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The Story of Regine Böhmer and Lotte Braun

Last Update 2 January 2006

Here is the moving story of Regine Böhmer and Lotte Braun, two Sinti women. On 20 May 1940 they were deported to a forced labour camp in Belzec. The women were interviewed by Karin Guth.
Comments and additions by ARC in green.

Lotte Braun:
Lotte Braun
Lotte Braun
I was born in Hamburg on 1 October 1927. My father was Julius Bamberger, my mother Berta Bamberger née Strauss. We lived in the Marcusstraße. My brother and I were of school age when my father was arrested in the "July Action" in 1938. Many Gypsies but also many Jews were arrested. They were all interned in Sachsenhausen. I was eleven years old at the time and had to leave school. My mother had to take work in a factory. And I, being the eldest, had to take care of my brothers and sisters. And so I had to leave school. I did the housekeeping, cooked and cleaned. We did not have problems with our neighbours or others. We were not allowed to associate with other children and they were told not to play with Gypsies. And so we kept to ourselves. In 1940 we received news from Sachsenhausen that my father had died.
In May 1940 we were deported to Belzec in Poland. Until then we had struggled by. My grandmother and mother were stricter than my father. We feared him less than our mother. When we returned home late there was hell to pay. We had to be home by a particular time. At 7 p.m. mother called us in. We had a good father. He worked hard. He was a docker in the port. Nevertheless, they arrested him in 1938 (the Nazis stigmatized the "Gypsies" as being workshy). So being classified as "antisocial" had nothing to do with working or not. We were not allowed to leave Hamburg. Travelling was prohibited. We were registered as "Gypsies" in our files. And as we were allegedly not "Aryan", we were deported (the Nazis categorized Gypsies and Jews as being "non-Aryan" races, and thereby inferior). We were arrested in the early hours of the morning and taken to a fruit warehouse in the free port (the original warehouse no longer exists but today a memorial erected on a nearby bridge records the action).

Regine Boehmer
Regine Böhmer
Regine BŲhmer:
And do you remember what they told us?

LB:
Yes, that we were being taken to Poland where we were to settle.

RB:
And we believed them.

LB:
Yes, we believed it all. My mother, my five brothers and sisters and I were taken to this warehouse.

RB:
The same thing happened to us. I was born in Hamburg on 2 February 1932. At 5 a.m. on 16 May 1940 they took us from our flat in Nagelsweg in Hammerbrook (Hamburg district). They told my mother to get us dressed and to pack everything we could carry. They gave us a certain time in which to get ready. We were mother, father and eight children. My father was Julius Böhmer and my mother Emma Böhmer née Stein.
My mother was terribly agitated and repeatedly told us to "Hurry, hurry, hurry." She packed what was closest to hand. As we left the flat we saw other families leaving theirs. These were complete families of parents and children. When we arrived at the fruit warehouse it was already full of people. It was terribly overcrowded but ever more people arrived. There were definitely hundreds there sitting and lying on the floor of this huge shed. And each family related the same story. We were to be given a cottage in Poland. We were to be settled there.
How long were we in this fruit warehouse?

Regine Böhmer's Family
Some Members of Regine Böhmer's Family
LB:
Two, three days.

RB:
Yes, certainly two days. Each of us was given a number and registered. And it was terribly overcrowded. We had to sleep on the bare floor. Each sought a place to lie down. I was quite small being only just eight.

LB:
Each family was registered. All names were registered and those above the age of fourteen received a number stamped on the arm.

RB:
Then we were given something to eat. This fruit warehouse was situated very close to the Hannoversche Goods Station. We had to walk there. We were deported from here. I no longer know for sure but I think the journey lasted three days. Policemen were appointed to each goods wagon. They escorted us on the entire journey.
We then arrived in Belzec. We had to walk quite a distance from the station. Belzec was not a camp; it was a shed.

LB:
It was a kind of barn or stables. But it was much larger than the fruit warehouse in the port of Hamburg. It was encircled with barbed wire. We were all completely confused and terrified. There was straw on the floor and a stench of horse dung. Steps led up to a kind of false ceiling of boards. Some of us had to find places above as there was insufficient room for us all below. This was our accommodation... There was nothing else. It was only a large empty barn that had probably once been stables. Again there was much confusion with people milling about. Many had arrived with us from Hamburg but also from Bremen and Kiel I think. We had to sleep on the straw on the floor. There were no toilets and we could not properly wash. There was only a barrel of water.

