Philomena Franz, born in Biberach, Germany in 1922, was the first Romani woman to record in writing her experiences in the concentration camps under the Third Reich. As a young girl growing up in a Sinti family of musicians and performers with long-established roots in Germany, Franz sang and danced as a member of her family’s company. She fondly remembers the highlights of this period such as performing at the Lido in Paris and the Winter Gardens in Berlin.
This life of creativity and freedom ended in the late 1930s when her family’s passports and later their instruments were confiscated, and in 1943 Franz was deported to Auschwitz. After one failed attempt to escape from Ravensbrück, Franz succeeded in escaping from a camp near Wittenberge in 1945 and, with the help of a German farmer, managed to stay alive and hidden. After the war, she discovered that most of her family had been murdered in the camps. Aid was not readily available for Romani survivors, so Franz joined forces with other Sinti musicians to form a band, which toured the country and played for the liberating troops.
During this period, she met Oskar Franz, whom she married and with whom she had five children. In the years that followed, she suffered from severe depression, repeated nightmares and an ever-returning sense of being in captivity. At the same time, she struggled with the lack of official recognition of the victimisation of Sinti and Roma in the Holocaust and the lack of restitution.
When in the 1970s one of her sons was taunted at school for being a ‘Zigeuner’, Franz felt compelled to speak to the pupils and teachers there about the Holocaust. This was how she began relating her memories of the concentration camps and forming them into narratives.
In 1982 she collected her fairy-tales for children in a work entitled Zigeunermärchen [Gypsy tales], and in 1985 she recorded her memories of the life and the family she had lost in the Holocaust as well as her experience of imprisonment in Auschwitz in her autobiography, Zwischen Liebe und Hass – Ein Zigeunerleben.
In 1995, she was honoured with the Cross of the Order of Merit on Ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany and in 2001 she was named ‘Frau Europas 2001’ by the civil society network European Movement Germany.
Franz, Philomena. 1982. Zigeunermärchen. Bonn: Europa-Union-Verlag
Franz, Philomena. 1985. Zwischen Liebe und Hass: Ein Zigeunerleben. Freiburg: Herder. ISBN: 3451203987 / 3-451-20398-7
Franz, Philomena. 2001. Zwischen Liebe und Hass: Ein Zigeunerleben. Köln: Books on Demand.
Franz, Philomena. 2016. Stichworte. Norderstedt: Books on Demand.
Milton, Sybil. 1998. Persecuting the Survivors. In: Susan Tebbutt (ed.), Sinti and Roma. Gypsies in German-Speaking Society and Literature. New York, Oxford: Berghahn, 35–47.
Zimmermann, Michael. 1996. Rassenutopie und Genozid. Die Nationalsozialistische Lösung der Zigeunerfrage. Hamburg: Christians.