Two Survivors of the Roma Genocide Share Their Stories

I see it as my duty not to remain silent but to tell my story so that a new generation of young people grows up to have respect for every human being and know that any kind of prejudice can end up in a catastrophe like Auschwitz.
Rita Prigmore, Roma Genocide Survivor
Between 1933 and 1945, Roma across German-occupied Europe were subjected to arbitrary confinement, forced labor, and mass killing. As many as 500,000 men, women, and children were murdered. On the 70th anniversary of the largest mass killing of Roma, on August 2, 1944, hundreds gathered at a commemoration event in Krakow and Auschwitz. I spoke with two Roma Genocide survivors, József Forgács and Rita Prigmore.

József Forgács

“My mother, father, and I were collected from our town in Zalaegerszeg, Hungary. I was only nine years old,” recalled 79-year-old József Forgács, a Roma Genocide survivor. “We were taken by train to Komárom. The train ride was a humiliating experience: crowded and cold, men and women all together with no toilet and almost no food.”

Forgács recounted his memories of deportation from Hungary and his time at a forced labor camp in Austria, where he spent eight months as a child.

The Nazis separated the crowds at the first train stop in Komárom. “The soldiers came and cut everyone’s hair so we were all bald and could not recognize each other,” Forgács said. “After a week everyone above 15 years old was taken away.”

This was the last time Forgács saw his father. A week later, on the second selection round, Forgács was taken to a labor camp in Austria alongside other Hungarian Roma, including many children. His mother stayed behind. “When we got to Komárom we were put in a big building which was for animals and we were thousands of people. All of us were Roma. It was very common to be hungry; people got diseases.”

From September 1944 to April 1945, Forgács worked at a large factory with many industrial machines. “I did not really know at the time what was happening to me; day after day I had to clean the floors of that building. They gave us food only once a day, and it was either dried bread or some soup which was more dirty water than soup.”

He cannot recall where he was held but most probably one of the labor camps in the Mauthausen concentration camp complex. “We did not meet any Jews in the camp because they were taken early. We were only Hungarians, Gypsies from Hungary.”

Forgács could not believe he was still alive when Soviet troops liberated the camp. The gates were opened and he was free. But his ordeal was not over. “We could really go wherever we wanted but we did not know where to go and what to do. We were four or five Roma children going together to find our home but every one of us was from different countries. We were just repeating the name of our countries and we tried to find the direction home.”

They walked hundreds of miles, begging for shelter and food from people speaking a strange language. They slept anywhere they could find, usually outdoors in a field. Many children died like this on the road.

When he arrived at Sopron, a city at the Hungarian-Austrian border, he knew he was home. “I was in a horrible state but I did not care. I could speak my language and I was home.” But home was nowhere to be found. When he finally reached his hometown of Zalaegerszeg, his family house had been ruined. “We really had to start again from scratch building a house from the beginning.”

Forgács stayed in Zalaegerszeg all his life, working for over 40 years in construction and as a furniture manufacturer. Despite his ordeal he still faced discrimination in later years. He received no compensation from the state because, he said, he did not spend a full year at the concentration camp.

“I am happy that so many young people want to know about my story, and I hope that they will share it with their families,” Forgács said. “We went through a lot, and this memory ought to stay behind.”

Rita Prigmore

Rita Prigmore and her twin sister Rolanda were born into a Sinti family on March 3, 1943, in Würzburg, a town in northern Bavaria in Germany. A year earlier the Nazi regime had passed a “racial law applied to Gypsies” forcing them to undergo compulsory sterilization. Those who refused to comply were deported to Auschwitz.

“In 1942, just before her appointment for sterilization by the Nazis, my mother became pregnant with me and my sister. The abortion was cancelled when the Nazis realized she was carrying twins,” Prigmore recounted. The Nazis sought twins for medical experiments.

“Dr. Josef Mengele was a ruthless twin researcher and the doctor of the “Gypsy family camp” in Auschwitz; his student, Werner Heyde, examined my mother several times.” Rita’s mother was forced to sign a paper handing her children over to the Nazis for medical studies immediately after their birth. Otherwise the entire family would be deported to Auschwitz—as were thousands of other Sinti and Roma. Four doctors in uniforms were present at Rita and her sister’s birth at Würzburg University Hospital.  

When Rita’s mother returned to the hospital to see her girls, the body of Rita’s sister, Rolanda, “was lying in the bathtub with a shirt and a bandage around her head—she was dead.” Rita was only reunited with her mother in 1944 through the Red Cross.

In later years, she discovered a  large scar behind her  right eye; lifelong poor health including migraine headaches, fainting spells, and weak eyesight leaves her in no doubt that she was subject to experiments by the SS doctors.

Rita has committed herself to collecting evidence proving that she and her family had been victims of the Nazi regime. In 2007 she had a Stolperstein, or memorial "stumbling stone," in Würzburg dedicated to Rolanda as a Holocaust victim.

