It’s impossible to fathom the scale of the depravity. An eyewitness account by a Holocaust survivor—unearthed for a new exhibition in London—describes the conditions in the “gypsy” section of Auschwitz as even more inhumane than the rest of the appalling facility.
“The conditions were worse than in the other camps,” wrote eyewitness Hermann Langbein in 1945. “The route between the huts was ankle deep in mud and dirt. The gypsies were still wearing the clothes that they had been given upon arrival… footwear was missing… The latrines were built in such a way that they were practically unusable for the gypsy children. The infirmary was a pathetic sight.”
The report by Langbein, also a survivor of the Spanish Civil War, is just one of the sickening contemporary accounts highlighted in the exhibition Forgotten Victims: The Nazi Genocide of the Roma and Sinti at London’s Wiener Holocaust Library (to March 11, 2020).
Over 90 percent of the Roma held at Auschwitz did not survive the war.
In total, it is estimated that up to half a million Roma and Sinti, the name taken by the nomadic people based in Germany, died during the Holocaust. Accurate estimates are impossible but that may have been a quarter of Europe’s Roma and Sinti population.
The plight of these people, commonly known as gypsies at the time, was overshadowed by the scale of the genocide perpetrated against Europe’s Jewish community, but the Romani suffering was not simply eclipsed; it was systematically erased in the post-war period.
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