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Film of Sinti Children at Catholic Children's Home

Roma and Sinti at a Catholic Childrens Home
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

After coming to power in early 1933, the Nazi regime attempted to reshape German society to fit Nazi ideas about race and national unity. The Nazis and their supporters targeted many groups they considered to be racial, social, or political outsiders and excluded them from the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Roma and Sinti (“Gypsies”)1 faced escalating forms of discrimination and persecution under Nazi rule.2 Nazi ideas about race and biology added radical and deadly new dimensions to discriminatory anti-Romani policies that had existed in Germany before the Nazi Party rose to power.3

In 1936, the Reich Health Bureau (a department of the Interior Ministry) appointed child psychiatrist Robert Ritter to lead a eugenic research group focused on the racial classification of Romani people. Ritter and his small staff—including his deputy Eva Justin—gathered physical and genealogical information from Roma and Sinti. They collected physical measurements, blood samples, and family histories. In order to get people to cooperate with them, Ritter and his staff offered small bribes or threatened to have people imprisoned in concentration camps.

The featured film shows Sinti children who were being studied by Eva Justin for her doctoral dissertation project. Her original training was as a nurse.4 Believing that Roma and Sinti inherited traits that made them unintelligent and “antisocial,” Justin tested and observed 40 Sinti children who were being raised and educated alongside their non-Romani peers at St. Josefspflege, a Catholic children’s home in Mulfingen, Germany. Created to document the subjects of her research in 1943, the film shows Catholic nuns directing the children’s games. Justin is not in the film herself. She used sweets to get the children to cooperate with her, and she used games to try measuring their intelligence and dexterity.5 Justin hoped her research would be seen as scientific evidence to support Nazi policies of “racial hygiene” and forced sterilization—medical procedures designed to make it biologically impossible to reproduce.6

In December 1942, Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered that the vast majority of Roma and Sinti in Nazi Germany be deported to Auschwitz.7 The Sinti children living at St. Josefspflege were kept from deportation while Justin continued her research. In May 1944—shortly after Justin’s dissertation was officially awarded—the nuns of St. Josefspflege helped send the children to Auschwitz.8 More than 21,000 Roma and Sinti were confined to a separate subsection of Auschwitz-Birkenau known as the “Zigeunerfamilienlager” (“Gypsy Family Camp”).9 Conditions there were terrible, and thousands of Romani people died from malnutrition, disease, or abuse. Thousands of other Roma and Sinti were murdered by gassing. In August 1944, camp authorities emptied the subcamp and murdered thousands of surviving Roma and Sinti prisoners. Only four of the children sent to Auschwitz from St. Josefspflege survived.10

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, Eva Justin found work as a youth psychologist in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1959, Frankfurt authorities opened an investigation into her actions during the Nazi era, but the investigation was closed after two years and she was not put on trial. Justin continued to work as a youth psychologist until her death in 1966. She never faced punishment for her role in the persecution and genocide of Roma and Sinti under Nazi rule.11

Roma are a European ethnic group whose ancestry can be traced to modern-day India and Pakistan. Many Romani groups refer to themselves by different names, such as Sinti, Lovari, Kalderashi, or Lalleri. In many languages, Roma are often referred to by exonyms (names or labels assigned to a group or place by outsiders). In English, this word is “Gypsy,” which is generally considered to be a racial or ethnic slur.


For a brief introduction to the experiences of Roma and Sinti during the Nazi era, see the Experiencing History collection overview for Roma and Sinti in Nazi Germany.

The Nazis and their supporters believed several different groups of people must be excluded from the Nazis' so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Nazi ideology considered Roma and Sinti to be racial outsiders as well as social outsiders. Under Nazi rule, Romani people experienced escalating discrimination, exclusion, and persecution. To learn more, see Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon, Gypsies under the Swastika (Hertfordshire, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1995).

Legislation targeting Roma and Sinti during the 1920s greatly increased official restrictions on traveling, camping, and selling or trading. To learn more about the pre-Nazi development of anti-Romani policies, see Leo Lucassen, "'Harmful Tramps': Police Professionalization and Gypsies in Germany, 1700–1945,” Crime, Histoire & Societes 1, no. 1 (1997): 29–50.

For more primary sources about the roles played by German nurses during the Nazi era, see the related Experiencing History items, Photograph of German Red Cross Nurse Induction Ceremony and Request to Replace Nurse Anna Hölzer.

To learn more about Justin's methods to get children to cooperate with her research, see the description in Otto Rosenberg, (as told to Ulrich Enzenberger), A Gypsy in Auschwitz, translated by Helmut Bögler (London: London House, 1999), 26–9. For more on Rosenberg's experiences, see the related Experiencing History item, Oral History with Otto Rosenberg.

To learn more about forced sterilizations under Nazi rule, see the related Experiencing History items, Sterilization Order for August Alzen, Sign Language Testimony of Helga Gross, and Leaflet Advertising Nazi Magazine Neues Volk.

Although Himmler's decree provided some exemptions for soldiers and so-called "pure Gypsies," local authorities applied the order broadly and deported virtually all of the Romani people they could. Hundreds of soldiers and veterans of the German army were imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau. To learn more about Himmler's views on Roma and Sinti and the development of Nazi anti-Romani policies, see Guenter Lewy, "Himmler and the 'Racially Pure Gypsies,'" Journal of Contemporary History 34, no.2 (1999): 201–214.

To learn more about the Catholic Church and its responses to Nazi persecution and genocide, see Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).

Roughly 23,000 Roma and Sinti were sent to Auschwitz. Some were murdered almost immediately after arrival and never were registered in the camp. In early August 1944, camp authorities emptied the Romani subsection of the camp and murdered more than 4,000 Romani people by gassing. To learn more, see Sławomir Kapralski, Maria Martyniak, and Joanna Talewicz-Kwiatkowska, Roma in Auschwitz, translated by William Brand (Oświęcim: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2011).


Nearly all of the children from Justin's research project were deported to Auschwitz. To learn more, see Patricia Heberer, Children During the Holocaust (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2011), 224–7.

To learn more about the career of Eva Justin, see Susan Benedict, Linda Shields, Colin Holmes, and Julia Kurth, "A Nurse Working for the Third Reich: Eva Justin, RN, PhD," Journal of Medical Biography 26, no. 4 (2018): 259–67.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1991.260.1
RG Number 60.0324
Source Number 202B
Date Created
Duration 00:03:47
Sound No
Mulfingen, Germany
Moving Image Type Raw Footage
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