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Stateless – Klaus Rózsa, Photographer

(Staatenlos – Klaus Rózsa, Fotograf)

Texts about the film


Pressedossier (Zip-Archiv 1MB)

The Protagonists

Klaus Miklós RózsaOlga Majumder RózsaEgon Rózsa-JurinkovitsFranz SchumacherSusann Wach RózsaPeter SchneiderBruno SchöffelJosef EstermannKoni LöpfeAgnes Hirschi

Klaus Miklós Rózsa

Klaus Miklós Rózsa, born 11th of September, 1954, in Budapest

Early trauma

The biography that is central to the film begins with a traumatic experience at the age of two. During the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, a Soviet tank shell hit the Budapest family apartment. It caught fire. The parents were not at home. Russian soldiers brought the children into the air-raid shelter, where they had to remain for weeks without daylight.

The traumatic situation actually began prior to his birth. Both parents were victims of the persecution of Jews in Hungary; his mother was lucky to survive an attack by the Arrow Cross Party, his father was deported and survived Auschwitz and Dachau. When the Hungarian Uprising was quashed and hostilities ensued eleven years later, his parents feared that their two children, Olga (then six) and Klaus (two years old) might fare similarly and they decided to flee.

Limited freedom of movement – frequent confrontations

Klaus remained stateless in Switzerland over four decades as all three of his applications for naturalisation were refused for political reasons. In the 1970s he was part of the left-wing opposition, working later as a high-ranking unionist.

Since he could not travel freely, being stateless, his radius was limited. This was an obstacle to his professional life as a press photographer with the consequence that he was conspicuous simply by his constant presence. Anyone forced to move within tight constraints is more conspicuous than others. As a photographer earning his living at the focal points of conflict, he was particularly conspicuous in Zürich, where there were consequently frequent confrontations with the police.

Klaus was in evidence to such a point that it was said he was provoking the police with his camera and shouldn't be surprised if beatings came his way. This reaction was even apparent among his own circles. Indeed it was a left-wing majority in the Zürich City Council that decided that Klaus should not be naturalised after forty years of statelessness. The Social Democrat City President Josef Estermann (see below) even publicly termed Klaus an “archenemy” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 24.01.1994, p. 27), a contemptuous expression that went well beyond political rivalry.

A responsible city government ought to have paid more attention when it became aware that there were repeated altercations between Klaus Rózsa and the police force. Instead they confined him with ongoing statelessness and redoubled the confrontations.

These confrontations were motivated by factors beyond those mentioned above, some good, some less so.

The good reasons were that Klaus was fighting for the freedom of the press not only with the camera but also as president of the Journalist Union. A journalist should not be sent away, impeded or, much less, beaten when photographing the police in action and monitoring them as is incumbent on the Fourth Estate. The public deeds of the forces of justice may not take place to the exclusion of the public in a democratic land. But such was the thinking of the authorities at the time. State security files on Klaus literally read: he “documents police violence in great detail and thereby impedes police work”.

Repetition compulsion

The less-good reasons for the many confrontations probably originate in trauma. Psychology speaks of repetition compulsion in the case of traumatised individuals. The experience of injustice is repeatedly re-experienced so as to correct it. In Klaus' case, psychology refers to the injustice experienced by the whole family, which was transmitted by his parents, and the injustice he himself encountered in early childhood. This experience of injustice could be said to have repeatedly brought his camera up close to police violence, closer than that of other photographers, who would try to keep their distance from Klaus; as a professional colleague once said, „rubber bullets and tear gas were always aimed at where Klaus was standing.“

I have depicted Klaus' treatment-worthy trauma, but do not mention it in the film, since I am of course not a psychologist but a writer. I did, however, want to provide evidence that Klaus' biography also decries the treatment-worthiness of our civilised society.

Unlawful imprisonment, fabricated evidence

All this was exacerbated by the fact that he was not only at large with a camera during the 1980s' Zurich Youth Unrest, but as a rebel he himself also reached for the megaphone. For this reason he was prophylactically arrested as a „ringleader“ in 1980 along with five other youths – once again unlawfully, and with relatively high compensation costs falling to the state.

On various occasions the judiciary attempted to prosecute him using fabricated evidence or false testimonies. In one case this included a photomontage showing Klaus holding a construction-rod. When the lawyer asked for the file so as to proceed against the state, the photomontage vanished from the evidence.

