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Letter from Otto Rosenberg

Letter by Otto Rosenberg
International Tracing Service Archive

Otto Rosenberg was born into a German Sinti1 family in 1927. The Nazi project to reshape German society to fit Nazi ideas about race and national unity excluded different groups of people from the Nazis' so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Roma and Sinti were excluded as racial and social outsiders. Growing up in Berlin in the 1930s, Rosenberg experienced firsthand how the Nazi regime’s persecution of Roma and Sinti grew increasingly radical and deadly over the 1930s and early 1940s.

In his autobiography, Rosenberg recalls how German police forced his family to move to a camp for Roma and Sinti at Marzahn2 on the outskirts of Berlin shortly before the 1936 Berlin Olympics.3 The camp was one of several so-called “Zigeunerlager” (“Gypsy camps”)4 established in Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s.5 Roma and Sinti were forced to move to these camps where they were monitored by police but generally were allowed to leave in order to work. Rosenberg began working as a forced laborer in a German armaments factory when he was just thirteen years old. He was accused of sabotage and arrested in 1942.

After serving his sentence, Rosenberg was sent to Auschwitz.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. The Rosenberg family was forced to stay in a separate subsection of Auschwitz-Birkenau with other deported Roma and Sinti. Conditions at the so-called “Zigeunerfamilienlager” (“Gypsy Family Camp”) at Auschwitz-Birkenau were terrible, and thousands of 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. In his autobiography, Rosenberg describes how he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly before these mass murders took place.7 None of Rosenberg’s ten siblings survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, and many of his other family members were also killed. Rosenberg managed to survive many more months of imprisonment in several different camps before he was liberated at Bergen-Belsen by British forces in spring 1945.

The featured letter was written by Rosenberg in 1954. It provides a list of all the camps in which he had been imprisoned. He wrote it to establish his imprisonment as he tried to get compensation for his persecution under Nazi rule. But Rosenberg’s autobiography describes how officials in West Germany challenged his application because he was Sinti. Roma and Sinti have continued to face discrimination throughout Europe since the defeat of Nazi Germany. Rosenberg says that officials told him that he would not qualify for compensation because he was “not a true German and had no ties to the city of Berlin.”8 According to Rosenberg, he became so frustrated with the obstacles and insults that he renounced his claims for compensation out of disgust with the process.9

After the war, Rosenberg tried to move forward from his traumatic experiences. He covered his Auschwitz prisoner number tattoo with a new tattoo in Hamburg: “Now there is an angel covering this disgrace,” he explains. “The angel is there, it protects me from all the terrible things that happened then, ever happening again.”10 Rosenberg married and had seven children, and he often spoke about his experiences with German schoolchildren.11 He also led the Union of Sinti and Roma in Berlin and Brandenburg until his death in 2001.

Sinti are a Romani people with historical roots in Central Europe. Roma are a European ethnic group whose distant ancestry can be traced to modern-day India and Pakistan. Many Romani groups refer to themselves by different names, such as Sinti, Kalderashi, or Lalleri.


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.

During his time at Marzahn, Rosenberg was observed and experimented on by Eva Justin, the deputy of Robert Ritter—Nazi Germany’s leading authority on the racial classification of Roma and Sinti. To learn more about Justin and her experiments on Romani children, see the related Experiencing History item, Film of Sinti Children at a Catholic Children's Home.

To learn more about Rosenberg’s life, see Otto Rosenberg (as told to Ulrich Enzenberger), A Gypsy in Auschwitz, translated by Helmut Bögler (London: London House, 1999).

In many languages, Roma are often referred to by exonyms (names or labels assigned to a group or place by outsiders). The German-language word is "Zigeuner." In English, this word is “Gypsy." These words are generally considered to be racial or ethnic slurs today.

The Marzahn camp was established shortly before the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. To learn more about the 1936 Olympics, see the related Experiencing History items, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: Editorial on the 1936 Olympics and “As Others See It: The Olympic Question.”

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 veterans of the German army were imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Roughly 23,000 Roma and Sinti were sent to Auschwitz. 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).

For more details, see Otto Rosenberg (as told to Ulrich Enzenberger), A Gypsy in Auschwitz, translated by Helmut Bögler (London: London House, 1999), 128. 

German leaders did not acknowledge the Nazi-era genocide of Roma and Sinti until 1982. To learn more about the difficulties Roma and Sinti faced when trying to obtain compensation after the war, see Julia von dem Knesebeck, The Roma Struggle for Compensation in Post-War Germany (Hertfordshire, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2011). Also see the related Experiencing History item, Oral History with Rita Prigmore.

Otto Rosenberg (as told to Ulrich Enzenberger), A Gypsy in Auschwitz, translated by Helmut Bögler (London: London House, 1999), 137.

Oral narrative traditions play important roles in Romani communities. Rosenberg fondly recalls the evenings when “the older women would gather round and tell many many stories from former times about relatives and people who had died.” His own autobiography is transcribed from an oral account he gave to record his experiences. See Otto Rosenberg (as told to Ulrich Enzenberger), A Gypsy in Auschwitz, translated by Helmut Bögler (London: London House, 1999), 14.

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Berlin-Neukölln, February 24, 1954


To the Special Tracing Service for Concentration Camps
at Arolsen, Waldeck District

With regard to Otto Rosenberg, born April 28, 1927, at Dragupöhnen [Draugupohnen/Draupen/Draupchen], Pillkallen District, I would like to most politely request the Special Tracing Service to send a confirmation of concentration camp imprisonment for me, as I need it very urgently. I arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp in mid-April 1943, under prisoner number Z.6084. From Auschwitz I went to Buchenwald, in quarantine, under number 74669. From Buchenwald I went to the Dora concentration camp. From Dora I went to the Ellrich concentration camp. From Ellrich I went to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp until liberation, under Buchenwald number 74669. Again, I want to ask the Special [Tracing] Service for Concentration Camps very whole-heartedly to send my confirmation of imprisonment as quickly as possible.

Thank you in advance.

Respectfully yours,

Otto Rosenberg

Berlin-Lichterfelde                                                                              Scheelestr. 94a I.



Otto Rosenberg, born April 28, 1927, at Dragupöhnen, Pillkallen District


Concentration Camps


From mid-April 1943 at Auschwitz concentration camp, number Z.6084

From Auschwitz to Buchenwald, under number 74669

From Buchenwald to Dora

From Dora to Ellrich                                                                               URGENT!!!

From Ellrich to Bergen-Belsen


From Buchenwald to Bergen-Belsen, under number 74669

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
International Tracing Service Archive
Source Number Postwar letter, Otto Rosenberg, Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives
Date Created
February 24, 1954
Author / Creator
Otto Rosenberg
Berlin, Germany
Reference Location
Bad Arolsen, Germany
Document Type Letter
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