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Johann Trollmann was a famous Sinto boxer. During the Third Reich, he was stripped of his title, underwent forced sterilization, imprisonment and was killed at age 36. His is among the stories told at Heidelberg, Germany's Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma.

Johann Trollmann was a famous Sinto boxer. During the Third Reich, he was stripped of his title, underwent forced sterilization, imprisonment and was killed at age 36. His is among the stories told at Heidelberg, Germany's Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma. ()

Johann Trollmann was a famous Sinto boxer. During the Third Reich, he was stripped of his title, underwent forced sterilization, imprisonment and was killed at age 36. His is among the stories told at Heidelberg, Germany's Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma.

Johann Trollmann was a famous Sinto boxer. During the Third Reich, he was stripped of his title, underwent forced sterilization, imprisonment and was killed at age 36. His is among the stories told at Heidelberg, Germany's Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma. ()

Heidelberg, Germany's  Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, which documents the terrible fate of the Sinti and Roma people, commonly called Gypsies, during the Holocaust, isn't far from the Heidelberg castle, in the city's Old Town.

Heidelberg, Germany's Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, which documents the terrible fate of the Sinti and Roma people, commonly called Gypsies, during the Holocaust, isn't far from the Heidelberg castle, in the city's Old Town. ()

Among the exhibits at the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, Germany, is a wall of photos and list of names of the many thousands of Sinti and Roma who perished at the Auschwitz-Birkenau  death camp during the Third Reich.

Among the exhibits at the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, Germany, is a wall of photos and list of names of the many thousands of Sinti and Roma who perished at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp during the Third Reich. (Courtesy of the Documentation an)

A haunting photo of the rail tracks leading into the Auschwitz death camp fills a wall at the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, Germany.

A haunting photo of the rail tracks leading into the Auschwitz death camp fills a wall at the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, Germany. (Courtesy of the Documentation an)

Anneliese Franz smiles for the camera as she stands on Heidelberg’s Philosopher’s Way, the castle ruins visible behind her. She’s a young woman with dark hair wearing a pretty dress, and although it’s 1944, she has somehow not been rounded up by the Nazis and murdered.

Franz was a Sinti — a Zigeuner, or Gypsy, according to the Germans. That made her, like the Roma Gypsies of eastern Europe — and 6 million Jews — part of the “alien strain” the Nazis rooted out, dispossessed, deported and killed during the Third Reich.

The photo of Franz is one of many portraits at a unique Heidelberg museum: the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma.

“It’s the only exhibition about the Sinti and the Roma and the Holocaust in Europe and the whole world,” said Joschi Rose, a center employee.

The center opened in 1997, 15 years after the German government formally acknowledged the genocide against the Sinti and Roma, the preferred name of the ethnic group that originated in India, came to Europe about 1,000 years ago, and is still subject to discrimination and derogatory stereotypes.

The Nazi genocide of the Roma and Sinti is less well-known than the Holocaust, in part because the Roma and Sinti were more marginalized than Jews before the Nazis came to power because of greater levels of poverty and illiteracy and less organization by Roma and Sinti communities, historians say. In fact, because of the number of Sinti and Roma living before the Holocaust isn’t clear — many of them were nomadic — neither is their death toll.

Both had been stigmatized and persecuted for centuries.

“But there were many ways they lived together normally (with Germans),” Rose said. “Before 1933, Sinti and Roma were more integrated into the community.”

Historians estimate 500,000 were exterminated as part of the Nazis’ attempted annihilation of entire peoples they deemed subhuman. The center describes how it happened, through documents and photographs from the Nazis juxtaposed with family photographs of the murdered and some of their personal histories.

Visitors to the center can see an image of Johann Trollmann, a young Sinti boxer who was stripped of his light-heavyweight title by the Nazis in 1933 after winning a fight. Trollmann avoided earlier deportations by being sterilized — the same way that Franz escaped death. She was sterilized at the University of Heidelberg.

Trollmann, though, was eventually sent to a concentration camp, where he was beaten to death.

Roma and Sinti were all identified, measured and recorded with the help of the doctors at the Research Center for Racial Hygiene, established in 1936. According to the center, “24 details on the head alone” were measured in the pseudoscientific pursuit of classifying people.

One of the most haunting images is of four young Roma girls, starved into near skeletons, who were part of Joseph Mengele’s unspeakable twin experiments at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.

In fact, historians say, Roma and Sinti suffered disproportionately in the experiments carried out by Nazi doctors and anthropologists.

“Mengele once had a family of eight murdered so that their different colored eyes could be sent to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology in Berlin-Dahlem,” says the voice on the tour headset.

montgomeryn@estripes.osd.mil

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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