In one egregious case, he was stopped on his way home by four patrol cars and, with malice aforethought, dragged from his car and beaten unconscious. This act of vengeance was conducted by the police to teach him a lesson, according to a subsequent court hearing.

Klaus has experienced so much injustice so closely that I could not document all incidents in the film.

Protection of public office

One other phenomenon is revealing: when Klaus held semi-public positions the police more or less let him be. It was only after he had retired from these posts that a further fateful case ensued: on July 4, 2008, while photographing police operations at a youth stadium-occupation, he was again mistreated. Following this he sought peace in the country of his origin and moved to Budapest. Today, still traumatised, sometimes irritable, he commutes between Budapest and Zürich.

Olga Majumder Rózsa

Sister Olga Majumder Rózsa, born 7th of May, 1950, in Budapest

Living in the name of the dead

Olga takes her name from an aunt who was gassed in Auschwitz. In her family, children were named after relatives who had not survived the Holocaust. She was also traumatised from a childhood in the air-raid shelter. And she later continued to  hear the word for war, “Háború”, at home every day whilst her parents led a meager life as Hungarian refugees in Switzerland; they were twice separated from their children for financial reasons, having to stay at the Salvation Army while Olga and Klaus were placed in a home for children.

Olga was the first to be naturalised (in 1972) and could therefore travel to Hungary at the age of sixteen to visit relatives. Klaus never met many of these relatives as they died before he received his Hungarian passport twenty years later, in 1992, when he could finally travel to Budapest. Klaus only received a Swiss passport in the year 2000 when he married the then-television editor Susann Wach.

Their mother died early of cancer. She suffered from the delayed effects of an extremist right-wing attack perpetrated in January 1945 against her family, which was Catholic on her father's side (Jurinkovits) and Jewish on her mother's (Rothschild). When their mother, Livia Rózsa-Jurinkovits, died, Olga was twenty and Klaus sixteen.


Egon Rózsa-Jurinkovits

Egon Rózsa-Jurinkovits, born 1924 in Siebenbürgen, died 2013 in Zurich

Survived Auschwitz and Dachau

Klaus and Olga's father was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau together with his family in 1944, where as a man of small stature he only survived thanks to the help of his father, Klaus and Olga's grandfather, by standing on a brick during roll-call so as to seem taller and capable of work. Nine months later, towards the end of January, 1945, Egon Rózsa and his father were sent to Dachau, where both of them were forced to labour for Bayerische Motoren Werke, BMW. In May 1945 they were liberated by the Americans. With reference to photographs, Egon Rózsa recounts how of the thirteen family-members depicted, ten were gassed in Auschwitz.

When Egon Rózsa was awarded a compensatory pension from Germany in the sixties after a long legal battle, the family was able to send Klaus to a German boarding school for Hungarian refugee children. There Klaus was subjected to a repressive educational regime and corporal punishment.

Signpost to Recollection

All this was only discussed, however, when Klaus first drove to Budapest with his father. When the two of them passed a signpost for Dachau, Klaus said somewhat thoughtlessly that what he, Egon, experienced at Dachau concentration camp must have been fairly similar to what he, Klaus, experienced at German boarding school. His father broke down and wept. Klaus had to stop and comfort him. As they drove on, his father recounted for the first time in detail what he had endured in the Nazi concentration camp.

Franz Schumacher

Lawyer Franz Schumacher, Klaus's defence lawyer and SP politician in Zurich Parliament

A passionate and unpaid lawyer

Franz Schumacher has represented Klaus in dozens of cases, often without payment. On one occasion the public prosecutor accused Klaus of having broken off a radio aerial and charged him with criminal damage. Franz Schumacher appealed to the High Courts, which confirmed the sentence, whereupon Schumacher filed a complaint with the Cantonal Court of Cassation. This was successful. The High Court reviewed the case. And then found him guilty for a second time. Subsequently, Schumacher appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. After seven years, Klaus was finally found innocent. Following which, his second application for naturalisation was refused on the grounds that he had a criminal record – despite his having been found innocent.

