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Photograph of Theresia Winterstein and Gabriel Reinhardt

Photo of Gabriel and Theresia Winterstein
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 and Nazi theories of eugenics added radical and deadly new dimensions to discriminatory anti-Romani policies that had existed in Germany before the Nazi Party rose to power.3 Roma and Sinti living under Nazi rule responded to this persecution in a wide range of ways.

The featured photograph shows German Sinti couple Theresia Winterstein and Gabriel Reinhardt walking with their newborn daughters in Würzburg, Germany. Both trained musicians, Theresia and Gabriel had traveled and performed as entertainers in Germany in the years before World War II.4 By the late 1930s, increasing restrictions on Roma and Sinti under Nazism made it more difficult for them to work. The two became a couple in 1941 when they were both performing at the Würzburg city theater. That same year, Theresia and her family members were targeted as Sinti under a Nazi law legalizing forced sterilizations—medical procedures designed to make it biologically impossible to reproduce.5 Theresia and Gabriel wanted children, so they decided to defy the law by becoming pregnant before Theresia was forcibly sterilized.

When she was called in for her sterilization appointment in 1942, Theresia was already three months pregnant with twins. Authorities decided that Theresia should be allowed to give birth on the condition that the babies would immediately be turned over to the clinic at the University of Würzburg—where German medical professionals were conducting research on twins. This research was led by a professor of neurology and psychiatry named Werner Heyde. Heyde was also a leading member of the Nazi program to systematically murder people with disabilities and so-called “inherited illnesses.”6

Theresia gave birth to twin girls they named Rita and Rolanda at the Würzburg clinic on March 3, 1943. Their parents were allowed to take them home for brief visits, but they mostly were forced to stay at the clinic. This photograph was taken in March 1943 when the twins were briefly released to their parents. The couple appears to smile widely as a small group of people—including a uniformed Nazi official—stands nearby and looks on. While the exact circumstances behind the photograph are unclear, Theresia later asserted that the scene was staged by authorities to use in Nazi propaganda.

The following month, Theresia went to the clinic but was told she could not see her children. She found only one of her daughters with her head wrapped in bandages. She was told by a nurse that her other daughter had died that day during medical experiments. Theresia grabbed her surviving child, Rita, and ran from the clinic. Authorities took the baby back to the clinic within days, and Theresia was forcibly sterilized soon afterward. Although most of her family members were deported to Auschwitz, authorities made exceptions for Theresia and Gabriel. A year later, Theresia unexpectedly received a letter from the German Red Cross in Würzburg telling her to pick up Rita from the clinic.7 The family stayed together for several years, but Gabriel decided to return to his first wife in the late 1940s when he discovered that she was not dead as he had presumed. 

In the decades following World War II, Romani survivors often struggled for recognition or compensation for their persecution under Nazi rule. Roma and Sinti people continued to face discrimination throughout Europe even after Nazi laws and policies were abolished. In their postwar lives, Theresia and Rita 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.8

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 a Romani people with historical roots in Central Europe. 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.

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 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.

Theresia’s family had traveled widely throughout Europe until the Nazi regime’s increasing restrictions on Roma and Sinti made border crossings impossible. Theresia herself trained as a singer and a dancer. Gabriel also studied music, and his family had a long musical tradition. He played violin in a band with his brothers until Nazi regulations made it impossible for them to continue working. Gabriel had been married before, but his wife had been deported to Auschwitz in 1939 and he was told that she was dead. 

In July 1933, the Nazi regime enacted the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases. This law targeted people diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, deafness, blindness, physical disabilities, or alcoholism. Forced sterilizations were legalized as an instrument of Nazi eugenics policies, but they also became a tool used to target Roma and Sinti based on racial prejudices about their intelligence and supposedly “asocial behavior.” To learn more, see the related Experiencing History items, Sign Language Testimony of Helga Gross, Sterilization Order for August Alzen, and Lothrop Stoddard: “In a Eugenics Court”

In 1939, Nazi officials began a secret campaign of mass murder targeting German adults and children diagnosed with certain disabilities or so-called “incurable illnesses.” Nazi propaganda falsely portrayed these mass murders as euthanasia, or “mercy deaths.” The so-called “euthanasia” campaign became known as the T4 program. To learn more, see Michael Burleigh, Death and Deliverance: “Euthanasia" in Germany c. 1900-1945 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Many of the details of these events are based on oral history interviews with Theresia and Rita. Oral narrative traditions play important roles in Romani societies. To learn more about these events, see the related Experiencing History item, Oral History of Rita Prigmore.

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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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Source Number 58336
Date Created
Würzburg, Germany
Still Image Type Photograph
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