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A Gypsy in Auschwitz
A Gypsy in Auschwitz is the latest novel to be checked off my to be read list. I’ve always had a fascination with reading stories about World War II and the Holocaust. Because this was the darkest time in history, yet people survived and those survivors are nothing short of amazing.
“Once, when we were working out there, a lad ventured a little too near the cordon of guards and some blockhead shot him. That’s just how it went sometimes.”Otto Rosenberg, A Gypsy in Auschwitz
I always think their stories of survival, resilience, and strength deserve to be told, and this was certainly no exception.
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About A Gypsy in Auschwitz
Otto Rosenberg is 9 and living in Berlin, poor but happy, when his family are first detained. All around them, Sinti and Roma families are being torn from their homes by Nazis, leaving behind schools, jobs, friends, and businesses to live in forced encampments outside the city. One by one, families are broken up, adults and children disappear or are ‘sent East’.
Otto arrives in Auschwitz aged 15 and is later transferred to Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. He works, scrounges food whenever he can, witnesses and suffers horrific violence and is driven close to death by illness more than once. Unbelievably, he also joins an armed revolt of prisoners who, facing the SS and certain death, refuse to back down. Somehow, through luck, sheer human will to live, or both, he survives.
The stories of Sinti and Roma suffering in Nazi Germany are all too often lost or untold. In this haunting account, Otto shares his story with a remarkable simplicity. Deeply moving, A Gypsy in Auschwitz is the incredible story of how a young Sinti boy miraculously survived the unimaginable darkness of the Holocaust.
Thoughts on A Gypsy in Auschwitz
A Gypsy in Auschwitz is a relatively short story, at just two hundred and forty pages. But it is raw, real, and horrific. Raw is probably the best way I can describe it. I’m always shocked when I read about how people were treated in concentration camps, but Otto Rosenberg’s descriptions were so much more horrific than anything I’ve read before. It was told in a very factual, matter of fact way, but that certainly didn’t lessen the impact of his words and descriptions.
“Chuck him out? Not a chance – I tried lifting him, but he wouldn’t budge. I maneuvered him with my feet instead, inching him towards the edge, little by little, until I could finally shove him out. He crashed down onto the floor. They grabbed him by the legs and dragged him away, his head bouncing thud-thud-thud on the ground as he went.”Otto Rosenberg, A Gypsy in Auschwitz
I loved reading this story because it is rare to read any kind of holocaust novel from the perspective of a gypsy. They were typically very poor and illiterate, as well as being outcasts who were not to be trusted by anyone outside of their culture.
I remember them being mentioned in The Tattooist of Auschwitz when I read it, and they were treated the worst. I’ve always found it both odd and intriguing that within a place as horrible as a concentration camp where everyone is going to die, there is still something of a social hierarchy in how people are classed and treated by both other prisoners as well as the guards.
A Gypsy in Auschwitz made me want to throw up several times. Because it is absolutely appalling to me that people would willingly allow other people to be treated like this and remain in deplorable conditions just to die.
Final Thoughts on A Gypsy in Auschwitz
“We had to wear a cap with our prison uniforms, and whenever an SS officer went by, no matter who it was, you had to whip it off your head right away, put your hands down by your sides and march, looking him in the eye, declare your number and report anything that was going on. If there was nothing to report, you just had to march on past. Those guards would look at inmates’ numbers, and if one of them made a note of yours, you knew your time was up.”Otto Rosenberg, A Gypsy in Auschwitz
This is an absolutely heartbreaking story that deserves to be read. Because we need to hear stories like this, so we as humans never ever allow anything even remotely close to this to happen to others ever again.
I highly recommend everyone taking the time to read A Gypsy in Auschwitz. Stories like this deserve to be told, so we can keep learning and making sure history is never allowed to be repeated.
Have you read A Gypsy in Auschwitz from Otto Rosenberg yet? Are you a fan of historical stories like this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
About the Author
In 1995, Rosenberg recorded his memories on tape, and with writer Ulrich Enzenberger he published Das Brennglas in 1998. Michael Grobbel notes the book’s ‘colloquial and at times laconic style’, as a result of the book staying true to its oral origins, and explains how Rosenberg discusses the continued ‘persistence of racial intolerance after 1945’.
It was published as A Gypsy in Auschwitz in 1999, translated into English by Helmut Bölger. The book features an introduction from former Lord Mayor of Berlin Klaus Schütz.
According to author of Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature, Lydia Kokkola, it is ‘one of the very few books about the Gypsy Holocaust for young readers’. The book is recommended by Doris Bergen as further reading in her book War and Genocide: a Concise History of the Holocaust.
Purchasing A Gypsy in Auschwitz
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Click here for the Kindle version.
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