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"Gypsies"- Victims of the Holocaust
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Timeline of Gypsies and the Holocaust
Alfred Dillmann establishes the Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Nuisance in Munich. This office collected information and fingerprints of Gypsies.
Law in Baden requires Gypsies to carry special identification papers.
In Bavaria, the Law for the Combating the Gypsies, Travellers, and Work-Shy sent Gypsies over 16 to workhouses for two years if they could not prove regular employment.
Gypsies sterilized under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.
Gypsies included in the Nuremberg Laws (Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor).
400 Gypsies are rounded up in Bavaria and transported to the Dachau concentration camp.
The Racial Hygiene and Population Biology Research Unit of the Ministry of Health at Berlin-Dahlem is established, with Dr. Robert Ritter its director. This office interviewed, measured, studied, photographed, fingerprinted, and examined Gypsies in order to document them and create complete genealogical listings for every Gypsy.
Special concentration camps are created for Gypsies (Zigeunerlagers).
Gypsies are excluded from the military.
December 14, 1937
Law Against Crime orders arrests of "those who by anti-social behavior even if they have committed no crime have shown that they do not wish to fit into society."
In Germany, 1,500 Gypsy men are sent to Dachau and 440 Gypsy women are sent to Ravensbrück.
December 8, 1938
Heinrich Himmler issues a decree on the Fight Against the Gypsy Menace which states that the Gypsy problem will be treated as a "matter of race."
In Austria, a decree orders 2,000 to 3,000 Gypsies to be sent to concentration camps.
October 17, 1939
Reinhard Heydrich issues the Settlement Edict which prohibits Gypsies from leaving their homes or camping places.
Dr. Ritter reports that Gypsies have mixed with asocials and recommends to have them kept in labor camps and to stop their "breeding."
January 30, 1940
A conference organized by Heydrich in Berlin decides to remove 30,000 Gypsies to Poland.
Deportations of Gypsies begins from the Reich to the Generalgouvernment.
Deportation of Gypsies temporarily halted.
Thousands of Gypsies murdered at Babi Yar.
October to November, 1941
5,000 Austrian Gypsies, including 2,600 children, deported to the Lodz Ghetto.
Einsatzgruppen D shoots 800 Gypsies in Simferopol (Crimea).
The surviving Gypsies within the Lodz Ghetto are deported to the Chelmno death camp and killed.
Probably about this time when decision was made to annihilate the Gypsies.1
October 13, 1942
Nine Gypsy representatives appointed to make lists of "pure" Sinti and Lalleri to be saved. Only three of the nine had completed their lists by the time deportations began. The end result was that the lists didn't matter - Gypsies on the lists were also deported.
December 3, 1942
Martin Bormann writes to Himmler against the special treatment of "pure" Gypsies.
December 16, 1942
Himmler gives the order for all German Gypsies to be sent to Auschwitz.
January 29, 1943
RSHA announces the regulations for the implementation of deporting Gypsies to Auschwitz.
Family camp for Gypsies constructed in Auschwitz II, section BIIe.
February 26, 1943
First transport of Gypsies delivered to the Gypsy Camp in Auschwitz.
March 29, 1943
Himmler orders all Dutch Gypsies to be sent to Auschwitz.
All attempts to save "pure" Gypsies has been forgotten.2
Those Gypsies that are fit for work are selected in Auschwitz and sent to other camps.
August 2-3, 1944
Zigeunernacht ("Night of the Gypsies"): All Gypsies who remained in Auschwitz were gassed.
In 1933, after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the Nazis introduced a law to legalize eugenic sterilization, to control population growth among "Gypsies and most of the Germans of black colour." In 1939, the Nazi's Office of Racial Hygiene issued a statement saying "All Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick [...] the aim should therefore be the elimination --without hesitation-- of this defective element in the population." --- <incentraleurope.radio.cz/ice/issue/62886>
"It was the wish of the all-powerful Reichsführer Adolf Hitler to have the Gypsies disappear from the face of the earth"
Rounding-up Romanies ("Gypsies") for Deporatation, Asperg, Germany, May 22, 1940.
A Romani female at Auschwitz, name unknown,
prisoner no. Z-63598, imprisoned October 1, 1943.
The letter 'Z' stands for 'Zigeuner' or "Gypsy."
[Auschwitz Memorial Archives]
A group of Romani prisoners, awaiting instructions from their German captors, sit in an open area near the fence in the Belzec concentration camp.
Photo credit: Archives of Mechanical Documentation, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives
Romani (commonly but incorrectly called Gypsies) were considered by the Nazis to be social outcasts. Under the Weimar Republic--the German government from 1918 to 1933--anti-Romani laws became widespread. These laws required them to register with officials, prohibited them from traveling freely, and sent them to forced-labor camps. When the Nazis came to power, those laws remained in effect--and were expanded. Under the July 1933 sterilization law, many Romani were sterilized against their will.
In November 1933, the "Law Against Dangerous Habitual Criminals" was passed. Under this law, the police began arresting Romani along with others labeled "asocial." Beggars, vagrants, the homeless, and alcoholics were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The Nuremberg racial laws of September 15, 1935, did not specifically mention Romani, but they were included along with Jews and "Negroes" as "racially distinctive" minorities with "alien blood." As such, their marriage to "Aryans" was prohibited. They were also deprived of their civil rights.
By the summer of 1938, large numbers of German and Austrian Romani were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. There they wore black triangular patches (the symbol for "asocials") or green patches (the symbol for professional criminals) and sometimes the letter "Z."
As was the case for the Jews, the outbreak of war in September 1939 radicalized the Nazi regime's policies towards the Romani. Their "resettlement to the East" and their mass murder closely parallel the systematic deportations and killings of the Jews. It is difficult to determine exactly how many Romani were murdered. The estimates range from 220,000 to 500,000.
