I think about this picture often. Ever since I first saw it outside of the Museum by the freight car put in place for Auschwitz. Not long Ago. Not Far Away., the face of this young girl has stayed with me
Once I started working at the Museum, I did more research. The face peeking out of the train car is that of Anna Maria Steinbach, better known as Settela. She was born on December 23, 1934 in Limburg in the Netherlands into a Sinti family. The Sinti are part of the Romani people, who were targeted by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
On May 16, 1944, Settela was arrested and sent to Westerbork, a Dutch transit camp. Three days later, she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau with with 244 other Roma. Settela was murdered by the Nazis most likely on August 2, 1944. She was nine years old.
This image is one of about twenty frames of footage from a film taken by Werner (Rudolf) Breslauer. Breslauer was a German Jew who was a photographer by training. He fled to the Netherlands with his family and also ended up in Westerbork, where he was ordered by the camp commander to film daily life, including Settela’s deportation. The film was meant to be internal propaganda for the Gestapo and convince commanders that the camp played an important role in the Nazis’ plans. Breslauer and his family would also be deported to Auschwitz, where all of them, except for his daughter, would be murdered.
After the war, the image of Settela became famous. She was known as “the girl with the headscarf,” and was assumed to be Jewish. Her name and Sinti identity were established in the 1990s by Dutch journalist Aad Wagenaar. Settela then became a symbol of the Roma and Sinti genocide during the Holocaust.
This is a haunting image of a young girl who was murdered during the Holocaust and a powerful reminder of all that was lost. The story of the image illustrates the need to fight against confirmation bias. It was easy for people to believe that Settela was a young Jewish girl. However, as Settela’s story illustrates, it is important that we do not forget the hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people who were murdered by the Nazis and the persecution that they faced and continue to face today. To learn more, visit the website for European Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma.