Nursery Rhymes from Buchenwald

A child’s perspective on an inhumane world: it was a boy who recorded his experiences in rhymes and drawings in this makeshift booklet. “If you’ve been up in Buchenwald, you’ll know that there it’s very cold” are the first lines of a poem written on 26 February 1945. The author was Johann Stojka, a fifteen-year-old Romani.

In August 1944, after the dissolution of the “Gypsy family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau, he and his younger brother Karl had been sent to Buchenwald. Having no use for the youngest and weakest Sinti and Roma, the SS there had organized a transport to send them back to Auschwitz to be murdered. Johann and Karl remained behind because they were supposedly sick and thus “unfit for transport”. That classification saved their lives.

The poem ends on a hopeful note: “One day we’ll be released.” The brothers were among the few in their large family to survive the Porajmos, the genocide of the Sinti and Roma.

(Stefan Lochner)


Mongo Stojka, Papierene Kinder: Glück, Zerstörung und Neubeginn einer Roma-Familie in Österreich, Vienna 2000.

Karl Stojka and Reinhard Pohanka, Auf der ganzen Welt zu Hause, Vienna 1994.