A post-war photograph of Edward Paczkowski, arrested in Myszków during a raid of German police on a passing Roma caravan. After interrogation in Radom prison, in detention in Auschwitz from 29 September 1942, given the number 66485, a red triangle, and the category of a political prisoner. He was 12 at the time. Never quartered within the Zigeunerlager in Birkenau, he worked in different work details in Auschwitz I until his transfer to Buchenwald.
Similarly, Romani women were taken to the women’s camp in Birkenau, registered in the general series for women even at the time when the Zigeunerlager was already in operation. The scanty documentation preserved and inconsistent entries made by camp administration make it impossible even to estimate the number of Romanis (women and men) registered in the general inmate series.
A camp photograph of Anna Kreutz, an inmate given the number 41263 and category Aso, brought to the camp on 17 September 1943 in a collective transport.
On 16 December 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered the deportation of the remaining Roma from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to a concentration camp. The bylaw for the order issued by the RSHA on 29 January 1943 specified that they are to be deported to Auschwitz. Following the decision, the so-called Gypsy family camp (Zigeunerfamilienlager) was set up in the sector BIIe of Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
On a photograph: a wire from the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) to the heads of criminal police units and the SS of 29 January 1943 concerning sending Gypsies and “Gypsy mixes” to Auschwitz concentration camp.
“… Concerns: sending Gypsy-mixes, Gypsy-Roma, and Gypsies of Balkan origin to the concentration camp.
By the order of SS Reichsführer of 16 Dec 1942—Tgb. No. I 2652/42 Ad./RF/V—Gypsies of mixed origin, Gypsies-Roma, and members of Gypsy peoples of Balkan origin with non-German blood are to be selected as per guidelines and sent to a concentration camp after a few-weeks campaign”.
“From now on these persons will be briefly referred to as 'Gypsy persons'.
The transport of whole families to Auschwitz concentration camp (Zigeunerlager) will take place irrespective of the degree to which they are mixed.
The Gypsy question in the districts of the Alps and the Danube has been regulated in specific resolutions.
Future regulations will apply to future treatment of racially pure Gypsies from Sinti and Lalleri peoples. …”.
Deportation of the Romanis to Auschwitz began in February 1943 and continued to July 1944. They came mostly from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and from Poland, while smaller groups were sent from France, the Netherlands, Croatia, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Lithuania, and Hungary. The camp registers also contain citizens of Norway and Spain. As they were treated as asocial individuals, they received black triangle identifiers. Numbers from the series issued only for this group of inmates, with a letter Z (Zigeuner), were tattooed on the left forearm. The Romani did not undergo selection at arrival in the camp, and families were not separated but all who arrived in the transport were sent to the barracks. In the camp, they were allowed to wear civilian clothing and retained their personal objects.
In the photo: prisoner number Z-9293 tattooed on the hand of Anastazja Buriańska, brought to the camp from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia on 22 August 1943.
Antonín Absolon (Růžička in the camp), a Rom deported with all his family to Auschwitz concentration camp in May 1943 and given the number Z-7539 on his detention in the so-called Zigeunerlager.
“In the afternoon, the train stopped. I could hear the barking of the dogs and shouting in German. The soldiers opened the car and started to yell ‘Alles raus!’. I don’t remember how I got out of the car. There was plenty of commotion, shouting, crying, and beating. They made us lie somewhere before we were marched. Families stood together in single files. Mum carried Matěje, Dad and I carried our things. Only when we were marched, I took a look around to see when we were. There was wire fence, a big gate, and buildings only; it looked horribly depressing.
“Finally, we reached a big gate, where they made us stop, and they began to count us there. Then we walked the broad road between wooden barracks to one of them, where we had to put down our things. Then we were called and arranged into a line, given numbers on the hands, Matěj got his on his little leg, they sewed numbers onto the clothing, and used red paint to make crosses on clothes and stripes on the trousers. This lasted for the whole night. In the morning they lined us up and we had to leave our things in the barracks. They escorted us to the neighbouring camp, to the very back. In the building, there was a big room, where everyone had to take off all the clothing. It was horrible. People didn’t want to undress, because they were all together there: men, women, and children. Shouting, beating, and crying began.”
In the photograph: A contemporary view of the Judenrampe, were transports to Auschwitz were received in 1943.
An excerpt from the account by Jan Češpiva, a Czech employed among others as a physician in the so-called Zigeunerlager:
“The Gypsy camp stood out from anything else in Auschwitz. For it was a family camp, where parents and children lived together. …
“As far as adult inmates are concerned, they lived in barracks—stables without windows, with only light from the top shining by the ceiling. The barracks had doors at both ends. People slept on bunk beds in horrible conditions of hygiene. There was one blanket per three people, sometimes for a whole family. The barracks were not heated. … The end of the winter of 1943 was very frosty, and many people died of cold combined with chronic conditions, including deteriorated respiratory capacity of the lungs, conditions of the heart, etc. This especially concerned the elderly.”
Source: Voices of Memory 7. Roma in Auschwitz, Oświęcim 2011, pp. 96–97.
In the photo: A contemporary view of the sector of Birkenau where the so-called Zigeunerlager was situated.
A situation diagram of the so-called Zigeunerlager, by a former inmate Tadeusz Joachimowski, holding the function of the Schreiber (writer) in the camp.
Left-hand side (odd numbers of blocks):
Block 1 – warehouse for food
Block 3 – warehouse for clothing
Blocks 5-27 – residential blocks
Blocks 29 and 31 – the kindergarten in Block 29 was earmarked for infants, and Block 31 for children who could walk.
Right-hand side (even numbers of blocks):
Block 2 – divided into a number of parts: on the left – the main chancellery office, on the right – inmate employment office, the backside – canteen
Blocks 4-22 – residential blocks
Blocks 24-32 – camp hospital.
As in the initial period of its operation, the sector BIIe was still being built, some men were employed on the finishing of construction works, and some on various ordering jobs. Later, however, a majority had no permanent allocation to work. For that reason, among others, the food rations for the Romanis were strongly reduced, and practically limited to bread (a loaf was divided among five inmates), ¼ of a spoonful of turnip marmalade, ¼ of a litre of the so-called tea, and ¼ of a litre of camp soup. In the first weeks in the camp, Romanis still had some food they had brought with them, yet it ran out with time. Due to insufficient nutrition, with the Gypsy camp being grossly overcrowded, the hygienic and sanitary conditions deteriorated dramatically, which resulted in frequent epidemic outbreaks with high number of death casualties among the Romani. The sick were in the care of inmate physicians (Poles and Jews) and accessory personnel. Despite their great efforts, death rates among the Romanis were huge. The hospital pharmacy was only provided with the most fundamental aids, absolutely insufficient for the scale of problems in the camp.
In the photograph: Francis Reisz, Obóz cygański [The Gypsy Camp]
Account by Tadeusz Śnieszko a physician among others at the Zigeunerlager in Birkenau:
“The Gypsy camp in Birkenau was situated in sector BIIe. There was camp BIIf, where the male hospital camp was later located to the right of the Gypsy camp, and working inmates were housed in camp BIId on the left.
“There was a street in the centre of the Gypsy camp, and 32 residential (wooden) barracks in the camp. Even numbers on the right hand of the street, and odd on the left.
“There was a single run of the smoke exhaust pipe along the residential barracks. It bisected the building at the same time doubling for a long table. There were three levels of bunk beds on either side. The Romani lived in families. A single bunk bed was the home for a single family. Nesting there were from 8 to 10 people. There were approximately 800 people living in a single barracks.”
Source: APMA-B, Collection of Testimonies, vol. 15, p. 50.
In the photograph: Interior of a wooden residential barracks in sector BIIa, contemporary view
Referral of 12 November 1943 for Lisetta Weiss, prisoner number Z-156, Amanda Brzeziński No. Z-4555 and Hedwig Rose No. Z-8882 to the SS Institute of Hygiene in Rajsko for blood test, following a suspicion of typhus fever among women prisoners in BIIe camp. The referral was signed by the head physician of the Zigeunerlager, Josef Mengele.
Personal file of inmate Jan Bladycz, registered in the camp on 28 January 1943, and given the number 95224 and category Sch. Pole (Polish political prisoner). The field Beruf (profession) reads Landarbeiter (farm worker) with Zig. for Zigeuner (Gypsy) in brackets; the field Rasse reads ar. Zig. Despite the operation of the Zigeunerlager, individual Romanis were still registered in the general series and taken to the main camp.
From the end of May 1943 to August 1944, SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr Josef Mengele held the role of the head physician in the Gypsy camp. (At the same time he served in the hospitals and inpatient centres in other parts of the camp.) To the order of the Institute for Anthropological and Biological-Race Research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin-Dahlem, Mengele initiated anthropological studies on various racial groups, mostly on the Roma, and on twins, especially identical. A section of the baths (sauna) barracks situated behind Block 32 was earmarked for Mengele’s laboratory, where he ran anthropometric, serological, and morphological studies (for example, he had blood transfused between twins), and infected children with typhus to test whether they would react in the same manner or differently to the disease. Some experiments did not even have any medical justification, for example, the connection of veins and other body parts of two boys to resemble Siamese twins. The last element of the experiment was the killing of the twins and an in-depth comparative analysis of individual organs during the post-mortem. To the order of Mengele, they were made and scientifically described by a physician pathologist, Miklós Nyszli.
