It’s estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma people—approximately a quarter of Europe’s Romani and Sinti population—were killed during World War II. Countless others were imprisoned, tortured, and sterilized. Yet relatively little is known about the Porajmos, or Romani Holocaust, and documentation is scarce. Long after the war ended, it still wasn’t safe to openly identify as a Romani or Sinti in Austria. Many survivors relocated to big cities like Vienna, Graz, and Linz, and some even changed their names to avoid further persecution. Stojka initially returned to nomadic horse trading, but later settled in Vienna. She had three children, sold fabrics door to door and then carpets at a market; she dyed her hair blonde and tried to resume her life without drawing too much attention to herself.
Pre-war racial laws in Austria banned Romani and Sinti children from attending school, meaning that many survivors, including Stojka, could not read or write. She remained silent about her traumatic experiences for years. But in 1986, Stojka met the filmmaker and writer Karin Berger, who helped her publish Wir leben im Verborgenen. Erinnerungen einer Rom-Zigeunerin (We Live in Seclusion. The Memories of a Romani) (1988), the first of four memoirs, about her experience in the camps. Soon after, Stojka began to create her autobiographical drawings and paintings.
At the time, Austria was facing a surge in nationalist sentiment, and the artist was fearful that the past would repeat itself. “I didn’t have anyone who would listen to me,” Stojka said in a 2008 interview, “and paper is patient.” Stojka’s work with paper—both as a writer and artist—inspired the creation of the first Austrian Romani Association in 1989. By the time of her death in 2013, she had become one of Europe’s most prominent figures for the Romani cause. Budapest’s European Roma Cultural Foundation called her “a key figure for the history, art, and literature of Romani culture in Europe.”