Astute analysis

Franz Schumacher analyses Klaus' biography in the following terms:

”Klaus was a wonderful, courageous person. I later met his father, a small, hunched man. He seemed terribly anxious. It was only much later that I heard he had survived the concentration camp. It was then I thought that Klaus was fighting in his place against arbitrariness – the totalitarian aspect of the state that each state partakes of, that drove him crazy. This relates to how he was marked by the fate of a Jewish individual in a German concentration camp.”


Susann Wach Rózsa

Susann Wach Rózsa, Klaus' wife since 1995, television editor, now teacher

Learned Hungarian

Thanks to his 1995 marriage to Susann Wach, Klaus received a Swiss passport - albeit after the expiration of the maximum probationary period of five years for marriages to non-Swiss individuals. The passport was delivered by the postman on December 24, 2000, Christmas Eve, cash on delivery, like a present that requires payment.

Having left Swiss Television, Susann Wach Rózsa emigrated with Klaus to Budapest, where they initially lived in the small apartment belonging to Egon Rózsa before acquiring more spacious accommodation. Susann Wach Rózsa speaks fluent Hungarian.

Imprisonment while on holiday

When she first left her new place of residence, Budapest, to go on holiday with Klaus to Zurich on July 4, 2008, they ran into a police cordon at Zurich Hardturm Stadium. There the youth was protesting against the commercialisation of public-viewing at the then-ongoing European Championship by occupying a territory that had been abandoned for years. Klaus stopped the car, took his camera and photographed police activities, which featured four officers taking the occupiers to task using rubber bullets and truncheons.

When one policeman recognised him and called out: “Rózsa, you dog, don't take photos here!”, Klaus retreated but was caught by the police and brought to the ground. Klaus was just able to pass his camera to Susann and tell her to shoot and document all that was taking place. Susann shot photographs of how the police abused Klaus right in front of her, strangling him, giving him Chinese burns, tearing his waistcoat over his head, pulling his keychain from his neck, forcing him to the floor and abusing him for half an hour. These shots are included in the film.

Drab justice

Klaus charged the police with grievous bodily harm, whereupon the officers claimed that Klaus had called them Nazis during his arrest. Within a year, Klaus had been found guilty of verbal abuse at all judicial instances. His case against the police failed, was reinstated by appeal, then dragged on for another eight years. One day the statute of limitations will take effect.

It was three years before the public prosecutor finally offered Susann Wach Rózsa the chance to make a statement as a witness. In the context of this case it became apparent that the judiciary was waiting until the witness' recollections had become unreliable so as to easily confound her with slight contradictions and render her implausible. Furthermore, Susann had to make her statement in the presence of the abusive officers, who grinned ceaselessly throughout her questioning. “They knew throughout that nothing would happen to them” is how Susann puts it in the film.

If one considers all of Klaus' story, Susann had experienced only one example of how the judiciary had been mistreating her husband for decades. Klaus wanted her to also file charges against the police, as she had also received bodily harm. But given that this was her first such encounter with the judiciary, she found it better to forebear.

Peter Schneider

Peter Schneider, district attorney from 1977-81

Disastrous 1980s riot justice

Peter Schneider resigned as an Examining Magistrate to the District Prosecution (now the Public Prosecution Office), having experienced the Zurich Unrest of 1980-82, because it was not just demonstrators, but also the forces of the law who committed so many violations that these became the rule. He could no longer stand for it, since there is a difference between the state committing a series of criminal acts and an individual breaking a law. He could have suffered individual instances of injustice, but “in their totality” he says, these were “calamitous”.

The judiciary's aim was to hastily prosecute as many youths as possible for breach of the peace, criminal damage, etc. To this end, officers fabricated evidence, allowed the police to unabatedly cross-reference their stories, enforced remand illegally and collected incriminating evidence alone regardless of due process. Exculpatory evidence was suppressed, witnesses went unheard, etc.

Turkish Conditions

Schneider says the renowned Professor of Criminal Law Peter Noll compared Zurich's riot justice to the military justice of Turkey.

Under such circumstances, four thousands youths were imprisoned and hundreds were prosecuted in Zurich between 1980 and 1982. During altercations, thirty police officers were injured, whereby some five hundred demonstrators suffered broken bones and, in several cases, lost eyes to shots.