Now 70 years old, Rita travels across Germany and the world visiting schools and sharing her story. “What is important to me is to reach out to young people and show what really happened. I see it as my duty not to remain silent but to tell my story so that a new generation of young people grows up to have respect for every human being and know that any kind of prejudice can end up in a catastrophe like Auschwitz.”

When asked about her Sinti origin and the fate of Sinti and Roma today in Europe, Rita wants to look ahead. “We Gypsies do not have a country of our own and we do not strive for it. We want to be fully fledged citizens in the countries we live in and have been living for generations.”

“We Gypsies want to work, live in dignity, and have chances for education and a dignified life. My motto for the Roma Genocide Remembrance is ‘Remember the past, act in the present, and change the future.’ I am sure that living together is the future.”

11 Comments

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The mass murder of Roma and Sinti has not been forgotten -- it has been minimized and erased. Activists, survivors and their descendants are silenced. We are not even allowed to choose what to call the genocide. But no matter how others edit our words and how much institutions like Yad Vashem claim otherwise, the truth is that Romani victims perished by hundreds of thousands in the Holocaust. Yes, the HOLOCAUST. Let's call it what it was, and stop giving license for institutions to exclude our voices because the Romani genocide is conveniently defined as separate from the Holocaust. Separate public commemoration is most definitely not equal.

Petra, I knew Roma were part of the holocaust, but I agree that they are not given the place in the public sphere that they deserve. I, for one, will try to give them their place any time the holocaust is discussed around me.

When Rita commented that we have no country of our own it really struck a cord with me because I have always felt that gypsies are hated by the world no matter what country we come from " and why " no-one seems to have the answer ?? I'm 66 years old and when a gorger "non gypsy" asks where I come from I tell them but I also tell them "but I belong nowhere !!!!" and I truly don't think we will ever BELONG anywhere !!! .....x

What does it take for Roma and Sinti to be included as victims of the Holocaust? Same rounding up, same work-camps, same inhuman treatment, and most important, same mass murder in the same ovens. Please honor and respect the memory of all who died in and out of the camps. They deserve no less.

As a Jew of Romanian/Polish decent, raised in the United States, I was always taught that the Holocaust included genocide of the Roma, Jews and other minorities. I recognize that it's possible my education was better than what others have received, but articles like this and the efforts of people like Rita Prigmore to continue to be sure the Roma have a voice at the world level can help ensure that the education I received becomes more common.

We have always remembered the Roma and Sinti in our commemorations, year after year. The Roma were with my father in Birkenau and Dora-Mittlebau where they endured the same treatment. He was a Hungarian Jew. We will never forget.

With anti-semitism and racism in many forms on the rise right across Europe, I think it would be helpful to reflect on the Holocaust not exclusively as a Jewish tragedy, but to redifne it as a crime against humanity on a vast scale, which is what it was.

In that way, the focus would be on how we treat one another, rather than solely on the victimization of minorities. No groups of people should ever be targeted in the way they were in the holocaust.
Let's not forget that this included not just Jews and gypsies, but also blacks and the mentally handicapped.

Nature is hard, indifferent, and no friend to humanity. But, man can be worse!

If we don't change the way we think to make the world a better place, genocides will continue to happen over-n-over, again.

Janardhan Singh Pathania.
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Text : “San3i – Romani – 3ib”

Romani Gili : taro
Janardhan Singh Pathania,
From INDIA.
janpath1@gmail.com

“O ROMANO KALO DIVES”

1. O Devala vakar man zorales!
Kon jagarde e corore Romenge kherenge?
Kon astarde te mudarde e bi-doshale Romenge?
Kon tasavde ande GAZ-kamorende bibaxtale Romenge?

2. O Devala vakar man caco !
Kon kurde zorasa e me3bur ternia romaniange?
Kon khusle e daiandar lenge tiknore chavorenge?
Kon bikinde sar e bakrende e bi-doshale Romenge?

3. O mo Devala vakar man caco !
Kon tradende e than-thanestar e bokhale Romenge?
Kon choravde o romano rat pe e lungune dromende?
Kon kerde bi-kherende, te bilimoriande e Romenge?

4. O mo Devala Shun man !
Soske e Roma phiren pe than-thaneste bibutiande?
Soske e Romnia phiren sar mangtia andar e bazarende?
Soske e romane chavore phiren kate-kote bi-Pustakande?

5. O mo DEVALA si-man tutar puchipe!
Kai e Roma nai manusha sar jek averende?
Kai e Romenge nai HAK ke 3iven sar jek averende?
Kai e corore Roma nai e tere chavore sar jek averende?

