The Steinbach Family

The title of the blog is ‘The Steinbach Family’ but is really a blog about the Romani people. The reason why I picked the Steinba,ch family name is twofold. Firstly the picture at the start of the blog is of Settela Steinbach. It is one of the most iconic pictures of the Holocaust. Initially she was identified as a Dutch Jew, but the facts of her real identity were discovered in 1994.

Secondly at least one of her siblings, Philibert Steinbach, was born in my hometown, Geleen. Only recently I found out I have connection with the Steinbach family via spouses if some of my cousins.

Philibert was born in Geleen, on the 4th of September 1932 and murdered in Auschwitz, on the 3rd of August 1944.

The Romani were forced to live in assembly camps outside cities from 22 June 1943, such as near The Hague or Eindhoven. At the behest of Nazi regime in the Netherlands , the caravans were pulled together here and the Romani people were concentrated.

From May 16, 1944 to May 19, 1944 Philibert Steinbach and the rest of his family were imprisoned in Camp Westerbork.

On 19 May thee Steinbach family were put on a transport together with about 240 other Romani to Auschwitz-Birkenau on a train that also contained Jewish prisoners. Right before the doors were being closed, Setella hauntingly stared through the opening at a passing dog or the German soldiers. Rudolf Breslauer, a Jewish prisoner in Westerbork, who was shooting a movie on orders of the German camp commander, filmed the image of Settela’s fearful glance staring out of the wagon. Crasa Wagner was in the same wagon and heard Settela’s mother call her name and warn her to pull her head out of the opening. Wagner survived Auschwitz and was able to identify Settela in 1994.

On 22 May the Dutch Romani, among them the Steinbach family , arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were registered and taken to the Romani section. Romani who were fit to work were taken to ammunition factories in Germany. The remaining three thousand Romani were gassed in the period from July to 3 August. Steinbach, her mother, two brothers, two sisters, aunt, two nephews and niece were part of this latter group. Of the Steinbach family, only the father survived; he died in 1946 and is buried in the cemetery of Maastricht.

The Steinbachs were all accomplished musicians and never harmed anyone.

The Romani were seen by the Nazis as an inferior race and were persecuted for that reason. About 500 were deported from the Netherlands, almost the entire community. Across Europe, it is estimated that some 500,000 Sinti and Roma were murdered in concentration camps.

In contrast to Anne Frank, who left us her diary, Settela did not leave us anything apart from this one haunting image .Just a few fleeting seconds in a film about Westerbork transit camp. Millions of people have been moved by this image without realising who this girl was.


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