What does “sterilization” mean? Why would a government prevent certain groups from having children? Why would a Gypsy be sterilized?
Her parents Gabriel and Theresia worked at a theatre in Wuerzburg, and had a son named Rigo from Gabriel’s previous marriage.
In 1941, Rita’s mother and several other members of her family were taken to the headquarters of the Gestapo. Once there, they were forced to sign forms agreeing to be sterilized, or else they would be deported. Theresia agreed, but before she attended her appointment she tried to fall pregnant. Later in summer 1942 when Theresia was called to be sterilized the doctors discovered that she was expecting twins – Rita and Rolanda.
Theresia was told she would be allowed to give birth if she agreed to give her children to the authorities once they were born. She agreed, and the family was monitored throughout the pregnancy. After their birth, Rita and Rolanda spent most of their time in a clinic, only being allowed to stay with their parents every now and then. On one occasion, the children were released to Theresia and Gabriel for the purpose of a propaganda photoshoot, showing the parents happily pushing the children down a street in Wuerzburg.
In April 1943, Gabriel and Theresia were notified that they would be deported but without Rita and Rolanda. Theresia headed to the university where the children were being kept, and demanded to see them. She was refused, but after forcing her way in, found Rolanda dead with a bandage on her head after being experimented on. In a panic, she grabbed Rita and ran out of the clinic. A few days later, the authorities caught up with the family and took Rita back to the clinic. She remained there for around twelve months, before being released to Theresia in April 1944. Soon afterwards the family split up, and Rita stayed with her mother.
The pair both survived the war, but as a child and an adult Rita started to experience various health problems. On one occasion, she even crashed her car after blacking out. It was then discovered that this was linked to various brain experiments that had been conducted on her as a child by Nazi doctors.
Photo credit: “United States Holocaust Memorial Museum”