Karl Stojka: Victim of the Nazi Era
Karl was the fourth of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsy parents in the village of Wamperdorf in eastern Austria. The Stojkas belonged to a tribe of Gypsies called the Lowara Roma, who made their living as itinerant horse traders. They lived in a traveling family wagon, and spent winters in Austria’s capital of Vienna. Karl’s ancestors had lived in Austria for more than 200 years.
1933-39: I grew up used to freedom, travel and hard work. In March 1938 our wagon was parked for the winter in a Vienna campground, when Germany annexed Austria just before my seventh birthday. The Germans ordered us to stay put. My parents converted our wagon into a wooden house, but I wasn’t used to having permanent walls around me. My father and oldest sister began working in a factory, and I started grade school.
1940-44: By 1943 my family had been deported to a Nazi camp in Birkenanu for thousands of Gypsies. Now we were enclosed by barbed wire. By August 1944 only 2,000 Gypsies were left alive; 918 of us were put on a transport to Buchenwald to do forced labor. There the Germans decided that 200 of us were incapable of working and were to be sent back to Birkenau. I was one of them; they thought I was too young. But my brother and uncle insisted that I was but a dwarf. I got to stay. The rest were returned to be gassed.
Karl was later deported to the Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was freed near Rötz, Germany, by American troops on April 24, 1945. After the war, he returned to Vienna.
Stojka’s story is more fully told in The Story of Karl Stojka: A Childhood in Birkenau (Washington, D.C., 1992), a catalogue published by the USHMM.