Children in concentration camps

Sidonie Adlersburg

Sinti and Roma children and young people were affected by the persecution measures of the National Socialists from the outset. They were "racially" recorded and excluded from school; in the same way as Jewish children, they were not allowed to start apprenticeships. Young Sinti and Roma were deported to concentration camps from 1938. The SS also set up special youth concentration camps in Moringen and Uckermark, from where Sinti and Roma were deported to Auschwitz.

A large proportion of the more than 500,000 Sinti and Roma who fell victim to the genocide in Nazi-occupied Europe were children and teenagers. They were exploited as forced labourers and deported to the death camps. They were victims of mass shootings, driven into the gas chambers and abused in medical experiments.

The murderous logic of the National Socialist racial ideology permitted no exceptions; the extermination of the minority was to be total. Even Sinti and Roma children who had initially been admitted to children's homes after their parents had been deported or who had grown up in "Aryan" foster families were not spared from deportation to the death camps.

Children of St. Josefspflege on a trip

School-age Sinti children from Württemberg, whose parents had already been deported, were accommodated in the Catholic children's home of St. Josefspflege in Mulfingen.

The 40 or so Sinti children were initially spared from extermination: the "racial researcher", Eva Justin, abused them as test subjects for her doctoral thesis. After conclusion of her pseudoscientific "experiments", the SS deported the Mulfingen Sinti children to Auschwitz in May 1944, where all except four survivors died in the gas chambers. The director of the home did nothing to prevent the deportation of the children.

"The director of Josefspflege Mulfingen, Father Volz, informs the Caritas Association that 30 gypsy children are to be taken away in the near future. This will mean that the institution will be rather under-occupied. He therefore requests the Caritas Association to apply to the relevant authorities, so that it is fully occupied as soon as possible." (Letter to the Episcopal Ordinariate of Rottenburg-Neckar dated 8.5.1944)

Sinti and Roma children were systematically killed right up to the end of the war. When a transport with several hundred Sinti and Roma women from Ravensbrück arrived at the Mauthausen concentration camp in March 1945, the SS murdered their babies and small children immediately after arrival.

"My mother was incarcerated in Ravensbrück concentration camp from the middle of 1944 until the so-called 'death march'. By chance she was on the camp road one day, when a 'gypsy transport' arrived. She was on her way back from work - she had to do forced labour in the clothing store at that time - and had smuggled out an article of clothing for a sick fellow inmate under her prisoner's dress. My mother was therefore very careful not to attract the attention of the SS.

She therefore got off the camp road and stood at the next barrack to wait while the SS men drove the transport of Sinti and Roma past. From there she could see that there were a very large number of children in the incoming transport of Sinti and Roma. The children who could not keep up with the adults were repeatedly driven forward by the SS with rifle butts.

Suddenly my mother saw a small Sinti boy of about five years of age bend down to pick up something he had dropped. At this moment, an SS man hit the boy on the head with his rifle butt and smashed in his skull. The SS man kicked the object which the child had bent down to pick up to the edge of the camp road. My mother could now see that it was a small teddy bear. After the transport had passed by, she waited for the right moment and picked up the teddy bear to hide it. She kept it secretly for many months, close to her body at night and finally took it along on the death march. She couldn't let go of the story of the boy and his teddy bear and told it again and again until her death." (Inge Schwark)