Mourning for Philomena Franz

Holocaust survivor Philomena Franz passed away on December 28, 2022 at the age of 100 in her home in Rösrath. As a German Sinteza, she was persecuted under the National Socialists, survived the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and lost many relatives in the Holocaust to the Sinti and Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. After 1945, she became an active contemporary witness, writing about her experiences and campaigning for reconciliation.

Portrait photo of Philomena Franz
Philomena Franz during a reading in Bergisch Gladbach (Photo: imago/McPHOTO/Luhr)

“Throughout her life, Philomena Franz has been a strong advocate for the equal participation of our people in this country. Through her tireless work as a contemporary witness and civil rights activist, she has significantly influenced the positive developments of the past decades regarding our minority. She was one of the first to write about her experiences in the concentration and extermination camps, thus giving a voice to many others. She never resigned herself to the lack of recognition of the injustice committed against Sinti and Roma. Her work for reconciliation and understanding deserves the respect of all of us.”

Romani Rose

Philomena Franz was born on July 21, 1922 in Biberach an der Riß into a family of musicians. The string quartet, in which her grandfather Johannes Haag played the cello, had been awarded the “Golden Rose” in 1906 as the winner of an international competition by the then King Wilhelm II of Württemberg. Following Himmler’s arrest decree of 1939, Philomena Franz’s family was already registered for identification purposes and was no longer allowed to leave their place of residence.

In 1943 Philomena Franz was deported to Auschwitz, and in May/June 1944 she was sent on a transport to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She thus escaped the extermination action of August 2, 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in which the last 4,300 inmates of the so-called “Gypsy family camp” were murdered. After an initially failed escape attempt from Ravensbrück, she successfully escaped from a camp near Wittenberge in 1945 and saved her life with the help of a German farmer who hid her. Most of her family, including her closest relatives, were murdered in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, as well as in other concentration camps.

In the 1970s, Philomena Franz began her commitment as a eyewitness due to the ongoing experiences of discrimination and against the backdrop of the refusal to recognize the genocide crimes against the Sinti and Roma. She spoke in schools, universities, and also on talk shows and radio programs, thereby helping to bring Sinti and Roma into the public eye as victims of Nazi persecution.

“About her experiences in the Nazi extermination camps, Philomena Franz wrote ‘I am a bird, cannot fly. They clipped my wings.’ Through her tireless work for reconciliation and the voice she raised throughout her life for peaceful, common coexistence, Philomena Franz has grown wings again. I very much wish that her voice will continue to have an impact for a long time to come”, Romani Rose said.

Philomena Franz was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in 1995 for her work for reconciliation and understanding.