Hanna Brezinska

1939, Poland

Hanna stands by the window of her aunt’s house together with her little sister. She is crying. Her family is leaving without her. Through the window, Hanna sees soldiers suddenly approach her family and stop them. They force her father, brothers and big sister to dig pits in the ground. Then Hanna watches as the soldiers shoot her entire family. The pits become their graves. The soldiers storm into the house and murder Hanna’s aunt and her husband.

HANNA BREZINSKA grew up in a Roma family in Poland. Hanna was eight years old when German troops marched into the country. Her family was living at a camp site. Like many other Roma in Poland at the time, they led an itinerant life, travelling the country in horse-drawn caravans. They lived in tents.

Hanna’s father tried to move his family to safety further away from the front. His two youngest girls, Hanna and Anita, were too little for such a long journey. Their father decided to leave them with his sister, who lived in a house and was married to a Polish man.

After the soldiers murdered the rest of Hanna’s family, they took her and her little sister Anita with them as prisoners. The only thought running through Hannas head was that she had to hold Anita’s hand as tightly as she could, and not lose her.

Roma genocide

The Nazis considered the Roma to be work-shy, antisocial and criminal, believing that these traits were hereditary. According to the Nazis, Roma were therefore a threat to the German people. As early as 1934, German police began to arrest Roma people and force them to live in special camps.

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, German special forces (Einsatzgruppen) sometimes murdered groups of Roma when they came across them. At the end of 1942, the Nazis decided that all Roma, with a few exceptions, should be deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.

At the beginning of 1943, a special Roma section was established there. Researchers estimate that the Nazis and their allies murdered between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma. Most of them through mass shootings. We do not know the exact number of victims. The Nazis did not record how many Roma they murdered.