Can it happen again?

Rita Prigmore, Sinti survivor, on the right. Photo: Balder Carstens Hasvoll

JVL Introduction

A warning voice from a survivor of the Sinti Holocaust, Rita Prigmore who was interviewed recently in Cracow.

This article was originally published by romea.cz on Mon 26 Aug 2019. Read the original here.

Holocaust survivor from Germany's Sinti community, Rita Prigmore, warns it could happen again

On 2 August we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust of the Roma. On the way to the commemorative ceremony at the Auschwitz Memorial we met in Cracow with Ms Rita Prigmore, a Sinti woman who is one of a very few victims of the Nazi horrors still alive today, who had been invited to the ceremony as one of its guests of honor.

“I am very disturbed by the growing hatred and racism today,” said this lady, who was subjected to medical “experiments” by the Nazis. Her twin sister Rolanda did not survive the ordeal; below are moments from her life story as she related it to us.

Forced sterilizations of the Roma and Sinti

My mother was a dancer and singer in a theater. Her name was Teresia Winterstein. My father, Gabriel Reinhardt, was a violinist in an ensemble that played music like Django Reinhardt. They lived in Würzburg in Germany. After the rise of Nazism, people began to be divided up according to their race. Most of the Sinti were then sent to the extermination camp at Auschwitz. When my mother was about 19, officials said she had to sign a paper promising never to marry, or to have a boyfriend, or to elope, but she had already eloped with my father.

My father went to Stuttgart to visit his family and my mother remained behind in Würzburg and began attending university. When she discovered she was pregnant and expecting twins, the Nazis ordered her to be sterilized, and they arrested our entire family.

Twin sisters are born, Rolanda is killed in an “experiment”

Twins were a big deal to Dr Mengele and his coworkers such as Dr Heyde, an “expert on racial matters” at the university in Würzburg who was Mengele’s student and friend. When he learned my mother was expecting twins, the university got permission for her to be able to give birth to us, and they forced her to sign a pledge to make her children available for “experimental” purposes. Heyde’s clinic followed the entire course of her pregnancy, she had to go there regularly.

My sister Rolanda and I were born in 1943. The Nazis immediately took us away from our mother. She saw us just briefly and we had to remain in the clinic. The Nazis operated on both myself and my sister, on our heads, you can see the scars here … they attempted to change the color of our eyes.

Rolanda did not survive the experiment. On the day she died, our mother came to the clinic to see us. She had been going there even though it was forbidden. She came up to the little window, looked inside, asked “Where is my other child?” and began screaming, she was very agitated. A nurse came and told her: “Your other twin died after the experiment.” My head was wrapped in bandages at the time.

My mother took me into the corridor, to a door that said “Bathroom”. Rolanda was there, in the bathtub, covered by a shirt, with her head bandaged. She had been dead for several hours. My mother panicked and ran away from the clinic with me. To this day I don’t know how she managed to get from the hospital to the church, but she ran there and knocked on the door, and a priest opened it. She told him everything and begged him to baptize me. Then she took me home, but the Nazis were already waiting for us there, and they brought me back to the clinic. The Nazis then forcibly sterilized her.

Most of my family, including my mother’s 14-year-old brother, were sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis. They did not send my grandmothers there because they were too old to work. They returned me to my mother one year after they killed Rolanda, and my mother also survived the war. I have had problems with my health and with my eyes all my life.

Painful stories

I got married and moved to the USA. In 1981 I returned to Germany when I was invited to visit the Auschwitz Memorial as a survivor. Today I am the only survivor from my family still alive. This is my fourth visit to the Auschwitz Memorial. It’s very difficult for me to visit because of my memories.

They also took my mother’s cousin to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She was very beautiful. In the camp they made all the female prisoners stand in a row and they wanted the pretty ones for the brothel. All of the families imprisoned there were Sinti and it was a great shame to them when they chose my mother’s cousin. She threw herself onto the barbed wire of the electric fence and killed herself rather than let the Germans touch her.

My mother’s youngest brother was there too, and he survived his time in the camp. After the war there were many stories told about it by the fire, many people grew up hearing them.

Why has nothing been learned from this?

Today I am 76 years old and my family lives in America: My daughter, son, grandchildren. This is my fourth trip to Europe. It’s very difficult. Those of us who survived always come back and say: “We have to do this.” Because Germany turned into an awful, hurtful group. What they did to us is a shame. Why have they learned nothing from Auschwitz? Why is there an Auschwitz? Why are the Nazis able to come there again? You know, they say the Roma steal or do this or that. No… This is a race war. If it hadn’t been the Roma, it would be the Jews or somebody else. I don’t understand why the Government doesn’t ban the Nazis. Why do Nazi parties exist? It’s just like in the USA. If these parties exist, then anybody else can get the same idea, others will see it, and they will want to do the same thing. That’s how it will continue.

Auschwitz is just asleep

That is what we are afraid of – that this will happen again. It will happen! Each time I visit a church or a community in America, I say: “Auschwitz is just asleep.” Auschwitz is actually just sleeping! I don’t have much schooling or education, so whenever a form comes to me by e-mail where I am asked to describe my education, I write: “My life as a Sinti Holocaust survivor.” I’ve never had to say anything else.

You know, it’s very dangerous if a Government allows something like this to exist again, those people caused so much harm. Years ago I became an American citizen for the sake of my husband and my children. You know, each country is proud of itself – your country, America, Spain, Italy, and others – but Germany is not, because of what happened during the Holocaust. They murdered millions of innocent people, but now the Nazis can go out there again and threaten us! If we don’t manage to stop them, it will happen again. It’s difficult to stop – you may be able to stop the hatred, but not the stupidity in people’s minds, that can’t be controlled. It’s like children who don’t like certain kinds of food, for example, and who are like that their entire lives. I believe it’s similar when somebody dislikes the Roma and Sinti. In my opinion, this is like a kind of sickness.

A special memorial

I am glad that Mr Romani Rose, the chair of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, has invited me here again. For us, for the survivors, who are gradually becoming fewer and fewer, it is important to be together on this significant day, to express our fear and our feelings, to show them. You know, we naturally are concerned about what is happening now.

Different things are happening, for example, 20 Romani people are living in a camp and 30 motorcycle gang members drive up and kill them all. What could they say to that? What kind of an excuse would there be from the Government, or the police? That you’re Romani? That you shouldn’t camp there? All of that runs through our minds. It’s horrible. That’s why this commemoration is so important. We’re talking about this growing hatred, and also about our fear. Basically, we shouldn’t show our fear, because then they’ll say to themselves: “They’re afraid of us!”, but maybe they will realize what terrible things happened to us.

This was not just about the Sinti and the Roma, it was also about the Jewish people and others, but we don’t have a lobby like the others do. We would all like to thank Mr Romani Rose, with all our hearts. It’s good to be here together.


agw, bau, Balder Carstens Hasvoll

Comments (2)

  • different frank says:

    I hope people know that the US only stopped sterilising the poor and ethic minorities in the 1960s.
    For reference read the outstanding book by Edwin Black.
    “war against the weak”
    https://waragainsttheweak.com/

  • Teresa Steele says:

    How we treat each other in the name of supremacy is just sickening. What different nations have done to minority groups throughout history is just too sickening, like a horror movie and the worst part is that, at the time, it’s accepted.

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