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Oral History with Karl Stojka

Oral history with Karl Stojka
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Nazi regime attempted to reshape German society to fit Nazi ideas about race and national unity after rising to power in early 1933. 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"). One of these groups was Roma and Sinti (“Gypsies”),1 who 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

Karl Stojka was born into a Catholic Austrian Romani family in the small Austrian town of Wampersdorf in 1931. The Stojkas were Lovari Roma with family roots in Austria that stretched back for hundreds of years.4 The family worked as traveling horse traders during the warm months of the year and spent winters living in Vienna. But the Stojkas were forced to remain in Vienna throughout the year when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938.

In the featured oral history, Karl Stojka describes how he was singled out from his classmates by agents of the Gestapo, arrested with the rest of his family, and sent to Auschwitz in March 1943 simply because they were Romani.5 Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler had ordered in December 1942 that the vast majority of Roma and Sinti in Nazi Germany be deported to Auschwitz.6 More than 21,000 Roma and Sinti were confined to a separate subsection of Auschwitz-Birkenau known as the “Zigeunerfamilienlager” (“Gypsy Family Camp”).7 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. Shortly before these mass murders took place, Karl and his brother were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. His mother and sisters were sent to Ravensbrück.

Karl and his brother were later transferred to the Flossenbürg concentration camp. German authorities closed concentration camps as Allied forces advanced. During the forced evacuation of Flossenbürg, camp guards forced all the prisoners capable of walking to march for days with hardly any food or water. Several thousand people died or were killed by guards when they could not keep up with the others. In April 1945, Karl and his brother were liberated by American forces who intercepted the prisoners and their guards near Rötz, Germany.

Karl and his surviving family members reunited in Vienna after the war. He became a successful businessman, and his relatives began urging him in the 1980s to paint their experiences under Nazi rule. At first he was reluctant to face his painful memories, but eventually he agreed. He painted dozens of works of art inspired by his family’s experiences and became a celebrated artist.8 Karl Stojka died in 2003.

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.

Lovara are a Romani people known for horse trading with roots in Central Europe, especially Hungary and Slovakia.

Oral narrative traditions play important roles in Romani societies, and Karl Stojka has recorded several different interviews to document his family's experiences. For more oral histories on the experiences of Romani people facing Nazi persecution, see the related Experiencing History items, Oral History with Rita Prigmore and Oral History with Marie Ondrášová.

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.

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). For more primary sources on the so-called "Gypsy Family Camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau, see the related Experiencing History items, Postwar Letter of Otto Rosenberg and Film of Sinti Children at a Catholic Children's Home.

Karl's sister Ceija Stojka also became a well known artist. To view examples of her work, see the Ceija Stojka International Fund.

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[for the German transcript, see below]

Stojka: And then came, yeah, the, this point, the, the day: March 3, 1943. I’ll skip over that a bit.

Interviewer: What was it like, did it happen in a flash, or was there advance warning?

Stojka: No, nothing, nothing, nothing, none. They were simply there, and that was that. Yeah, and in the morning I had … I went to school. I was at school, I can remember it well. I … pfft, all of a sudden there was boomboomboomboom! Mrs, Fischer, our teacher, said “Yes, come in!” and there in front four people came in, they had, like, leather coats and such, my God, they didn’t have a good appearance. Anyhow, we stood up: “Heil Hitler!” And “Be seated,” the teacher said. And then the teacher said, “Karli Stojka, come up here.” I went up. “Take your school things with you.” I took my school things. And the four people, the ones from the Gestapo, moved in close, surrounding me, and we walked down the stairs and got into the car.

Interviewer: And Johann was there too?

Stojka: No, no, they already [took] him, previously all of them were, they were … Just wait, hold on a minute. So I get in the car, go back, and as I get back to our place on the hill, on … at 42 Paletzgasse, there was a bit of a hill there, there are meadows there. A truck was parked there, open, and my mother, Mitzi, Hansi, Ceija, and Ossi were already on board. And my mother says, “Thank God that you’re here, [words in Romani], climb on up.” I got up onto the truck, and there were benches, we could sit down, there were benches on the sides. And the truck drove down the hill and kept on going, and I can even remember: a friend of mine saw me and waved up at me. Yeah, and I had a girlfriend too, a childhood girlfriend, a “great love,” eh? We always met at the Kongressbad [a public swimming pool in Vienna], Kongressbad and such. Her aunt was always with her and all. And then she and I … we always met. On the day when I was arrested, I said, “We’re meeting, eh?” But she waited in vain. I was on the truck, arrested. And they took us to Roßauer Lände. And there, at Roßauer Lände, there were already hundreds, hundreds of Gypsies.

Interviewer: Was it a police station or precinct?

