Holocaust survivor Zilli Schmidt, née Reichmann, died yesterday in Mannheim at the age of 98. Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council, honoured her life and work: “With Zilli Schmidt’ death, another voice able to bear witness to the horrors of the Nazi era has faded into silence. She could only bring herself to speak of her unimaginable experiences late in her life. But, once she had decided to tell her story, she tirelessly bore witness and repeatedly addressed especially the younger generation whose future was particularly dear to her heart. She once said: “As long as I can, I will tell the truth about Auschwitz.”, and she did so until almost the end of her life. The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma is deeply indebted to Zilli Schmidt and will always honour her memory.”
Zilli Schmidt was from an old Sinti family; her parents ran one of the first travelling cinemas in Germany. She survived the Lety concentration camp in Bohemia and then the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Her brother was taken as a soldier from the Eastern Front to Auschwitz-Birkenau – he arrived there wearing his uniform. In the “Gypsy family camp”, she initially managed to save her relatives in 1943/44 through contacts with prisoner functionaries – nevertheless, her little daughter, her parents, her sister with six children, and many other relatives were murdered in the gas chambers on the night of 2 August 1944. Zilli was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for forced labour, which she managed to escape. After the end of the war, she was able to find only her two brothers.
The post-war years were marked by discrimination and gruelling struggles for recognition and compensation as a Nazi victim. In 1988, during the trial of the former SS-Rottenführer Ernst-August König, Zilli Schmidt spoke publicly for the first time about her memories of Auschwitz.
After decades of being denied recognition of her persecution fate by the Bavarian state sompensation office, Zilli Schmidt received symbolic compensation only a few weeks before her death, through a settlement reached by the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma.