The Forgotten Holocaust
Stacey Hodgkins book review of “A Gypsy in Auschwitz” by Otto Rosenberg, for Holocaust Memorial Day 2023.
Often when Stories of The Holocaust are told it is the experiences that come from the voice of those of Jewish descent and not from members of Gypsy heritage. In fact unless you are of Gypsy heritage you may not have any awareness that European Roma and Sinti people did indeed also experience the horrors of The Holocaust and these experiences are often lost and untold.
Persecution and prejudice started towards Gypsy communities in 1933 when Hitler came to power. Under the Nazi regime they began to construct Gypsy working camps which turned out to be no more than prisons and ghettos unfit for purpose. A place where Roma and Sinti families were hidden away.
A Gypsy in Auschwitz is a first hand account of Otto Rosenberg who was born German Sinti in Berlin, Germany. Otto was a happy child having fun and living a simple life just like a child should. Otto and his family lived happily on privately rented site in covered wagons occasionally travelling around. He was just enjoying childhood and being with his large family.
In 1936, just as he turned 9, his whole life changed overnight and childhood snatched away from him. Woken early one morning by police he was grabbed and loaded into trucks with his family and taken to Berlin-Marzahn camp. Leaving the wagon he had grown up in and taken to a camp not fit for purpose all because he was of Gypsy Heritage. Reviewing this book as a Romany Gypsy and as someone who has worked with children until quite recently, I cannot comprehend what this must have been like for Otto and other children. To be taken away from their security, their childhood taken from them overnight and to then experience the worst atrocities you can imagine especially as childhood should be a magical time for growing and learning. Otto remained within the confinements of this camp until he was 15.
Moved to Auschwitz- Birkenau Gypsy Camp at age 15, he was split up from most of his family. The book at this point becomes a haunting account of the brutal horrors and lived experiences Otto went through. Some of these included pain, suffering, starvation, witnessing of atrocities such as seeing others put to death, including family members. Despite it all Otto showed such resilience despite the adversity he carried on regardless. Otto said:
“In such a place you stop feeling altogether. People were past feeling. Such was our plight that we would of endured anything like lambs being led to the slaughter” (pg. 113)
Otto’s whole story is important to the history of the Holocaust especially today as The Gypsy Holocaust is very much The Forgotten Holocaust as there doesn’t seem to be much of an awareness within schools for example it is The Jewish Holocaust that is taught and awareness raised of this. It is important that today on Holocaust Memorial Day that we also remember the experiences of the Roma and Sinti peoples Holocaust. As quoted on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust page, it is estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti People were murdered during The Roma Genocide. We need to raise awareness of this and have a duty to ensure that this information is shared far and wide.
To conclude this book review, despite Otto going through some of the worst adversity possible after the war and leaving the camp he did rebuild his life, got married and had seven children. He founded the Regional Association of German Sinti and Romanies in Berlin and served as its chairman until he died in 2001. This book opens up a lot of emotions as a reader but it is a truly empowering story of strength and courage shown in a time of adversity. It also highlights the effects and gives a full picture of the Holocaust for all those involved from all perspectives.
If you would like to learn more about Otto and his life you can find his story here https://www.hmd.org.uk/resource/otto-rosenberg/
Stacey Hodgkins/ TT Vision
(lead photo: Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland © Kaya, Creative Commons)