Hansi, as he was called by family and friends, was the third of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsy parents. The family wagon traveled with a caravan that spent winters in Vienna, Austria's capital, and summers in the Austrian countryside. The Stojkas belonged to a tribe of Gypsies called the Lowara Roma, who made their living as itinerant horse traders.
1933-39: I grew up used to freedom, travel and hard work. I was 9 years old and our wagon was parked for the winter in a Vienna campground when Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. The Germans ordered us to stay put. My parents had to convert our wagon into a wooden house and my father and older sister began working in a factory. I began attending school, and our family had to adjust to living in one place for the whole year.
1940-44: By 1943 my family had been deported to a Nazi camp for Gypsies in Birkenau. One day, Mother brought me to the infirmary with blood poisoning. She was terrified because she'd heard that prisoners might leave the infirmary "through the chimneys." But the next day, I returned and told Mother a dream I'd had: "A beautiful women in white encircled me with warmth and cured me." Mother looked at the heavens, then at the smoking crematorium, and said prayers of thanks. The infirmary was a place of death, not healing.