Stojka: No, it was a military barracks, formerly a military barracks. And only in the last few years it was made into a police prison, and … because there were rooms for it there. And it was still a prison. But also since Hitler invaded. Yeah, and we ended up there. And on the first, second floors, it was all full, hundreds of Gypsies, both Roma and Sinti. And we were at Roßauer Lände for a few days. I don’t know now how long it was. But it must have been a very long time. Why? Because I know the exact day when we arrived at Auschwitz. We reached Auschwitz on March 31, so we definitely traveled for eight days, definitely, by train. And the rest of the time we were in the prison. We slept on the ground, wherever there was room. Hundreds of people.


Stojka: Und dann kam, ja, der, dieser Punkt, der, der Tag: der 3. März 1943. Ich überspring’ das ein bißchen. 

Interviewer: Wie war das, ist das im Nu gekommen, oder hatte man eine Vorwarnung?

Stojka: Nein, nichts, nichts, nichts, nicht. Die sind einfach dagewesen und aus. Ja, und ich war in der Früh … ich bin zur Schule gegangen. Ich war in der Schule, kann mich gut erinnern. Ich … pfft auf einmal war Bumbumbumbum. Die Frau Fischer, unsere Lehrerin, “Ja, herein!” und da vorn kamen vier Leute rein, hatten so Ledermantel und so, mein Gott, die haben nicht gut ausgeschaut. Auf jeden Fall wir sind aufgestanden: “Heil Hitler!” Und “Hinsetzen” hat die Frau Lehrerin gesagt. Und dann hat … hat die Frau Lehrerin gesagt, “Stojka, Karli, komm raus.” Bin ich rausgegangen. “Nimm deine Schulsachen mit.” Hab meine Schulsachen genommen. Und die vier Leute, die von der Gestapo, haben mich in die Mitte genommen und wir sind die Treppen runtergegangen und in den Wagen rein. 

Interviewer: Und der Johann war auch da?

Stojka: Nein, nein, den haben sie schon, die sind schon alle vorher, die waren … Moment, Moment. Ich setze mich in den Wagen, fahre zurück, und wie ich zurückkomme zu uns auf den Berg, auf der … in der Paletzgasse 42, war ein bißl ein Berg dort, da sind Wiesen. Dort war ein Lastwagen, offen, da war schon oben meine Mutter, die Mitzi, der Hansi, die Ceija, der Ossi. Und meine Mutter sagt, “Gottseidank, daß [du] da bist, [Fremdsprache: Romani], komm rauf. Bin ich rauf auf den Lastwagen, und da waren Bänke, wir haben sich [uns] hinsetzen können, da waren so Bänke auf den Seiten. Und der ist runtergefahren und ist er gefahren, und ich kann mich sogar erinnern: ein Freund von mir, der hat mich gesehen und hat mir noch so hinaufgewunken. Ja, und ich hatte auch eine Freundin, eine Kindesfreundin, eine große Liebe, nicht? Wir haben uns immer getroffen im Kongressbad, Kongressbad und so. Bei ihr war immer die Tante dabei und so. Und da habe ich mit ihr, wir haben uns immer getroffen. Und auf dem Tag, wo man mich verhaftet hat, habe ich gesagt, “Wir treffen uns, nicht?” Aber die hat umsonst gewartet. Ich war auf dem Lastwagen, verhaftet. Und ins Roßauer Lände haben sie uns geführt. Und dort, in der Roßauer Lände, da waren schon hunderte, hunderte von Zigeunern. 

Interviewer: Ist das eine Polizeistation oder -revier gewesen? 

Stojka: Nein, das ist eine Kaserne, früher mal eine Kaserne gewesen. Und erst in den letzten Jahren hat man sie als Polizeigefängnis gemacht und … weil dort die Räume dafür waren. Und das war noch ein Gefängnis. Aber auch seit der Hitler einmarschiert ist. Ja, und da sind wir reingekommen. Und in dem ersten, zweiten Stock war alles voll, hunderte von Zigeunern, und Roma und Sinti. Und wir waren da ein paar Tage in der Roßauer Lände. Ich weiß jetzt nicht mehr wie lange. Es war aber der 3. März wo man uns verhaftet hat. Und es muß aber sehr lange gewesen sein, warum? Weil ich weiss genau den Tag wo wir angekommen sind in Auschwitz. In Auschwitz sind wir angekommen am 31. März; also sind wir sicher acht Tage gefahren, sicher, mit dem Zug. Und die andere Zeit waren wir in dem Gefängnis. Wir haben geschlafen auf der Erde, wo Platz eben war. Hunderte Leute.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 50.030.0226
Date of Interview
April 29, 1992
Duration 00:04:44
Time Selection Part I, 35: 27–40:12
Interview Type Oral History
How to Cite Museum Materials

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