3.3.2. Roma and Hamburg during the National-Socialism
The story of the Weiß family through the concentration and extermination camps of the Nazi regime
On May 20th, 1940, 551 citizens of Hamburg and another 359 Sinti from Northern Germany were deported to Poland in trains without sanitary equipment or food. The trip took three long days before the people arrived in Belzek.
There they were forced to build the work-, collective- and extermination camps for the Jews and themselves.
To keep the Roma and Sinti calm during the transport, it was constantly spoken about “resettlement” and each family was promised a house and land in Poland.
The Roma and Sinti had nothing left except for the clothes on their bodies. Their entire property was confiscated by the Nazis.
In the first two weeks, 75 children died of exhaustion or epidemics.
Gottfried Weiß recalls:
„At one point of time, we were given water and a Sinto standing right next to me was shoved against one of the guards. The guard turned around, took his gun and shot the prisoner in the stomach. Shortly after, another SS man came, saw the prisoner holding his stomach, and said: ‘Did you shoot that guy? Can’t you do it right? I’ll show you how to do it!” Then he shot him two more times, into the back of the neck. The man had seven children and just wanted to get some water for them. He had to die for that!”
After the extermination camp Belzek
The Weiß family was lucky: before the camp was enlarged to an extermination camp in the winter of 1941/42, the Roma and Sinti were moved by the SS to Krychow, close to Hansk. There, Mr. Weiß had to witness how children suffering from typhus were shot dead in their hospital beds by guards.
Krchow was closed in February 1941 and the Roma and Sinti were moved to Siedlce. Executions happened daily. At one time, Mr. Weiß had to witness how the SS executed parent couples of Roma and Sinti and then knocked the heads of their children against walls until they were dead. Every day, the people were filled with fear if they would live to see the evening.
The next station of their ordeal was the ghetto in Warsaw. Up to half a million Roma, Sinti, Jews and other political prisoners lived there cramped together. All prisoners had to wear emblems, the Jews the star of David and the Sinti and Roma a red “Z”.
The Weiß family was separated here for the first time since May 16th, 1940, the day of their deportation from Hamburg.
The time in the Warsaw ghetto cost the lives of Gottfried’s brother Helmut, his sister Waltraut and of his little nephew Robert. This book shall hereby be dedicated again to these people who lost their lives in the German concentration camps. May they finally rest in peace with their brother and uncle, Gottfried “Friedel” Weiß, and may their suffering never be forgotten, so that nothing like it will ever happen again.
Every year on May 16th, a commemoration ceremony is held at the police station in the Nöldeckestraße in Hamburg-Harburg (Rot-Schwarz umrandet)
Shortly before the Warsaw ghetto was „liquidated“ in May 1943, the Weiß family managed to escape. Only a short time after, the family was caught by a police troop. Thanks to their ability to speak German, they were able to prevent the policemen from shooting them, a fate suffered by tens of thousands of Roma and Sinti in the forests of Poland, but were instead incarcerated in another camp. Thus, they came to Bergen-Belsen.
In 1944, the Germans began to move thousands of prisoners to the west. The Russians were getting closer and closer. Bergen-Belsen was a nightmare. More corpses that living persons, almost nothing to eat, this led to cannibalism. In the following months, the situation became even more dramatic. Ever more transports from the Eastern territories arrived because the Russian army was closing in. From January to April 1945, at least 35,000 people of different ethnicity and religion died, most of them of exhaustion, epidemics or undernourishment.
In March the corpses were piled up metres high, doused with Diesel fuel and then lit, but the forest management protested against that. After that, the corpses just kept piling up.
Gottfried Weiß remembers:
“When we woke up in the morning, there were certainly another ten dead lying in each barracks. I can’t imagine that the people in the surrounding area didn’t smell that stench, and I don’t believe them when they say that they didn’t know about the concentration camp. The stench was unbearable. We carried that smell in our noses for months afterwards
On April 15th, 1945, the camp was freed by the English. Gottfried Weiß immediately started searching after his parents, his sister Maria and his brother Heinrich. All the more the relief when they found each other, he had almost given up. The family was reunited, close to starving and completely exhausted, but they had survived.
Gottfried Weiß recalls:
„Many were overwhelmingly hungry and ate as much as they could. They died because their stomachs couldn’t take that anymore. Others were cleverer and more careful – they ate slower and not so much at a time."
The British troops were facing the problem of feeding 60,000 people and treat them medically as well, a problem enlarged by the epidemics. Many were forced to remain for weeks in Bergen-Belsen because of the epidemic danger. After the camp had been cleared, all barracks were burnt down to prevent the epidemics from spreading.