Bruno Schöffel

Bruno Schöffel, taxi driver

Witness to the night of vengeance

Bruno Schöffel happened to be driving past the OBER department store on the night the AJZ Autonomous Youth Centre was torn down, where he saw several police vehicles. He stopped and could not believe his eyes. He witnessed an attack that was being perpetrated not by criminals but by police officers. The latter beat Klaus Rózsa, who was lying on the floor, until he was unconscious, and kicked him in the head with booted feet. Bruno Schöffel slept badly that night. He then decided to testify. Three police officers were found guilty thanks to his statement.

Josef Estermann

Josef Estermann, SP, City President, 1990-2002

Estermann signed an application for non-naturalisation

Josef Estermann was the only former City Councillor who was prepared to appear in the film. The others, who had such difficulties with Klaus Rózsa, refused to participate. It's too long ago, my memory no longer serves (says Police Commissioner Robert Neukomm); those were different days (says his replacement, Esther Maurer). When we asked Estermann why his fellow City Councillors refused to participate in the film, he replied they presumably lacked the courage.

We interviewed Josef Estermann on September 16, 2013, from 09.30 until around 10.30 in Zurich's City Hall's music room. The backdrop was a view from the window with the City Hall reflected in the water of the River Limmat. This was where Klaus Rózsa's third application for naturalisation was publically heard. Estermann, as City President, signed the City Council's application for non-naturalisation. The (legislative) Municipal Council followed his lead and refused naturalisation. Klaus Rózsa remained stateless.

Interview forbidden by law

An interview was to explain why Estermann, as a Social-Democrat fellow party member of Klaus', was in charge of such a highly politicised affair; one that caused a media sensation in Zurich.

To pre-empt, Estermann had the inclusion of the interview forbidden after the fact. The reason for this retraction was that I arranged an impromptu meeting with Klaus Rózsa after the interview had proven fruitless. When Klaus entered the music room, Estermann was dismayed, whereupon I asked Klaus to again leave. Klaus had himself wanted to go given the circumstances. But Estermann stopped him, demanded he remain.

The interview continued and was recorded as a calm conversation between Klaus and Estermann. After the interview, Estermann claimed he had not known the conversation was being recorded, although two cameras, several microphones, and lighting were pointed at him. In truth, Estermann must have realised that this conversation might tarnish his image.

Not „Hungarian“ but „Stateless“

For the presidential non-naturalisation application not only bore his signature, it also contained a fatal mistake: Klaus' citizenship was not “Hungarian” since Klaus Rózsa had already been living for 40 years in Zürich as a stateless person. Hungary had denaturalised the refugees of 1956.

This erroneous non-naturalisation application was fatal because it formed the basis of the City Council and Municipal Council decision. Had it been evident in Estermann's non-naturalisation application that the applicant, Klaus Rózsa, was a stateless individual, the decision by the City Council and Municipal Council might have been different. In any case, Klaus would have had a better chance of being naturalised. But Estermann and his fellow signatory, the City Clerk, actually deceived both the nine-man City Council and the hundred-plus Municipal Councillors. Whether this was intended or inadvertent could no longer be established.

The Arrogance of Power

When I drew this to Estermann's attention, he replied as follows (mail of 22.04. 2014, 19:49)

 “I never reproached Klaus with his 'Statelessness' – How might I? I incidentally believe that Klaus, had he so wanted, might very well have been naturalised long before the forty-years duration you draw attention to.”

This response does not clearly establish what Estermann meant. But the claim that Klaus, “had he so wanted” might have been previously naturalised was again false. Because in the 1970s and 1980s, Klaus had already made two naturalisation applications that were both refused; on the first occasion by a police officer who claimed he didn't want to “get fleas”, on the second because Klaus was registered as having a criminal record although he had never been found guilty.

“Archenemy Klaus Rózsa“

There is only one index as to Estermann's conscious or unconscious motive for assuming responsibility for signing the misleading non-naturalisation application of a stateless individual: in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 24.01.1994 (p. 27) he termed Klaus his “Archenemy”.

