2 August 2020

Zilli Schmidt

Holocaust survivor

Commemoration speech on the occasion of 2 August 2020, Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma

My name is Zilli Schmidt. I am a German Sintiza and survivor of the extermination camp Auschwitz. By now I am 96 years old, but what I experienced in Auschwitz I will never forget.

Until 1939 I lived with my family in Ingolstadt. There I finished school. We had an intact family until Hitler came. A happy family and a good life. But as the Nazi persecution got worse and worse, we fled: First to Eger in what is now Czechoslovakia, and then to Lorraine in 1940. We wanted to be closer to my oldest brother. He had been called up for the Wehrmacht and stationed in France.

But even in Lorraine we were not safe from the Gestapo. I was arrested by the Gestapo in 1940. I saw many camps and prisons there.  Finally I was deported to the Lety camp in what is now the Czech Republic. That was a large concentration camp for Sinti and Roma. We got only little food and were constantly hungry. Many of our people died, especially the children. Once I managed to escape, but I was caught again.

In the end I was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. That was in March 1943.  The camp section for Sinti and Roma had just been built there. I was one of the first Sinti who were sent to the extermination camp. Of course, I didn’t know then that we were all going to be murdered. Little by little, almost all my family members came to Auschwitz-Birkenau: My father, my mother, my sister and her seven children, and my little daughter. They were all gassed on August 2, 1944. I do not want to talk about that.

I was deported to Ravensbrück shortly before that. I spoke to a Polish woman who was still in Auschwitz on August 2. She told me that all Sinti and Roma were murdered in Auschwitz. It was only a few years ago that I started talking publicly about Auschwitz.

I said to myself: “There are hardly any people left who have experienced Auschwitz. As one of the last survivors, it is now my duty to share my experiences.” Until today, far too few people know what the Nazis did to the Sinti and Roma. As long as I can, I will tell the truth about Auschwitz.

I am afraid that everything I experienced will repeat itself. I see how people today are again being excluded and persecuted because of their ethnic origin. I see that in many states human rights are being violated.

But I also see that many young people, especially young people, are doing everything they can to promote democracy and human rights. Now it is up to the young generation: You must never allow such a time to happen again.


Zilli Schmidt (*1924) comes from a family of German Sinti. In the “Zigeunerlager” in Auschwitz-Birkenau, she succeeded in rescuing her relatives through theft and contacts with prisoner functionaries in 1943/44. But in the night of 2 August 1944, her four-year-old daughter Gretel, her parents, her sister with her six children and numerous other relatives were murdered. On the same day, the SS sent Zilli to Ravensbrück for forced labour. Zilli managed to escape. At the end of the war, she only found her two brothers again. After an moving life, she only began to talk about her history a few years ago.

Testimonies of Holocaust Survivors

Christian Pfeil

Holocaust survivor – United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony January 26, 2024

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