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Researching the Deportation of Baden-Württemberg´s Sinti and Roma

Stephan Janker of the Episcopal Ordinariate in Rottenburg am Neckar recently spent a week at the International Tracing Service (ITS) researching the deportation of Sinti and Roma from Baden-Württemberg to the concentration camp Auschwitz. “I´m more interested in the ‘why’ than the ‘wherefore’. My intention is to give victims back their names and identities.”

The historian and archivist plans to use documents in the archive to clarify the exact number of transports, how they were carried out, and the background of each individual. “I´m working on deciphering the transport lists,” explained Janker. “We normally think of mass transports, but this is not always the case. Initially there were a few transports from different regions.” In comparison to the persecution of German Jews, material on the persecution of Sinti and Roma has barely been sorted through; there are hardly any interviews with witnesses.

Death certificates from the concentration camp Auschwitz held in the ITS archive have been especially helpful in determining victims´ last known places of residence. In addition, a camp book from Auschwitz´s “Gypsy Camp”, saved in parts by an inmate, serves as a source. Prisoner registration books of German prisons are also important in reconstructing the transports. Janker was pleased: “A real breakthrough for my research. With the aid of these books I can track the days on which transports were arranged, where the intermediate stops were made and which regions the Sinti and Roma were from.”

However, something was missing. In late 1945 and early 1946, every community in what was then the four occupation zones was ordered to provide information on the whereabouts of foreigners and German Jews. These lists, housed in Bad Arolsen, are today an important part of the reconstruction of deported Jews´ and forced labourers´ histories. “No one thought about the Sinti and Roma,” remarked the historian.

Janker originally became interested in the Sinti and Roma through the fate of children from a home in Mulfingen. From 1938-1944 all Sinti and Roma children from Baden and Württemberg were committed to the St. Josefspflege home. 39 children were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Only four survived. The historian was subsequently inspired to do more research after the opening of the memorial “Signs of Memory” at Stuttgart´s northern train station in 2006. The memorial had originally listed only Jewish deportees. Thanks to the cooperation with the Stolperstein (stumbling stone) project and other initiatives, the names of Sinti and Roma from Stuttgart have also been added.

Janker is now setting his sights on the state of Baden-Württemberg. He contacted the National Association of Sinti and Roma as well as the documentation center in Heidelberg, and spent more than a year and a half poring over documents at Baden-Württemberg State Archives. After visiting the ITS Janker decided to continue his work in Nuremberg, one of the central collection points for transports from southern Germany to Auschwitz. “I have already planned my next research trip,” said Janker.