Advanced Search Filters

In addition to or instead of a keyword search, use one or more of the following filters when you search.

Skip to main content
Bookmark this Item

Electrical Insulator from Auschwitz

Electrical insulator from Auschwitz
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
View this Equipment

tags: Auschwitz belongings Roma & Sinti

type: Equipment

A German Sinti1 survivor named Hans Braun acquired this charred electrical insulator from Auschwitz after the end of World War II. This insulator may have originally connected electrified wires to concrete fence posts surrounding the camp. Braun and his family were imprisoned at Auschwitz in the early 1940s. The Nazi project to reshape German society to fit Nazi ideas about race and national unity excluded Roma and Sinti from the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Classified with the negative, racialized term “Zigeuner2 (“Gypsy”),3 Roma and Sinti imprisoned at Auschwitz faced deadly conditions—and were ultimately targeted for mass murder.

Hans Braun was born in Hannover, Germany in 1923. When he was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, his family operated a small traveling carnival with swings, a merry-go-round, a shooting gallery, and other small attractions. For part of the year the family traveled from place to place in order to earn a living, and they spent winters living in the town of Bernau outside of Berlin, Germany. Many Roma and Sinti in Germany faced increased discrimination after the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, but the Braun family managed to continue operating their small traveling carnival for the first several years of Nazi rule.4

The Brauns’ lives changed dramatically when German forces invaded Poland in September 1939. Nazi anti-Romani policies became more extreme during World War II. Hans Braun later explained that “when the war started, then the persecution started also.”5 In October 1939, Nazi authorities banned all Roma and Sinti in Germany from traveling or changing their places of residence without special permission. Violators were imprisoned in concentration camps. This meant that the Braun family had to live in Bernau permanently and could no longer operate their traveling carnival.

Authorities also forced Hans and his father to work in a factory making ammunition for the German military. When the machine Hans worked with broke, the Gestapo tried to arrest him on charges of sabotage. Hans managed to avoid imprisonment by running away and living in hiding. After evading authorities several times, Hans was captured and sent to Auschwitz along with many other Sinti prisoners in spring 1943. His family members had already been deported and were imprisoned in a separate Romani subcamp when he arrived.6 “People were sorted out like goods,” Braun later explained.

Conditions at the so-called “Zigeunerfamilienlager” (“Gypsy Family Camp”) at Auschwitz-Birkenau were horrible.7 Thousands of people died from malnutrition, disease, or abuse. Thousands of other Roma and Sinti were murdered by gassing.8 Two of Hans’ young siblings had died before he arrived, and the rest of his family members soon died of starvation or disease. Hans became the victim of Nazi medical experiments—he was injected with typhus but survived the illness. He was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp in May 1944 and was liberated by American forces in April 1945 during a so-called death march. In the 1950s, Braun emigrated to Canada.

He acquired this small porcelain insulator during a visit to Auschwitz later in his life. Braun then presented it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council during a ceremony commemorating the Nazi-led genocide of Roma and Sinti. The insulator is roughly pocket-sized—less than two inches tall—and it has a hole through its center for a conductor to pass through. Half of the bottom and most of the top are broken off, and it has been charred black. What meanings might this item have held or taken on for Braun over the years?

Sinti are a large, culturally distinct Romani group that has lived in Central Europe for hundreds of years. Most of the Romani people living in Germany in the early 20th century were Sinti. For more details, see the Experiencing History collection Roma and Sinti in Nazi Germany.

In an oral history with Hans Braun recorded in 1985, he explains that "we don’t call ourselves Zigeuner, because that is a pejorative. That’s what the Germans called us."

The word "Gypsy" is derived from the mistaken idea that Romani peoples originally emigrated to Europe from Egypt. This word has become so loaded with negative stereotypes that derivations of the word have become synonymous with "cheat" or "steal." Most Romani people have long considered words like "Zigeuner" or "Gypsy" offensive and insulting, and today these words are generally considered to be racial or ethnic slurs.

Some Romani people working in European carnivals and circuses during World War II managed to use their positions to resist Nazi oppression. To learn more, see Laurence Prempain, "From Where They Were: Resistance by Romani Circus People during the Second World War," in European Roma: Lives beyond Stereotypes, edited by Eve Rosenhaft and María Sierra (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022): 269–88.

These remarks were made in an oral history with Hans Braun recorded in 1985.

In December 1942, Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler had ordered that nearly all Roma and Sinti living in Nazi Germany be deported to Auschwitz.

For more primary sources from people confined to the Romani camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, see the related Experiencing History items, Oral History with Karl Stojka and Postwar Letter of Otto Rosenberg.

In August 1944, camp authorities emptied the Romani subcamp and murdered thousands of surviving prisoners. To learn more about the so-called "Gypsy Family Camp," see Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, eds., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), 444–50.

Close Window Expand Source Viewer

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: .

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1987.75.1
Date Created
June 1940 to January 1945
Dimensions Height: 1.750 inches (4.445 cm) | Width: 1.125 inches (2.858 cm) | Depth: 1.875 inches
Material Porcelain
Maker / Creator
S.L. Palme
Auschwitz, Poland
Object Type Equipment
How to Cite Museum Materials

Thank You for Supporting Our Work

We would like to thank The Alexander Grass Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for Experiencing History. View the list of all donors and contributors.


Learn more about sources for your classroom