6. O mo Devala! Roma nashti te bistaren pengo Sarvnash Kalo-divese!
Te sako kalo-dives si jek mai-bari la3 e manushalipeske!
E kale - divengi iranipe dukhal dive -pal- rat e Romenge!
Sako bersh Roma pe Ashvit-Birkanaute jadaren penge mulenge!

7. O mo Devala! Te e Roma zorales roven pe penge mulende!
Te asvarde jakhensa den luludia te pativ penge mulenge!
Nasul pal nasulipe nai lachho, phendi “KALI” e Romenge!
Te sa Roma jeksa mangen “Shanti” pe sa e Phuveste!

De Devala lachi Gudi, te Kamipen, te Shanti ame sarenge!

( JANARDHAN SINGH PATHANIA ).

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Romani Gili : By
Janardhan Pathania,
From INDIA.
janpath1@gmail.com

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SPANISH – TRANSLATION.

Edite Pedro
Quero divulgar um belíssimo poema que eu recebi de um amigo Janardhan Pathania sobre o holocausto com o povo cigano. Gentilmente ele me pediu a tradução para o português e espanhol.

" DIA NEGRO DA ROMA ”.
1 . Oh , meu Deus ! Diga-me a verdade!
Quem incendiado as casas ciganas pobres ?
Quem prendeu e matou os ciganos inocentes?
Quem sufocado os ciganos infelizes nas câmaras de gás?
2 . Oh , meu Deus ! Diga-me a verdade!
Quem violou as indefesas mulheres jovens ciganos ?
Quem arrebatou os filhos das mães ciganas ?
Quem vendeu os ciganos como ovelha muda no mercado?
3 . Oh , meu Deus ! Diga-me a verdade!
Quem chasedaway os ciganos famintos de um lugar para outro ?
Quem derramou o sangue cigano inocente nas estradas longas ?
Quem fez os ciganos em casa e menos graves , menos?
4 . Oh , meu Deus ! por favor, me escuta.
Por que os ciganos estão vagando sem trabalho?
Por que os ciganos -mulheres se movem como mendigos nos mercados ?
Por que as crianças ciganas demorar-se aqui e ali , sem livros?
5 . Oh , meu Deus ! Peço-lhe estas perguntas.
Não são os ciganos seres humanos como os outros?
Não têm os ciganos o direito de viver confortavelmente como os outros?
Não são ciganos seus filhos como os outros?
6 . Oh , meu Deus ! Os ciganos não posso esquecer o holocausto !
E todo em preto- dia é o mais vergonhoso para toda a humanidade!
A lembrança do dia em preto -dia & noite dói a alma cigana !
Todos os anos a Roma se reúnem em Ashwit - Birkanau observar o black- dia!
7 . Oh Deus ! Toda a Roma chorar e lembrar suas relações mortas!
Com lágrimas nos olhos eles oferecem flores e prestar homenagens aos seus mortos !
Que um mal por um mal não é bom! Deusa Kali disse Roma !
Toda a Roma rezar juntos pela paz para toda a humanidade!
Oh Deus ! Dar bom senso , amor e paz para todos nós !
( Janardhan Pathania ) , da Índia.
07 de marco de 2010 .

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ENGLISH – Translation:

“THE ROMA’S BLACK DAY”

1. O God you tell me loudly ! Who burnt the houses of the Roma people? Who caught and killed the innocent Roma people? Who put the unfortunate Roma people in the Gas – chambers?

2. O God tell me the truth ! Who raped the helpless young Roma women? Who snatched away from mothers their children? Who sold innocent Roma like a sheep in the markets?

3. O God tell me the truth ! Who chased -away the hungry Roma people from place to place? Who spilled the Roma blood on the long roads? Who made the poor Roma people homeless and graveless?

4. O God you listen to me ! Why Roma are moving from place to place jobless? Why Roma women are moving as beggars in the streets? Why Roma children are moving here and there with out books?

5. O God I ask you some questions? Are the Roma people not men like others? Do the Roma people have no right to live like others? Are not the poor Roma people your children, like others ?

6. O my GOD ! Roma don’t forget their “Holocaust” Black –day ! The each Black-day is a big-Shame for the whole mankind ! The rememberance of Black-days, pains Roma Day & Night ! Every year Roma at Ashvit - Birkanau remember their dead people !

7. O GOD ! The Roma people weep bitterly for their dead people ! With tearfull eyes they honour their dead with flowers! That an evil for evil is no good, this Goddess “KALI” told them ! All the Roma pray together for WORLD – PEACE !
O GOD, Give we all good sense, love and Peace !

( JANARDHAN SINGH PATHANIA ).

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PORTUGUESE – TRANSLATION:

Edite Pedro
Quiero poner un hermoso poema que he recibido de un amigo Janardhan Pathania sobre el Holocausto con la Roma Suavemente me pidió la traducción al portugués y español.

"Día Negro de Roma".