The condition of being stateless contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Racism Convention. Nonetheless, Josef Estermann was awarded the Fischhof Prize by the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism (GSM/GRA) ten years after his non-naturalisation application. The same Fischhof Prize was deservedly awarded to Peter Surava (whose biography I hitherto filmed) and, more contentiously, in 2005, to FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Estermann brings charges against the film company

Estermann had the film recordings in the City Hall initially excluded by an injunction at the relevant court. When we disputed this, Estermann charged us with breach of privacy. Whereupon the court let us know it would find in favour of Estermann's charges through a written statement and a subsequent settlement discussion. Estermann, it was said, had the right to retract the interview and forbid the usage of the recordings. The reason given: twenty-five years after the fact, there is no necessary actuality and the film could be completed without the interview. Given these preconditions, we submitted to Estermann's claims, although the legal situation was unclear; we could not assume the risk of continuing since incurred legal costs had already been high.

We can at least show today that we were duly diligent in attempting to depict the “opponents” of Klaus in the film. Even our offer to repeat the interview was refused in court by Estermann.

Plainly the former Social Democrat City President, now President of the Zurich Opera House, feared for his local social reputation. He has presumably now realised that his non-naturalisation application not only contained a serious error, but was also a political mistake. And as to this mistake he apparently didn't want to make any further statement, given that so much time had passed. That was well within his rights. Now the statement is made instead by his signature beneath the erroneous document that we show in the film (see below). That the filming of a biography which was heavily marked by three non-naturalisation applications could not avoid this depiction must be ascribed to objective reasons alone. 

Dokument aus dem Stadtarchiv Zürich

Document from the Zurich City Archives

Directive of the District Court to the City Council
to the District Department of the Municipal Council

Citizenship Application

Applicant     R O Z S A  Miklos Robert
Profession Photographer
Abode Anwandstrasse 34
Citizenship Hungarian
Date and place of birth September 11, 1954, Budapest, Hungary
  Unmarried [...]
Place of work Freelance
Duration of stay Uninterrupted in Switzerland since October 31, 1956, from October 1960 on (with the exceptions of Dec. 1961 to May 1962 and Nov. 1969 to March 1970) and residing in Zurich
Income 33,500 francs
Assets 34,000 francs

The City Council is called to  r e f u s e  the application of the aforementioned applicant.

In the name of the District Court to the City Council

[signature] The CITY PRESIDENT

Koni Löpfe

Koni Löpfe, from 1991-2009 President of the SP, City of Zurich, editor of the party newspaper “PS”

”Some folks there are nuts!“

In the film, Koni Löpfe says of the people in the Zurich City and Municipal Councils who voted against Klaus Rózsa's naturalisation  “We just thought, hey, some folks there are nuts!”

Agnes Hirschi

Agnes Hirsch, step-daughter of Carl Lutz, who grew up in Budapest during WWII

Lived through war as a child in Budapest

Carl Lutz was the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest and went down in history as a saviour of the Jewish people. He established seventy-six shelters for the persecuted,

as Head of the Department for “Foreign Interests” he issued endless letters of safe-conduct and thus saved sixty-two thousand Jews' lives. Back then, of the 825,000 Jews in Hungary, 565,000 were murdered in the Nazi concentration camps. Agnes Hirschi experienced the bombing of the Swiss Embassy at the age of six. She speaks German and Hungarian.

She meets Klaus Rózsa spontaneously at the memorial to her father in Budapest. A conversation ensues. Klaus says that he often comes here and explains to Swiss schoolchildren who Carl Lutz was.

Saving jews assessed as transgression of competences

At this location, the film thematises how officialdom in Switzerland treats people whose histories cast a shadow on the land. It is in this context that Carl Lutz is aligned with Peter Surava and Paul Grüninger. They were courageous people who were neutralised by the authorities before being vindicated by history. Carl Lutz issued forged documents in Budapest to save lives. He conducted dangerous negotiations with the Nazis and was under such permanent stress that at the end of the war he returned to Switzerland in a state of physical and mental decrepitude. He did “the utmost, more than was possible, he exceeded his capacities”, says his daughter. But in Federal Bern, he was accused of transgressing his competences. They degraded and humiliated him instead of recognising his humanitarian acts. He was placed in a nerve clinic and died, bitter and abandoned, at the age of eighty. After his death in 1925 he was recognised internationally.

Klaus Miklós RózsaOlga Majumder RózsaEgon Rózsa-JurinkovitsFranz SchumacherSusann Wach RózsaPeter SchneiderBruno SchöffelJosef EstermannKoni LöpfeAgnes Hirschi


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