Walter Winter.
Translated and annotated by Struan Robertson.
University of Hertfordshire Press, October 2004. 192pp
Paperback £9.99 ISBN 1-902806-38-7.

In “Winter Time” German Sinto Walter Winter retells, in his own words, his remarkable wartime experience and story of survival of the Gypsy genocide of the Nazis. One of nine children, he was conscripted into the Germany navy only to be discharged on ‘racial grounds’. In 1943, together with two siblings, he was deported to the ‘Gypsy Camp’ of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Over a year later, shortly before the extermination of the entire ‘Gypsy Camp’, he was deported to Ravensbrück, and from there to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Grotesquely, before the war was over he was re-conscripted and forced to fight against the Red Army on the Russian front.

Walter Winter recounts his memories of Nazi persecution with extraordinary courage and compassion. He does not flinch from recounting the dreadful crimes he witnessed in the camps and the cruel deaths of so many, including his wife, who died in labor. Yet despair is held at bay by his own personal bravery in confronting authority, once beating up an SS guard and on another occasion confronting the notorious Dr Mengele to request extra rations for starving Sinti children in his block. Despite this, he was always willing to see the good in individuals, including some members of the SS.

The fate of Germany’s Sinti and Roma at the hands of the Nazis is still too little known by the German public, not to mention the wider world. Winter Time will make an important contribution to the righting of that wrong, and the footnotes and appendices by his dedicated translator, Struan Robertson, throw a valuable new light on the policy of the Third Reich and successive post-war governments towards the Sinti and Roma.

When the translator of this book, Struan Robertson, says about himself, that prior to the meeting with Kaku Walter Winter “I understood the Holocaust to have been exclusively the Nazi extermination of the Jews. This is a common misconception” he is explaining the problem very well indeed. Most people around the world do see the Holocaust, like he used to, as exclusively Jewish and on top of that the stance of some Jewish groups who have even said, “the Gypsies defile the memory of the Holocaust by wanting to be associated with it” also adds to this. Even people in Germany (or maybe especially in Germany) do not see or want to see the Holocaust to be also a Romani issue.

This is a most important book in all book about and by Romani, probably the most important, in that it is a book by a Romani himself and not one by a self-acclaimed expert on Romani affairs writing about the Holocaust or anything else Romani, who often write utter tosh.

BTW, Sinti, in their own version of the Romani Chib, would not call the Holocaust “Porriamos”, at least not originally. That word is a Vlax Roma word with its origin in the Romanian language, as can be seen by the “-mos” ending. In Sintitakes, if this would be used, it would be, probably, “Porriape”.

We see far too few books that are the memoirs of real true Romani People. We need more of this kind of books. Not only about the Holocaust but Romani Life in general as well.

There is but one problem with this book and that is that the material in the “appendix” to this book, the chapter called “Postscript: Origin and History of the Roma and Sinti” as well as in other parts of this “Postscript”.
The Sinti are, for instance, NOT “Roma”, regardless what the self-acclaimed experts of Romani studies wish to have the world believe. The Sinti are in fact part of the Romane Chave to which also the Romanichals of the UK, the Romanichels of France, the Manouche/Manush, belong. Not to be forgotten in this also must the Cale (Spanish Gitanos) and the Kale (Wales) and the Kaale (Finland) neither of which are Roma but who also have their roots in the Romane Chave. It is high time that the People were listened to for a change and not only people such as certain professors even though one or two may be of Romani descent. It is the real Romani People that need to be given a voice in this matter in order for the record to be set straight and if given that chance they soon would tell them that they are Sinti, Romanichal, Gitano (Cale) and that they are Romani but NOT Roma.
Also here again we can see the attempt at work to lump all Romani together under the term “Roma” which is about as correct as calling a Welshman or a Scotsman English. When will the People be taken note of I wonder.
Those experts who put together that tosh on the “Origin and History of the Roma and Sinti” should go and ask the majority of Sinti whether they think that they are Roma? I would suggest to the questioner however that he step back very far as he may get hit by something.

With the exception of the above, however, the remainders of those “Postscripts” are more or less fine and most educating, I am sure, to those not in the know about Romani persecution throughout the ages and to this present day. Nothing really has changed in that regard.

It is a shame though that there are a few printing/typesetting mistakes that have crept into this final book that proofreading should have picked up really.

In summing up I would like to say that this is a powerful and most importantly true story about survival of Romani People in the concentration camps of the Third Reich. This is a book that is needed more than ever today, especially as too many people see the Holocaust as being uniquely Jewish and it is often claimed, especially by Jews, that Jews were sent to the gas because of their race and ethnicity while Gypsies were sent to the gas because they were asocial. This is very insulting indeed because the truth is and this is shown again and again that Gypsies were sent to the camps in the same way as Jews for reasons of race.

© Veshengro, November 2004