The photograph shows Josef Mengele, SS Hauptsturmführer, camp physician.
“I’m looking through the fencing. The neighbouring camp swarms with dark-skinned children, running naked and playing. Colourfully dressed women with beautiful Creole features, semi-naked men, young and old mixed together, are sitting on the ground, standing in groups, talking, and looking at the playing children.
“… A ‘curio’ of the Gypsy camp is the experimental barrack situated therein. The head of the laboratory is Dr Bertold Epstein, a paediatrician of world renown and professor of the University in Prague. He has been a prisoner of the camp for four years. His assistant is Dr Bendel, an associate professor of the faculty of medicine from Paris.
The experiments were conducted in three fields. First, the recently fashionable studies of the question of twins, which gained the momentum after quintuplets were born in Canada. Second: studies in physiology and the pathology of dwarfism. Third: the study of the reasons and methods of treatment of noma faciei – water cancer or gangrenous stomatitis”.
Source: Miklós Nyiszli, Byłem asystentem doktora Mengele [I was doctor Mengele's assistant], Warsaw 1996, pp. 21–22.
A letter from the head dentist of the camp, ordering Roma twins to go to dental examinations. The twins were of various ages, with the youngest pair being 7 and the oldest 67. They were brought to the camp from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Germany, and Vienna. Karol was deported from Vienna on 31 March 1943, given the number Z-5645, and detained in the Roma camp in Birkenau. Hermann arrived in a collective transport on 9 April 1943, and given the number 113336 from the general series and detained in the men’s camp. The brothers met on the premises and were sent together to the dental examination.
When noma began to plague the Roma camp, Mengele began his studies on its reasons and methods of treatment. In one of the rooms of Block 22, he had the inmates Bertold Epstein (professor of paediatrics) and Rudolf Weisskopf-Vite (dermatologist), who ran the studies he commissioned.
In a photograph: A referral to the SS Institute of Hygiene in Rajsko of 6 November 1943 concerning post-mortem of the head of inmate No. Z-2078, who died of gangrenous stomatitis (noma).
Another area of Dr Mengele’s “studies” were biological peculiarities, for example, different colour of eyes in a single person known as heterochromia iridis. Many Romani inmates suffering from varicoloured irises were murdered in the camp at instruction from Mengele. The samples gathered in this way were collected in the barracks of the camp’s sauna or bath, and the fixed specimens were later sent for examination to the Institute for Anthropological and Biological-Race Research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin-Dahlemor to the SS Medical Academy in Graz.
An account by Dinah Gottliebova, a Jewish inmate, deported to the camp from the ghetto in Terezín and given camp number 61016:
“Dr Mengele was not satisfied with photographs of the Gypsies. He wanted to obtain true-to-nature shades of their skin colour. He gave me a camera and asked if I could make such faithful portraits of the Gypsies. I answered that I could try, and every morning from that day onwards, SS officer Plagge—Unterscharführer, as far as I remember—arrived for me on a bike and escorted me to the Zigeunerlager. It must have been February 1944.
“I worked in a room in the sauna, next to Dr Mengele’s office. I was given cardboard, brushes, watercolours, and two chairs. I sat on one, and the other served as my easel. The ‘models’ were brought by Dr Mengele. Majority were young Gypsy women representing a certain region or country. I remember I made 10–12 such portraits. … The painting of a single portrait lasted for around two weeks. Dr Mengele examined everyone very carefully. Sometimes he insisted on making small changes or adding things. Once the portrait was ready, he took it with him.”
Source: APMA-B, Collection of Testimonies, vol. 102, pp. 70–78.
In the photographs: Portraits of inmates from the Gypsy camp painted by Dinah Gottliebova, an inmate of Jewish origin. They were ordered by the head physician of the Gypsy camp, Josef Mengele.
Photo from the Collections of the PMA-B
In the various periods of Zigeunerlager’s operation, there were altogether around 11,000 children in the camp, of which number 378 were born there. All the children born in the camp died, majority soon after birth, and the remaining were killed during the liquidation of the camp. Many suffered from diseases. They were placed in the hospital block, where they could only count on the care of the inmates working there: the medical personnel, who were not able to help the little dying patients, despite great efforts. On an order of Dr Mengele, the so-called kindergarten, a type of nursery and preschool for children under six, also the ones who were the object of Mengele’s interest, was set up in the section of the Roma camp.
