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2008: "les enfants de Barbarie"

A Collectif barbare / Theater Tuchlaube / Tojo Theater Bern co-production

From 1926 to the 1970s, the aid organisation "Kinder der Landstrasse" (Pro Juventute) separated at least 2000 Jenisch, Sinti and Roma children from their families and placed them in orphanages and psychiatric clinics. The Travellers' concept of home and life was perceived as a threat, they were declared unable to raise their own children, and their right to custody considered invalid.

"Les Enfants de Barbarie" takes its inspiration from this drama: considered a model of narrow-minded perception, one closed towards the “other”, the consequences of which are invariably fear and intolerance. The performance begins with a circus show, including a young violin virtuoso, acrobatics, and, of course, a clown. But the scenes soon become increasingly uncomfortable and drag the spectator into a world of memories, visions and nightmares. Astride Schlaefli convinces with her rigorous documentary approach to historical material and her knack for creating pictures of great atmospheric density and magical charisma, using musical, visual and choreographic means.

Concept, direction: Astride Schlaefli

With: Anna Trauffer, Vera Kardos, Barbara Gasser,  Andreas Thierstein,
Jannine Hafner, oeil extérieur: Jürg Kienberger



The "Enfants de la grand-route" (Children of the highway), a so-called Pro Juventute charity work.

From 1926 to 1972, hundreds of Jenisch, Romani and Sinti children were separated from their parents, forcibly deprived of their custody rights. A priori Travellers, the parents were considered incapable of raising them.

These children were sent to orphanages, reformatories, psychiatric asylums, or taken in by often unscrupulous adoptive parents. Prejudices against them justified all forms of mistreatment, from underpaid farm or factory work to electroshock or insulin "therapy". Most of these children never saw their families again.

The novelist Alfred Siegfried, founder of the campaign, was widely supported by the Swiss Confederation, cantons, municipalities, charitable and religious organisations and private patrons. General public opinion was also in favor, and in fifty years there was any public scrutiny or questioning of the merits of this operation. Contemporaneous to the rise of Nazism in Europe, it seemed obvious to many that the “Highway Children’s" work was a good thing.

Dr. Siegfried's statements leave no doubt as to his political sympathies:

"(...) there are in Switzerland a large number of families who are continually nomadic throughout the country, repairing baskets and various household objects, but also begging or stealing when the opportunity arises, and bringing up many children to become what they are themselves, that is to say vagrants, drunkards or prostitutes. Vagrancy and drunkenness are an integral part of their identity. If we want to fight effectively against these scourges, we must break the ties of these people, and even if it sounds a bit harsh, we must break their family ties. There is no other way..."

In short, the aim of the operation was to rear these children within a model of life that corresponded to the "bürgerlichen Ordnungs- und Sauberkeitsvorstellungen” (bourgeois principles of order and hygiene) and in this manner to destroy their culture of origin.

As early as the 1980s, under pressure from newspapers and public opinion, suddenly aware of the disastrous consequences of the whole affair, the Confederation discreetly paid compensation to some of the victims. But those responsible were never reckoned with. In 1998, the Leimgruber-Meier-Sablonier report was finally published, revealing archives that had previously been inaccessible to the public and illuminating all aspects of the case. Both the Confederation and Pro Juventute officially apologized to the communities concerned.