Biographies, Non-fiction

A Gypsy in Auschwitz

If you are moved by stories about Auschwitz, seek to better understand history, want a real confession from someone who was actually there, this is the book for you.

“A Gypsy in Auschwitz” by Otto Rosenberg is the survival story of a poor nine year old who first faces eviction to an enclosed encampment in Berlin and afterwards is sent to various labor camps for Jews and Gypsies, including the one in Auschwitz. His troubles don’t end along with the war.

line breaker

Political/Social Context

Starting January 1933 things deteriorated dramatically for the Romani population in Germany. The orders directed at Jews affected them almost equally. They were banned from working and then accused of being unwilling to work at the same time. Starting 1935, Romani people were sent to what were basically labour camps where they lived in inhumane conditions.

After the founding of the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Institute, personal information relating to all Sinti and Roma at the Marzahn camp were collected under the direction of the doctor Robert Ritter and his assistant, the nurse Eva Justin. The law enforcement authorities would later use this information to assign individuals for compulsory sterilisation and admission to concentration camps.

A Gypsy in Auschwitz by Otto Rosenberg

In total, around five hundred thousand Sinti and Roma fell victim to the Nazis‘ frenzy of racial hatred.

A Gypsy in Auschwitz by Otto Rosenberg
line breaker

A Gypsy in Auschwitz – Plot Summary

Otto is Sinti, Sinti being a subgroup of Romani people, living in Germany. We get to know him as a young boy, with a happy childhood. He is poor, but strives to keep himself clean, do well in school and earn his upkeep with anything he can do to help his family financially.

His father was a horse dealer and his mother was a housewife. They divorced when Otto was two years old and he is sent to Berlin to live with his grandmother. In Berlin, with his grandmother, he lived in a trailer, in a gated, privately rented land, along with lots of other trailers. Their community was very close knit, took care of each other and all the children played together.

The women made a living peddling goods and telling fortunes, while the men wove baskets, crafted tables and chairs from root timber and decorated cabinets. Later, all of that was banned; they were forced into compulsory labour and received welfare payments instead.

A Gypsy in Auschwitz by Otto Rosenberg

One day in 1936, all this changes. All Romani people are moved on a vacant land – Berlin-Marzahn Rastplatz. Otto is nine years old. Everyone is forced to live there, in a filthy place, surrounded by a sewage farm, a place none of them would have willingly chosen because it went against their religion.

Children are barred from attending public school. They were all crammed together in two rooms, with only one teacher. They only learned reading and to do some arithmetic. For a while, life went on, even if their conditions at the camp were pretty bad. A lot of people died in that camp too, their graves are still there today.

line breaker

At thirteen, Otto has to leave school and start working. He is just a little boy so when a shiny object catches his eye, he tries to steal it to play with it. He is caught and sent to prison and then, just before turning sixteen, he is sent to Auschwitz.

As one would expect, life there is terrible and Otto describes the horrors vividly. He faces lack of food, constant hunger, lice problems, lack of shoes and clothes in a cold weather. However, what stands out the most is the loneliness he faces. Families get separated so that everyone has to fend for themselves. Slowly, they all become void of emotion even when seeing a corpse.

They don’t have the sense of right and wrong anymore.

line breaker

My Impressions

This book is not for the faint-hearted. It is difficult to describe what the camp did to everyone, even more difficult to believe it. For the Romani survivors, however, things didn’t pick up after the war. The German authorities took advantage of the Romani people‘s lack of literacy and actively did whatever they could not to give them the monetary compensation they were entitled. Another example of such abuse is that Marzahn was actually declared a labour camp in 1987, long after the war stopped.

All this made me mad and sad. I felt indignant and understood how authorities can leave you powerless, if it’s in their best interest. Minorities were usually treated bad throughout history, but the Romani population still have a terrible time integrating in all European countries today. They are still mostly marginalised and discriminated.

Otto’s history is impressive. He managed to survive without having his conscience bugging him later on. As he confesses, a lot of the prisoners in the camp cannot say the say thing. He has managed to forgive them all and talks about everything in a detached manor years later. At one point he even understands he was experimented on, but he can only see the kindness in the doctors’ behaviour and feels that it counts.

I loved his pride throughout all of it, his commitment to help all the others who have gone through the same experience. He made me hopeful about surpassing anything life sets in front of you with a head held high. He inspired me to judge less, seek to understand more. He inspired me to forgive more.

He was an incredible man whose story I loved to read.

line breaker


This is a beautifully written real story of forgotten horrors. In spite of it all, it is also inspiring.

If you seek to understand a different culture, a traditionally discriminated culture, this is definitely a must read!

✨✨✨ The book is available on Goodreads here ✨✨✨

A gypsy in Auschwitz

2 thoughts on “A Gypsy in Auschwitz”

  1. Your style is unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.