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Noted Sinti Holocaust survivor Zilli Schmidt dies

October 21, 2022

Zilli Schmidt, who survived Nazi death camps to go on to fight against racism and injustice, has died aged 98. She was an important witness in the trial of a former Auschwitz official.

Zilli Schmidt
Zilli Schmidt has died, aged 98Image: RomaTrial e.V., Hamze Bytyçi

Zilli Schmidt, a Holocaust survivor who was one of the last eyewitnesses of the German Nazi regime's atrocities committed against the Sinti and Roma communities, died on Friday at the age of 98 in the western German city of Mannheim.

Among other things, Schmidt suffered internment in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau from 1943 to 1944. Many of her family, including her 4-year-old daughter, were murdered on the day she was sent to do forced labor in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, from which she later escaped.

After the war, she fought for decades to gain compensation from the West German state for the atrocities she had suffered, often discovering that official discrimination against her people had not ceased with the Nazi regime.

She was also an important witness in a 1988 trial against a former SS block supervisor at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

At the age of more than 90, Schmidt began to talk at various events about the discrimination and persecution by the Nazis, her time in concentration camps and her fight for compensation.

She also wrote a book about her life entitled "God Had Plans for Me: To Keep Alive the Memory of the German Sinti."

'Great and moving' eyewitness  

"Auschwitz survivors across the world say a sad and grateful farewell to their fellow sufferer and friend Zilli Schmidt, who was one of the great and moving eyewitnesses of the genocide against the Sinti and Roma," said Christoph Heubner, the executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee.

Heubner said Schmidt had faced discrimination and exclusion after the war as well, but never lost her belief "that her fellow humans were ready to learn from history and speak out against racism and hate."

Schmidt was awarded the only federal decoration in Germany, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz) in 2021 by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. She was presented with the award only in January of this year because of pandemic restrictions.

Schmidt was born on July 10, 1924, as Cäcilie "Zilli" Reichmann in the town of Hinternah in the eastern German state of Thuringia. Her family was deported by the Nazis in 1942, and most of her relatives perished at their hands.

tj/wd (KNA, dpa)

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