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Oral History with Rita Prigmore

Rita Prigmore Oral History
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

After coming 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"). Roma and Sinti1 (“Gypsies”) faced escalating discrimination and persecution during the years of Nazi rule.2 Nazi ideas about race and biology added radical and deadly new dimensions to anti-Romani laws and policies.3

In July 1933, the Nazi regime enacted the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases.4 This law legalized forced sterilizations—medical procedures designed to make it biologically impossible to reproduce. This sterilization law was primarily an instrument of Nazi eugenics policy, but it also became a tool used to target Roma and Sinti based on racial prejudices about their intelligence and supposedly “asocial behavior.” German physicians and medical professionals also exploited Romani people for unethical and often deadly medical experiments conducted during Nazi rule.

In the featured oral history, German Sinti woman Rita Prigmore describes how Nazi medical experiments had long-lasting impacts on her life. Rita and her twin sister Rolanda had been the targets of Nazi medical experiments when they were newborn babies. Rolanda died as a result of these experiments, and Rita experienced lifelong health issues. Rita was unaware of the entire story until 1979, when she had an accident and an X-ray revealed a large scar on her head.5 In this interview, she describes how she learned about her family’s history of Nazi persecution and how she responded to this knowledge.

Many of the details of these events have been preserved and passed down through conversations with Rita and her mother Theresia. Oral narrative traditions play important roles in Romani societies, and Rita has recorded several different interviews to document her family’s experiences. “It’s important to speak out,” she observes in portions of this oral history interview that are not featured here. “Maybe the world could learn from all our misery and suffering."6

Rita also talks about how these traumatic events impacted her childhood and her relationships as an adult. Like other Romani survivors of Nazi genocide, Rita struggled for recognition and compensation for her persecution. In their postwar lives, Rita and her mother became Sinti human rights activists who helped raise awareness of the Nazi persecution of Romani people. In March 2023, Rita attended a ceremony as the city of Würzburg named a street in Theresia’s honor.7

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, Kalderashi, or Lalleri. Sinti are Roma with historical roots in German-speaking lands. 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 today.


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.

After assuming control of the German government 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 believed several different groups of people must be excluded from the Nazi "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 culminating in mass murder. 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.

The Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases targeted people diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, Huntington's disease, deafness, blindness, physical disabilities, or alcoholism. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History items, Sterilization Order for August Alzen, Letter to SS Doctor Gregor Ebner, and Lothrop Stoddard: "In a Eugenics Court."

Rita's parents reacted to the threat of forced sterilization by becoming pregnant. They were forced to surrender their newborn twin girls to a university for Nazi medical experiements, but they were permitted brief visits. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History item, Photograph of Theresia Winterstein and Gabriel Reinhardt.

For more, consult the full oral history interview with Rita Prigmore in the collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

To learn more about the postwar Romani struggles for recognition and justice, see Ari Joskowicz, Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews, and the Holocaust (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023).

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And I had forgotten all that because all the papers and the documents were here in Germany with my mom. And when I was brought into the hospital and they took the X-rays and found that scar and asked my husband and me where it's from, I couldn't remember until I called that evening when we went home, I called my mom and she decided to come over. It was 1979 and she came to the States and stayed with us a month or two. And she told me the whole story and I decided to pursue... my compensation. Which they denied me over the years. 


You suffered a lot. What? What, what were you experiencing? What were the lasting ill effects that you got due to these experiments that were performed on you? 


For a long time, I was unable to be educated. I had a lack because I would have headaches. I couldn't be around people with white clothes... constantly passing out. I always was sick. I was, I mean, very, very ill, all the way up to 19, 20, I got married with 21, had my son with 22. It started getting better. But when my children got older, I had the same problems again. I never was without headaches, migraine headaches once or twice a month, passing out, scared. When I walk, the car would honk the horn. I would just pass out, you know? And I just always was sick and ill. 


When, when your mother came over. This is 1979. So you are 36 years old. And she told me this story, at 36. What? What happened? Like, how did you feel when she told you the entire story? 


Well, I just broke down. I just broke down and cried. And I hated Germany. I never wanted to come back here. And my son and my daughter at school first we didn't tell them. It was just my husband and myself and mama...and it was hard. And then mama had a breakdown and I had a breakdown. She was so happy that she had me. But I got to understand a lot, a lot of it. And later on, I had to tell my kids to say that I would go to Germany and see to get compensation for it. 


I mean, what did you understand? You're saying your mom made you understand? What did you understand? 


She understand that I'm different. It makes you feel like you're a different human being because you understand you're a gypsy. You were born a gypsy. You were prosecuted. You were hated. You went through the Holocaust with other people, the Jewish people, the Sinti people, it's always the same...

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2003.485.9
RG Number 50.718.0009
Date of Interview
January 17, 2003
Duration 00:02:49
Time Selection Part 1, 19:23-22:12
Rita Prigmore
Interview Type Oral History
How to Cite Museum Materials

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