.

"I think it will be a great help to Glastonbury, " he said.

"As long as these people, and I do feel for some of them, have somewhere to 
go then they will remain in this town.

"I know they have problems, but I have had to sort out my problems through 
my life. There are places paid for by the taxpayer, such as doctors' 
surgeries, Social Services and Citizens Advice Bureau.

"Why do we need a special one for the Robert Barton Trust, it was a wrong 
thing they did by allowing it to open.

"It was not doing Glastonbury any good. I sincerely hope that the closure 
will prove to be successful, and I hope they have gone for good. It has run 
its course and I hope it has completely finished, and I hope everyone will 
now see sense." Currently the RBT welcomes about 60 people to its regular 
drop-ins, and has about 350 clients on its postal register, which means 
those without permanent addresses can put the RBT down as a mail contact.

Most clients are expected to be able to claim their mail until the end of 
April, although they will not be able to enter the building.

The St John's Car Park survey reported in last week's newspaper will 
continue despite this latest setback to the trust.

Tell us what you think about the closure.

Write to Letters to the Editor, Central Somerset Gazette, Southover, Wells 
BA5 1UH.

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