Central Europe


Petra Gelbart

A Song of Auschwitz

The Romani poet, painter and scholar Károly Bari writes:

‘The body of Romani folklore that perpetuates the Holocaust in the folk memory ... conjures up the polymorphous faces of hatred like a row of admonitory dolls and utter[s] the names of the prejudices whose tentacles reanimate the dark host of effigies time and time again.’

If there is a single song from the former Czechoslovakia that epitomises Bari’s idea, it is ‘Aušvicate hi kher baro’ [There’s a Large Building in Auschwitz]. The number of verses in the recorded versions of this song ranges from two to six or seven. The text variously recounts work conditions in the concentration camp and the role of the block elder and insinuates rape.

Some ninety percent of Roma and Sinti who lived in what is today the Czech Republic during World War II were murdered in concentration camps, and surviving family members often keep a low profile even to this day. RomArchive has three of the few extant field recordings of Aušvicate, including this short version collected in Prague and performed by Barka Pelcová.


‘Aušvicate hi kher baro’ [There’s a Large Building in Auschwitz], sung by Barka Pelcová.

Aušvicate hi kher baro

Aušvicate hi kher baro

Odoj bešel mro pirano

Ej, bešel, bešel, gondolinel

The pre mande pobisterel

Khatar Ruska bavlal phurdel

Mro pirano už man mukhel

Mukhel, mukhel pharipnaha

Kaj naphenďom ačh Devleha


There’s a large building in Auschwitz

That’s where my beloved sits

Oh, he sits and sits, contemplating

And forgetting about me

A wind is blowing from Russia

My beloved is leaving me

He is leaving, leaving with a heavy heart

Because I could not say goodbye

A longer version was sung by Margita Nová in the Hranice region of Moravia.

Barka Pelcová survived the Holocaust only because a guard took a romantic interest in one of her relatives. The guard freed several family members from an internment camp, where they had been locked up ahead of being transported to Auschwitz. Family lore has it that the guard was later shot by the SS for his act of mercy.

‘They burned my whole family – so let me be burned, too.’

Barka‘s father and brother survived a sub-camp of Mauthausen. Her father was largely very respectful of his Romani group’s laws and traditions, one of which forbids cremation. Nonetheless, with reference to the Holocaust, he was repeatedly heard saying: ‘They burned my whole family – so let me be burned, too.’ Following this wish, his children placed his remains in an urn – a symbol of the utter devastation that the family still commemorates.

Rights held by: Petra Gelbart | Licensed by: Petra Gelbart | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC 3.0 Germany | Provided by: RomArchive