1 . Oh , Dios mío ! Dime la verdad !
Quién incendió las casas pobres gitanos ?
Quién arrestó y mató gitanos inocentes?
Quién se atragantó los gitanos miserables en las cámaras de gas ?

2 . Oh , Dios mío ! Dime la verdad !
Quién violó a las indefensas mujeres jóvenes gitanos ?
Quién le arrebató a los hijos de las madres gitanas ?
Quién vendió las ovejas tan tonto gitanos en el mercado?

3 . Oh , Dios mío ! Dime la verdad !
Acerca chasedaway los gitanos hambrientos de un lugar a otro ?
Quién derramó sangre inocente en los largos caminos gitanos ?
Quién hizo los gitanos en el país y menos grave, menos?

4 . Oh , Dios mío ! por favor, escúchame.
Por qué los gitanos están vagando sin trabajo ?
Por qué las mujeres romaníes - mueven como mendigos en los mercados?
Por qué los niños gitanos merodean aquí y allá sin libros ?

5 . Oh , Dios mío ! Les pido que estas preguntas.
Los humanos no son los gitanos , como los demás?
Los gitanos no tienen el derecho de vivir cómodamente como los demás?
Los niños romaníes no son como los demás?

6 . Oh , Dios mío ! Los gitanos no pueden olvidar el Holocausto.
Y todo en negro es el día más vergonzoso para toda la humanidad.
La memoria del negro día y la noche día duele el alma gitana.
Cada año, la Roma se reúnen en Ashwit - Birkanau observar día negro .

7 . Oh Dios ! Toda Roma llorar y recordar sus relaciones muertas.
Lágrimas en los ojos que ofrecen flores y presentan sus respetos a sus muertos.
¡Qué mal por mal , no es bueno! Diosa Kali dijo Roma.
Toda Roma para orar juntos por la paz para toda la humanidad .

Oh Dios ! Dar el sentido común , el amor y la paz para todos nosotros !

( Janardhan Pathania ) , India.

07 de marzo 2010 .

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Avazi/Sound:
3 = j , as in English “Jug, Jump” & in Romani “3ivdo, 3uklo”.
J = y , as in English “Yes. Yell” & in Romani “ja, jalo, jilo”.
C = Ch, as in English “Child, Chicken, Chap, Check”.
Ch = as in English “Church” and in [Romani & Hindustani]“Chin“.
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Tiknipi/Abbreviation:
1. arb = Arabic. 2. g3o = Alien. 3. eng = English. 4. grk = Greek. 5. hnd = Hindustani. 6. per = Persian. 7. rom = Romani. 8. skt = Sanskrit. 9. sr3 = Indo-Romani “Sanji-Romani-3ib”. 10 . trk = Turkish.
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Alavri/Glossary :

“San3i – Romani -5ib” = Common -Romani- Language.

Baazaar [Per] Curo[hndu] Phuv [skt], Dunja[trk, hnd] Gaz-chamber [g3o]= Gass-chamber [eng].
Limor, Limori, Grobia, [g3o] = Grave.

Hak (sg) [arb,trk,per,hnd, src,rom] = legal right (sg).
Hakuk (pl) [arb,per,hnd,src ] = legal rights (pl).

Sako [g3o] / Herik [grk,hnd,src,rom] = each, every.
3i / dzi / dji / ji, [hnd] = Soul.
Khus- [hnd] = to snatch away.
Lunguno [hnd] = Long.

Mang- [hnd] = to beg, demand.
Mangto (ml-sg), Mangti (f-sg), [hnd] = Beggar.
Mangte (m-pl), Mangtia (f-pl) = Beggars.

Me3bur /Medzbur/ [per, hnd] = helpless.
Manushalipe [skt, hnd] = Humanity.
jadar- /yadar- [per, hnd] = to remember.
Pustak/Pustik [skt] = Book.

Rat [skt, hnd] = Blood.
ratri/raat /rat [skt, hnd] = night. San3o, San3i, san3e, San3ia [skt, rom, hnd] = common.

The Kali - Goddess is a common Goddess between Roma & Hindus of India.Goddess kali is also known as “Sati -Sara- Kali” by the Hindus and Roma people.

Shaanti [skt] = Peace [eng].
Sarvnash [skt] = Holocaust, total destruction, Blood-shed, Slaughtering.

( JANARDHAN –SINGH- PATHANIA)
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My paternal side of the family was Bohemian. I have always been interested in what being a gypsy really meant. My father has said that a large number of his relatives in Gemany had been tortured and killed and then ignored by the German government. We need to search for our roots and see if any of our family is left in the old world and be proud of our gypsy roots.

Thank you, thank you for standing up for all exposed to injustice, inequality and genocide. I'd like to blame ignorance, unchecked capitalism, the enthusiasm for and profitability of war but probably am not digging deeply enough for the causes of cruelty.

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