A Gypsy survivor describes medical experiments at Ravensbrück
Anna W. was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and spent her early childhood traveling with her parents and five siblings as part of a Gypsy theater troupe. In 1938, they were forced to settle in Leipzig, and were prevented from traveling or attending school.
"In early 1942, we were taken to a camp near Leipzig and... told... we were to be resettled in Poland. ...We were lucky we were put on a passenger car instead of a cattle car. ...The children were excited about the train ride. ...We had heard nothing of Auschwitz before. ...We were the first transport to arrive at the Gypsy camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. ...All the barracks were empty, there was no fence yet. It was muddy. We sank into the dirt to our knees... but each day more and more arrived. ...They had barracks for 500 people and forced 1000 inside. ...All my relatives, they all died there. Not one of them survived except for my cousin's family. ...We had to give up our clothes and shower. Then they shaved us...the parents were with us. That was terrible. Father, mother had to undress, too. That was the most terrible. The humiliation. There was a children's nursery. What could that mean [at Auschwitz-Birkenau], a nursery?
In March of 1944 I was put on a transport to Ravensbrück. My siblings all died. Within six months, nothing was left. [From] Ravensbrück... we were taken to ammunition factories at Schlieben near Buchenwald. ...We worked the nightshift.... That was terrible for us adolescents [because] those who fell asleep and didn't meet the production quota were sent back to Auschwitz. ...They didn't go to the camp but immediately to the gas chambers. ...I was transferred to Buna works near Leipzig but didn't meet the production rate. ...I was to be sent to Auschwitz but I traded places with a woman who wanted to be with relatives at Auschwitz. ...I would have gone to Auschwitz. ...Nobody knew that they were to be gassed when they returned to Auschwitz, that the Gypsy camp was gone [those living in the Gypsy Lager at Auschwitz were all gassed on August 2 and 3, 1944] -- so we traded places. ... [she] was taken directly to the crematorium. ...I got on the other transport, went to Bergen Belsen...[which] was basically worse than Auschwitz. ...There people died like flies. I got sick with pleurisy and pneumonia...[but] was put not in an infirmary but in prison barracks. ...Nobody cared for me...until the British came and liberated the camp...and took me to a hospital where I stayed for eight months. I returned to Bergen Belsen and lived in the liberated camp for two more years [since] I had nobody left..."
"Ich bin selbst sterilisiert worden, aber in Ravensbrück.
Q: In Ravensbrück. Wie alt warst Du damals?
Q: Und hast Du gewusst was...
Noch nicht ganz sechzehn.
Q: Hast Du gewusst was für eine...
Nein, das habe ich nicht gewusst. Die haben gesagt die untersuchen nur, aber die Schmerzen danach, das hat man dann schon gemerkt.
Q: Das natürlich hat sehr, sehr...
Da waren mehrere junge Mädchen von, wie alt waren die, zwölf Jahre, zwölf, fünfzehn-, sechzehnjährige.
Q: Und Friedel auch?
Q: Nein, der nicht. Weil ich weiss, sie haben auch mit den Jungen gemacht...
Auch ja, kenn sogar welche wo sie es gemacht haben.
Q: Ja, ich glaube der Ranko B., nicht?
Q: Der hat davon gesprochen. Das ist etwas Schreckliches, nicht, für eine Frau.
Sehr. Da hab ich ja jetzt drunter zu leiden. Ich hätt ja 'ne Familie haben können, ich hätt ja schon Enkelkinder haben können die zwanzig Jahre jetzt alt werden, meine Enkelkinder, ne..."
"I was sterilized myself, but in Ravensbrück.
Q: In Ravensbrück. How old were you back then?
Q: And did you know what...
Not quite sixteen.
Q: Did you know what kind of...
No, I did not know that. They said they were just examining, but the pain afterwards, so then you realized.
Q: That was of course very, very...
There were several young girls, of, how old were they, twelve years, twelve, fifteen-, sixteen-year-olds.
Q: And Friedel [her husband], too?
Q: No, not him. Because I know that they also did this to the boys...
Yes, I even know some where they did it.
Q: Yes, I think Ranko B., no?
Q: He spoke about it. This is something very terrible, for a woman, no?
Very much, yes. For now I have to suffer from it. Since I could have had a family, could have, I could have had grandchildren who would be twenty years by now, my grandchildren, right..."
Anna W. has lived in Germany after the war. Her husband was active in the Gypsies' political efforts to gain recognition of their suffering by the post-war German government. When, in the early 1980's, he built the first memorial for Gypsies at Auschwitz-Birkenau without having obtained permission, he was arrested by the Polish authorities. Anna W. never had children.
Anna W. Holocaust Testimony (HVT-2804). Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University Library.
The length of the complete testimony is 1 hour, 16 minutes. A catalog record is available for this testimony in Orbis, the Yale University Library online public access catalog. Please see the Catalog and research guide section of this site for more information.