Romany Camp 2003
Romany Camp 2003
RB:
Many were in fear on the journey. We were uninformed of what awaited us, of our fate, where we were being taken. We had a sense of foreboding. Nobody could discover anything. We were ignorant of what had been planned for us. This made us fearful. We had to sleep on the straw on the floor. We lay very close to each other, the space being very restricted. The children were screaming and crying. I was also terribly afraid that I would be separated from my parents and brothers and sisters.

LB:
Next morning the camp commandant confronted us. We all had to line up for roll
Romany Mass Grave 2003
Romany Mass Grave 2003
call. I remember to this day how he said: "You are all my prisoners. Those of you who attempt to escape will be shot like rabid dogs."
I have never forgotten this. Each morning we stood for roll call. We had to lie on the ground with our noses and mouths in the dirt. The commandant's dog ran among us and when someone raised their head the dog bit him. It was terrible. I donít wish to think about it again. We suffered terrible things. From the Belzec camp we were transported to Krychow and from there to Siedlce. We were transported as far as Czechoslovakia, via Warsaw. My mother and brother Rigo were shot before we reached Warsaw. I donít exactly know how this happened. I was fetching water when this happened. They were standing beside the wagon when there was shooting. My mother was shot in the leg and my brother in the heart. A medical orderly bandaged them both but my brother died the following day. I had considered taking him with me to fetch water but thought I would be quicker alone. Had I taken him perhaps he would be alive today. When the train came to a halt somewhere we buried him. We wrapped him in a blanket and buried him beside the track. He was nine years old and I was seventeen. This was 1944.
By this time we had suffered four years of being transported from one camp to another. We were finally transported to Prague. Everywhere the children had to work. For example in Siedlce we had to unload coal from wagons. That was hard work.

RB:
I also had to work. And I was only eight years old.

LB:
My youngest brother was only five. Even he had to work.

RB:
Anni Braun, Lotte's Sister
Anni Braun, Lotte's Sister
Many escaped from Krychow. The camp was not so closely guarded as Belzec. My father tried to persuade my mother to escape but she replied: "I canít. The children will be shot. I am too afraid." However, my father did not relinquish his plan. My father escaped with two of my brothers, Christian aged fifteen and Robert aged eighteen. They planned to return to Hamburg. This was well-intentioned as he thought he would be able to bring us back to Hamburg. It did not enter his head that mother was now left alone with six children.
My father and two brothers succeeded in returning to Hamburg. They made the journey on foot from Poland to Hamburg. He arrived in Hamburg without identity papers. An acquaintance denounced him. There were also such people among us. He was re-arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen. That was late 1941. Initially, my brothers were placed in a childrenís home from where they were transported to Auschwitz.
Our lives continued relentlessly on the run, being caught and freed. In 1943 we were caught again and my brother Reinhold was transported to Auschwitz. Robert and Reinhold died in Auschwitz. Christian was transported from Auschwitz to Buchenwald in August 1944 when the "Gypsy Camp" was liquidated. Robert and Reinhold were among those that remained and who were all killed. Christian was transported from Buchenwald to Dora. And my brother Rudolf was taken to Sachsenhausen. He was only thirteen years old. He was on a transport with 200 children which left for Bergen-Belsen but returned to Sachsenhausen due to an air raid. Rudolf was liberated from Sachsenhausen by the Russians in 1945. Christian and Rudolf survived and we met again in Hamburg after the war.
I was now on the run with my mother, grandmother, my younger sister Erika who was only seven years old, and my brothers Peter (nine) and Giovanni (five), and my eldest sister with her son who was around the same age as Giovanni. We were caught again and my mother and grandmother were transported to Majdanek. My grandmother died in Warsaw.
For a period of time we were together with Karl Laubinger, his wife and young son. They were very good to us. We were now alone with our eldest sister Hedwig. I was nine years old. We were constantly on the run until the SS caught us, but we were repeatedly released. I presume they wanted to avoid the necessity of feeding us. Sometimes farmers allowed us to sleep in their barns. Having no money with which to buy anything we were forced to beg. The clothes we were wearing were worn out. We were barefoot. I was often frozen. Finally, in the summer of 1943, I think it was near Krakow, they caught and imprisoned Hedwig, Peter, Giovanni, Erika and me again. We were transported to Ravensbrück and from there to Bergen-Belsen. Bergen-Belsen was terrible, total confusion reigned.

LB:
Those were terrible times.

RB:
Terrible times! I would take my own life rather than live through that again.

LB:
I couldnít face that again either.

Source: Interview, made by Karin Guth, Hamburg
Thanks to Struan Robertson for translation

© ARC 2005