Sonia Meyer fled the Nazis with her parents when she was 2 years old to live in the woods of Germany and Poland with partisans and Gypsies. There her father taught her to throw hand grenades using a wooden darning egg. They lived in the woods, in abandoned houses, in fields, in isolated excursion inns and barns, always dodging the German and later Soviet armies who hunted them relentlessly. Shortly after the war Sonia and her family returned to Cologne Germany where she foraged for food with a band of Gypsy children camped nearby.
Later Sonia was welcomed into a Gypsy encampment in southern France, when she broke the ice by quietly whispering a few words in Romani to horses grazing nearby. She lives in Vermont where she raised horses before retiring to write Dosha. This interview was carried out by Jack Little by email.
Published in Issue 13.
1. Please tell us about your book, Dosha.
The novel follows the life of Dosha, a Gypsy in disguise. It offers unique insight into the tribal life of nomadic Gypsies, who under Stalin joined partisans fighting Nazi invaders, only to face entrapment during Khrushchev ‘s Thaw. By then Dosha and her talented circus horse have been drafted into the dressage team in Leningrad. Navigating political intrigue, narrowly escaping discovery by the KGB, she enters a love forbidden to Gypsy women. One goal remains uppermost in her mind leading her tribe and her horse to freedom in the West.
2. How was it inspired by real life events?
I grew up with partisans in Germany, Poland, and along the Czech border. We survived massacres, and many attacks. I knew sooner or later I would have to face the past. When that time came, I decided, rather than reliving my own past, to look at it through the eyes of peace-loving Gypsies, now called Roma, and maybe make sense of it.
3. How do you look back on your childhood?
Strangely, as I looked back, I understood that my childhood was not unhappy. I was not yet two when in 1939 we went underground, so war was the only reality I knew. I did once get caught while carrying messages to other partisans, I somehow got away, was found by my own people, bruised but alive. However, we were never truly caught and interned into one of the German killer camps. There is a harsh justice out in the killer fields, for as long as you are armed there is a certain equality among those on the ground.
4. Where did you find your love for horses?
I believe most of us horse people are born with the love and the intuitive feeling for and connection with the horse. I believe it is the noblest of all living creatures. Horses are so much stronger than we are, yet they bond with us in generous trust. To many Gypsies the horse is sacred, in part because they are, or really were when still allowed to be nomadic, so much closer to nature than us settled people.
5. What are your views on human nature? Are naturally avaricious or loving?
I think human nature spans between the sublime and the horrifying. Only when truly in need, are we able to find out who is which. We could not have survived the war, had it not been for truly extraordinary fellow humans. Often the ones you least expect. Partisans, anywhere, cannot survive without outside help. People hid us, fed us, often at the risk their own lives. I am a lover of life and of people.
6. What is the most beautiful thing that you have ever seen? Or the most beautiful moment that you have ever experienced?(It could be a person, an animal, a building, a moment).
Moments. As a child, after attacks were over, no more shooting, no more bombs exploding upon hitting ground, when finally the noises of the forests rose back to full life, those moments reaching peak when wolves started to howl, a sign that all was clear. I remember feelings of true ecstasy, like renewed life, a bit like falling in love.
6. Do you think history revolves in cycles?
I wouldn’t call it cycles. I would call it patterns. I think when people reach a level of hopelessness, they will go to war, to revolution. Often that destroys the old, but the new is often worse than the old. Take Soviet communism, it killed, and starved many more people than the czars ever did, in the process it killed the Russian soul. I used to love Russia. I had many Russian friends, those living in exile. Today’s Russians I meet, have little in common with the Russians I used to know.
7. Do we have a responsibility as human being s to protect each other from prejudice and harassment?
That is essential. I grew up to be a human rights activist. I believe all people should be given a chance to reach their potential.
8. I see in the British press that there is a constant persecution of gypsies. What can we do to change this?
The present persecution of the Gypsies, now called Roma, is happening all across Europe, in some countries worse than others. They are given no human rights, no protection, no chances. So now, again in a downturn in the economy, they are handy scapegoats. They have lived in Europe for over 600 years. They are Europeans without papers for the most part. The prejudice against them is ancient, unfounded. Their criminality, if it does exist, is an outcome of severe poverty. There is to my mind only one counter-measure. Raise awareness to what is happening to them. Fight the prejudice that once again is killing what is now Europe’s largest minority, reminiscent of the beginning of the holocaust.
9. What are your hopes for the future of the world? Where do you see us in 100 years time?
I am an optimist. I think there are enough idealists out there to keep fighting for justice for all. Our true problem, one that could kill us all, equally, is damage to the environment. There too we have to call out the fighters for a better future, keep educating people. But most of all choose our leaders very carefully. Leadership is out of whack.