Symbol of Children in the Holocaust
Anna Maria (Settela) Steinbach (December 23rd, 1934–July 31st, 1944) was a Dutch girl who was gassed in Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz concentration camp. She remained the symbol of the prosecution of the Dutch Jews, until it was discovered in 1994 that she was not Jewish but had belonged to the Sinti group of the Romani people.
Steinbach was born in Buchten near Born in southern Limburg as the daughter of a trader and violinist. On May 16th, 1944, a razzia against the Roma was organized in the whole of the Netherlands. Steinbach was arrested in Eindhoven. That very same day, she arrived with another 577 people in Camp Westerbork. 279 were allowed to leave again because although they lived in trailers they were not Roma. In Westerbork, Steinbach's head was shaved as a preventive measure against head lice. Like the other Roma girls and women, she wore a torn sheet around her head to cover her bald head.
On May 19th, Settela was put on a transport together with 244 other Roma to Auschwitz-Birkenau on a train that contained also Jewish prisoners. Right before the doors were being closed, she apparently stared through the opening at a passing dog or the German soldiers. Rudolf Breslauer, a Jewish prisoner in Westerbork, who was shooting a movie on orders of the German camp commander filmed the image of Settela’s fearsome glance staring out of the wagon. Crasa Wagner also was in the same wagon and heard Settela’s mother call her name and warned her to pull her head out of the opening. Crasa Wagner survived Auschwitz and was able to identify Settela in 1994.
On May 22nd, the Dutch Roma, among whom was Settela Steinbach, arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were registered and taken to the Roma section. Roma that were fit to work were taken to ammunition factories in Germany. The remaining three thousand Roma were gassed in the period from July to August 3rd. Steinbach, her mother, two brothers, two sisters, her aunt, two nephews and a niece were part of this latter group. Of the Steinbach's family, only the father survived who died in 1946 and lies buried in the cemetery of Maastricht.
After the war, the fragment of seven seconds in Rudolf Breslauer's movie was used extensively in many documentaries. The image of the anonymous young girl staring out of the wagon full of fear and about to be transported to Auschwitz became an icon of the Holocaust. Until 1994, she was only known as “the girl with the headdress.” It was assumed she was Jewish, as for many years there was little attention paid to the genocide of the 400,000 Roma that were murdered by the Germans in the Porajmos throughout Europe.
In December 1992, Dutch journalist Aad Wagenaar started research to identify her. By following the number on the outside of the wagon, number 10, 16 or 18, by the description of the wagon, by the identity of a single suitcase that appears in the shot, he quickly discovered that the transport took place on May 19th, 1944. The transport turned out to be a mixed transport of Dutch Roma and Jews. On February 7th, 1994, at a trailer camp in Spijkenisse, Crasa Wagner revealed the name of Settela Steinbach.
The quest for Settela Steinbach’s identity was documented in Cherry Duyns’ documentary Settela, gezicht van het verleden (1994). Wagenaar published his research in the book Settela; het meisje heeft haar naam terug.