Jakob Gerste
From Nordhausen to Auschwitz and back again

Jakob Gerste was born near Gotha on 6 May 1926. The family moved to Nordhausen in the 1930s. In March 1943, he and several siblings were arrested and deported to the “Gypsy family camp” in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where his brothers Rudolf and Heinrich were murdered.

In Auschwitz, Jakob Gerste was assigned to the forced labor bricklaying detail. In April 1944, the SS transferred him via Buchenwald to the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp, within sight of his hometown Nordhausen. He was assigned to the forced labor construction site detail. He survived and was liberated in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. He spent the rest of his life in Holzminden (Lower Saxony). Of his family, only he and his sister Emma survived the genocide of the Sinti and Roma.

The Gerste family in Nordhausen, around 1938.

From left to right: Anna, Rudolf, Jakob (standing), Hermann, mother Blondine with son Heinrich, Emma and Erwin. At the time this picture was taken, the father Robert Wagner had already been sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

(Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Heidelberg)

Erwin Gerste (right) with his uncles Fritz Petermann (center) and Wilhelm Gerste (left) in Nordhausen, before 1943.

(Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Heidelberg)

Order from the building authority of the city of Nordhausen to the Bernhard Thumann company to fence in the "Gypsy barracks" at Holungsbügel, 19 May 1939.

In October 1939, a few months after this order for fencing was placed, the Sinti and Roma were forbidden to leave their places of residence. The Gerste family was forced to move their caravan to the fenced-in area next to the “Gypsy barracks” on the outskirts of town.

(Kreisarchiv Nordhausen)

"The Nordhausen Gestapo imprisoned us in March 1943. It was early in the morning. We had to leave everything behind, we could only take what we were wearing with us."

Interview with Jakob Gerste,17 September 2000.

(Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Heidelberg)

Buchenwald Concentration Camp prisoner registration file for Jakob Gerste, 17 April 1944.

On 17 April 1944, the SS transferred Jakob Gerste from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp to Buchenwald. The place of residence of his father is given as Neuengamme Concentration Camp. The writing in red letters ‘Dora’ refers to the transport to the Mittelbau-Dora camp a few days later. On the card, there is written an incorrect date of birth.

(Arolsen Archives)