In the photograph: A page from the Main Ledger for the Roma camp for men. It lists boys born in the Roma family camp. The column “place of birth” reads Birkenau.
An excerpt from the account by Jan Češpiva, a Czech employed among others as a physician in the so-called Zigeunerlager.
“The Gypsy camp was something unique throughout the Auschwitz camp. For it was a family camp, where parents and children lived together. During the day, the children were in the so-called Kindergarten where dedicated female inmates took care of them. Each day there were more or less 250–300 children aged up to 12 there. It was difficult to estimate the age, as the children were weak and poorly developed physically, so that even being a doctor I couldn’t say for certain what age they were.”
Source: Voices of Memory 7. Roma in Auschwitz, Oświęcim 2011, pp. 96–97.
In the photograph: A page from the Main Ledger for the Roma camp for women. It lists girls born in the Roma family camp. The column “place of birth” reads Birkenau.
A letter from Heinz Kammler, D.Eng., to the Main Construction Board of Waffen SS and Police in Auschwitz, of 24 April 1943, informing about the contamination of water in the Zigeunerlager and high mortality among children under ten.
Translation of the document:
“By this document, the head of the Group of Offices D informs that due to the too high contamination of water in the washing basins, the number of deaths among children under 10 years of age is disproportionally high.
“To prevent an outbreak of an epidemic, the existing basins need to be immediately replaced with openwork pipes, whose “nozzles” could discharge water designed for washing and not subjected to external contamination. Please present relevant information by 5 May 1943”.
Head of the Group of Offices C
SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen SS
An excerpt from the memoirs of Else Baker:
“I was in the barracks all the time. I wasn’t taken to work—after all, I was still a child. I experienced many horrible things. I came to understand it only much later. As an eight-year-old I couldn’t even imagine what wickedness is. There were so many seriously ill and gravely exhausted people; many had fits, many were hanging dead on the electric fencing. Only later, when already an adult, I really understood that this was hell on earth.
“… I never saw my mother in Auschwitz. I met three of my siblings there, because they were brought to that place in the summer of 1944. We were all blondes with blue eyes. Dieter and Uwe were twins, and Elisabeth wore glasses. The three didn’t go with me to Ravensbrück, only my younger sister, Rosemarie, who was literally thrust into my arms in a cattle car. They told me ‘She is your sister’. … We arrived in Ravensbrück by night, we got out and had to wait long. While we were getting out somebody came and took away Rosemarie from me; she wasn’t even three years old. That was the last time I saw her. Only much later did I learn that she had survived: she currently lives in Switzerland.”
Source: Else Baker, “Nie zobaczyłam w Auschwitz mojej matki…”, in Pro Memoria, No. 10, Oświęcim 1999, pp. 89–92.
In the photograph: Else Baker (centre) with her stepsisters in a photo.
A group of 39 children (20 boys and 19 girls) who had stayed in St Josefspflege orphanage in Mulfingen, near Stuttgart, were also sent to camp BIIe. Before the deportation, the children had been subjected to a variety of tests conducted by Dr Robert Ritter and Eva Justin, representatives of the Institute for the Study of Racial Hygiene. The main purpose of the studies was to confirm the endogenic character of the Romani people, who—despite the attempts at their education outside the Romani pen made—were unable to get rid of the alleged predilection for stealing and idling, and the lack of capacity for assimilation.
A fragment of a movie made in Mulfingen orphanage.
Source: Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Heidelberg
While the Gypsy family camp was still functioning, some of the people detained in Auschwitz were transferred to other camps deep within the Reich, where they were employed in industry. The first larger group of 884 men was transported on 15 April 1944 to the camp in Buchenwald. On the same day, 473 female inmates from the Gypsy camp were transferred to the camp in Ravensbrück. In the following month (on 24 May 1944), 82 inmates were transferred to the camp in Flossenbürg, and 144 female inmates to Ravensbrück. They were young Romani, aged from 17 to 25.
Antonín Absolon (Růžička in the camp), a Rom deported with all his family to Auschwitz concentration camp in May 1943 and given the number Z-7539 on his stay in the so-called Zigeunerlager.
