A unique database of Roma and Sinti testimonies about the Holocaust now online
02. 08. 2023
It was dark when the train arrived in Auschwitz. To the sound of barking dogs, kicking, and swearing, she was forced out of the carriage and made to walk to the camp. They tattooed a number on her and Vlasta Danielová suddenly became “Cvelfhundertfynfuntfeercikh”. She was one of the few who managed to return home after the war and was able to tell her story. Her testimony documents the horrors that both Jews and the Roma went through during World War II. Of the roughly 6,500 Czech Roma and Sinti, only six hundred survived the Holocaust. Starting today, some of their testimonies are now available on the website https://www.romatestimonies.com/, and more will soon be added. The Institute of Contemporary History of the CAS made the website available on the occasion of the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on 2 August.
“Diseases, especially typhus, spread in the camp. The blocks at the end of the camp were called Krankenbau and that’s where they would send the sick,” according to Vlasta Danielová’s testimony. First her father died in the camp, then her eldest sister Matylda as well as her youngest brother Jeníček. Vlasta’s mother, her sister Mila and brother Izidor also did not survive the war. Her sixteen-year-old sister Viktora and eighteen-year-old brother Raimund (who died of tuberculosis in 1949) both returned home from the concentration camps. Later also her brother Stanislav, who had spent the war in a labour camp in Dresden.
Vlasta Danielová left detailed memories of her stay in Auschwitz. She mentioned, for instance, the escape attempt of the Moravian Romani, who were caught by the Germans, beaten by bullwhips as exemplary punishment, and then taken to an unknown destination. One of them, who she mentioned came from Petrov and was shot, was carried naked from block to block – everyone had to look at him and say whether they knew him. “No one came forward, even his wife denied knowing him out of fear,” Danielová’s testimony notes.
She went on to describe that the kapos on their block were German Romani – a couple with two children, who had put up Hitler’s portrait in their quarters. She also remembered Josef Mengele, who would often take the 10-year-old boys, twins, out of their block and bring them back in his car, but once he did not bring them back...
Testimonies now available online
Vlasta Danielová’s testimony was recorded on a tape recorder on 30 January 1988 by the Moravian historian Ctibor Nečas. It was published in writing in 1994 in a book edited by the historian, Nemůžeme zapomenout = Našt'i bisteras: nucená táborová koncentrace ve vyprávěních romských pamětníků (We cannot forget: forced internment in concentration camps in the testimonies of Romani survivors). As of today, a detailed abstract of the testimony is also available online in the new unique database, which also contains dozens of other similar records of remembered experience.
The database also enables the visualisation of the wartime experiences of the Roma and Sinti on a map. A visitor can thus learn, for instance, in which concentration and labour camps the Roma were imprisoned, or where they participated in the resistance as partisans in the Czech lands and Slovakia.
Researchers at the Prague Forum for Romani Histories will gradually be adding to the database, which should contain a total of approximately 250 testimonies about the specific fates of Czech and Slovak Romani and Sinti during World War II.
“We’ve already registered international interest in the database. In the fall, we will present it at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and we also plan to present the database to students at the Central European University in Vienna. The New York Times is also interested in the project,” Kateřina Čapková adds.
Vlasta Danielová, née Kierová (born 1925) as a 14-year-old with her parents and siblings. She survived imprisonment in Auschwitz II – Birkenau and the death march. She is one of the performers of the song “Aušvicate hi kher báro” written in Auschwitz about the Romani Holocaust. (Photo from the collection of the Museum of Romani Culture).
The Romani Holocaust is a neglected topic
The online Database of Romani Testimonies is the result of a multi-year project by the Prague Forum for Romani Histories, which has been operating at the Institute of Contemporary History of the CAS since 2016. The database includes a detailed abstract of each testimony in Czech and English, a detailed search option, a map of selected events, annotations to the used sources, and a glossary of selected terms.
“The experience of the Roma and Sinti during World War II still remains a neglected topic, even though the consequences of wartime genocide and persecution are still felt by Roma communities today,” says Kateřina Čapková, head of the steering committee of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories at the Institute of Contemporary History of the CAS.
“Even in the few publications about the Holocaust of the Romani and Sinti, the prevailing perspective is often taken from documents written during the war by the state administration and police forces. The key idea of our project, on the other hand, is to convey the perspective of the Romani and Sinti themselves and thus their personal and irreplaceable experience of the Second World War,” the researcher adds.
Marie Ondrášová called Květa (born 1926) as a twelve-year-old during her First Communion. Together with her family, she was interned in the so-called Gypsy camp in the town of Hodonín, where she was chosen to work as an assistant to a medic and a doctor. The family was released from the camp, but Květa’s sister born in the camp didn’t return to the family until after the war due to unclear circumstances. (Photo from the collection of the Museum of Romani Culture)
The tragedy of August the second
The Roma Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the sad anniversary of the end of the so-called Gypsy family camp, which was Section B-IIe of the Auschwitz extermination camp. On the night of 2–3 August 1944, more than 4,000 mostly German, Czech, and Polish Roma were killed in the gas chambers.
The database project is one of the results of the research project of excellence by Kateřina Čapková awarded by the Czech Science Foundation. The development of the database was funded by the American Bader Philanthropies Foundation and the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) as part of the Strategy AV21 Global Conflicts and Local Contexts research programme. The database and website were digitized by SiteOne.
You can also listen to the CAS podcast (in Czech) with Renata Berkyová, a researcher at the Prague Forum for Romani Histories – PODCAST: On the Romani Holocaust, unhealed wounds, and poetry.
Prepared by: Leona Matušková, Division of External Relations, CAO of the CAS
Translated by: Tereza Novická, Division of External Relations, CAO of the CAS
Photo: Prague Forum for Romani Histories
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