“First major transports left from the Gypsy camp for work in the spring of 1944. One day in summer I heard in the hospital that a new transport was leaving and being set up by the gate. I ran out naked from the hospital and went running towards the canteen. Somewhere on my way I met Jana. She asked me where I was running to, and I answered that I wanted to leave with the transport. She started to persuade me that I shouldn’t go, that only the two of us have remained from the whole family, and that I mustn’t leave her. I told her that I knew I had to go. I didn’t even say my farewells, as I was in a hurry. There was a table standing between barracks 2 and 4, and there were Poles standing by it, and by the gate between the kitchens there were men standing in a file. I saw Dr Mengele, and I didn’t hesitate even for a moment, and I addressed him in my poor German, which I learned in the camp. I said I wanted to take this transport, that I was now left alone, that my Mum and Dad are dead, and that I wanted to return home. He can’t have understood it all, as a female inmate standing behind him began to explain something to him. I was given clothing to Mengele’s order, and he said that I would go. I received the clothing and a moment later I was already leaving with that transport.”
Source: APMA-B, Collection of Testimonies, vol. 80, pp. 84–88.
The last transport to Buchenwald was sent on 2 August 1944. Earlier, on 23 May, the inmates of the Zigeunerlager underwent a selection, and 1,408 women and men were moved to blocks 9 and 10 in Auschwitz I. They were to stay alive. Many of them came from Roma-German families, and many were soldiers of Wehrmacht released from the service and detained in the camp. Few Romani were released from Auschwitz on the condition of undergoing sterilisation. Moreover, there were occasional cases of releasing the Roma who had previously served as soldiers of the German army, received high military decorations, and came from mixed marriages, from the Auschwitz concentration camp and of transfers to camps in the Reich. In most cases, the reasons for release were interventions of the non-Roma members of the families.
The photograph shows the first page of the transport list of the Romani transferred on 17 April 1944 to Buchenwald.
The Zigeunerlager operated in Birkenau until 2 August 1944. In the evening of that day, the nearly 3,000 men, women, and children remaining in the camp were loaded into lorries and transported to the gas chamber. The Romani tried to resist, yet the SS overpowered them brutally. Two months later, on 18 October 1944, 218 Romani women (49 from Kommando Altenburg, and 168 from Kommando HasaG-Taucha), who had previously stayed in Birkenau camp, arrived from Buchenwald. On 26 September 1944, 200 inmates were brought from Buchenwald: they were Romani, mostly boys, brought there from Auschwitz on 2 August 1944.
In the photograph: A view of the Birkenau concentration camp in the winter of 1944/1945. Barracks of the BIIe camp in the foreground.
Employment roll of Auschwitz camp inmates of 1 August 1944 (the day before the liquidation of the Zigeunerlager). The line Zigeunerlagerstärke (Gypsy camp count) reads 2,885 people; moreover, a single Gypsy (Zig.) was registered as a Hilfsarbeiter (assistant) in camp BIIa (men’s quarantine) and 5 in the men’s camp (BIId). There were 7 Romani in camp hospital BIIf. Altogether, there were 2,898 Romani in the camp.
Employment roll of Auschwitz camp inmates of 3 August 1944 (the day after the liquidation of the Zigeunerlager). There is no separate line for the Zigeunerlagerstärke (Gypsy camp count). In turn, the line on inmates transferred from the camp (Überstellung Zig.) contains information about the 1,408 Romani selected earlier for a transport that left Auschwitz immediately before the liquidation. The sector BIIe (former camp for the Romani) already was already occupied by new inmates, Jews transported from Hungary.
It is estimated that around 23,000 of the Romani—men, women, and children—were deported to Auschwitz; of this number around 21,000 (including children born in the camp) were registered. There were also cases when the Romani were not registered in the camp but sent directly to the gas chambers. This was e.g. the case with a transport of around 1,700 Polish Romani, men, women, and children, which reached Birkenau on 23 March 1943 from Białystok. In the fear of an epidemic of typhus, whose cases were detected among the new arrivals, camp authorities sent the whole group directly to death. Of the aforementioned number of around 23,000 Romanis deported to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, around 21,000 lost their lives in the camp. Most died of diseases, starvation and catastrophic sanitary conditions, and the remaining were murdered in the gas chambers.
The photograph shows the main ledgers of the Gypsy camp saved by Polish inmates. They contain 20,982 names of male and female Romani detained in the camp. It is an exceedingly precious source of information about the killing of the Roma in Auschwitz (the Porajmos).
An exhibition that commemorates the extermination of the Romani and portrays the particular dimension of the Nazi genocide committed on the Romani in Europe has been arranged in Block 13 of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Victims of Romani nationality are furthermore commemorated by the monument in sector BIIe in Birkenau.
Teresa Wontor-Cichy, Centrum Badań PMA-B