When Hitler Took Power
When Hitler took power in 1933, anti-Gypsy laws remained in effect. Soon the regime introduced other laws affecting Germany's Sinti and Roma, as the Nazis immediately began to implement their vision of a new Germany -one that placed "Aryans" at the top of the hierarchy of races and ranked Jews, Gypsies, and blacks as racial inferiors. Under the July 1933 "Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Defects," physicians sterilized against their will an unknown number of Gypsies, part-Gypsies, and Gypsies in mixed marriages. Similarly, under the "Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals" of November 1933, the police arrested many Gypsies along with others the Nazis viewed as "asocials"--prostitutes, beggars, chronic alcoholics, and homeless vagrants--and imprisoned them in concentration camps.
The Nuremberg racial laws of September 15, 1935, ("Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor" and "Reich Citizenship Law") did not explicitly mention Gypsies, but in commentaries interpreting these laws, Gypsies were included, along with Jews and "Negroes," as "racially distinctive" minorities with "alien blood." As such, their marriage to "Aryans" was prohibited. Like Jews, Gypsies were also deprived of their civil rights.
In June 1936, a Central Office to "Combat the Gypsy Nuisance" opened in Munich. This office became the headquarters of a national data bank on Gypsies. Also in June, part of the Ministry of Interior directives for "Combatting the Gypsy Nuisance" authorized the Berlin police to conduct raids against Gypsies so that they would not mar the image of the city, host of the summer Olympic games. That July, the police arrested 600 Gypsies and brought them, in 130 caravans, to a new, special Gypsy internment camp (Zigeunerlager) established near a sewage dump and cemetery in the Berlin suburb of Marzahan. The camp had only three water pumps and two toilets; in such overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, contagious diseases flourished. Police and their dogs guarded the camp. Similar Zingeunerlageralso appeared in the 1939s, at the initiative of municipal governments and coordinated by the Council of Cities (reporting to the Ministry of Interior), in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and other German cities.After Germany incorporated Austria into the Reich in March 1938, the regime applied the Nuremberg laws to Austria's Gypsies. Two special internment camps opened, one for 80 to 400 Gypsies, in Salzburg, in October 1939, and a second, in November 1940 for 4,000 Gypsies at Lackenback, in the Burgenland, the eastern Austrian state bordering Hungary. Conditions at Lackenback, which existed until the end of the war, were particularly atrocious, and many individuals perished there. Both camps concentrated Austrian Gypsies for police registration and forced labor and served as assembly concentration camps.
A December 1937 decree on "crime prevention" provided the pretext for major police roundups of Gypsies. In June 1938, 1,000 German and Austrian Gypsies were deported to concentration camps at Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Lichtenburg (a camp for women). A year later, several thousand other Austrian and German Gypsies became inmates at Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, Dachau, and Buchenwald concentration camps. In the camps, all prisoners wore markings of various shapes and colors, which allowed guards and camp officers to identify them by category. Gypsies wore the black triangular patches, the symbol for "asocials," or green ones, the symbol for professional criminals, and sometimes the letter "Z."
Dr. Robert Ritter, a psychiatrist who directed genealogical and genetic research on Gypsies, played a key role in the identification of Sinti and Roma prior to their arrest by the police. In 1936 Ritter became head of a research unit located within the Ministry of Health and later in the Central Police Office. Ritter and his assistants, in cooperation with the Criminal Police (detective forces) and their sub-office to "Combat the Gypsy Nuisance," moved to Berlin in May 1938, worked to locate and classify by race all Gypsies in Germany and Austria.It was probably Ritter's "race-biological research" that SS chief Heinrich Himmler invoked in his circular on "Combating the Gypsy Nuisance" of December 8, 1938, recommending "the resolution of the Gypsy question based on its essentially racial nature." He ordered the registration of all Gypsies in the Reich above the age of six and their classification into three racial groups: Gypsies, Gypsy Mischlinge [part-Gypsies], and nomadic persons behaving as Gypsies. Himmler, who oversaw the vast security empire that included the Criminal Police, stated that the "aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation" included the "physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation."
The children of Sinti and Roma were also victims, interned with their families in the municipal camps and studied and classified by racial scientists. Between 1933 and 1939, authorities took many Sinti and Roma children from their families and brought them to special homes for children as wards of the State. Gypsy schoolchildren who were truant were deemed delinquent and sent to special juvenile schools; those unable to speak German were deemed feeble-minded and sent to "special schools" for the mentally handicapped. Like Jewish children, Gypsy boys and girls also commonly endured the taunts and insults of their classmates, until March 1941 when the regime excluded Gypsies from the public schools.
As was the case for Jews, the outbreak of war in September 1939 radicalized the Nazi regime's policies towards Gypsies. On September 21, 1939, a conference on racial policy chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin, discussed the removal of 30,000 German and Austrian Gypsies to occupied Poland, along with the deportation of Jews. The "resettlement to the East" followed by the mass murder of Sinti and Roma in reality closely paralleled the systematic deportations and killings of Jews. The deportations of German Gypsies, including men, women, and children, began in May 1940 when 2,800 Gypsies were transported to the Lódz ghetto and from there to Chelmno, where they were among the first to be killed by gassing in mobile vans beginning in late December 1941 and January 1942. Similarly, in the summer of 1942, German and Polish Gypsies imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto were deported to Treblinka, where they were gassed. German Gypsies were also deported to ghettos in Bialystok, Cracow, and Radom.
During the war, some minor differences of opinion arose at the highest levels of government regarding the "final solution to the Gypsy question." Himmler toyed with the idea of keeping a small group of "pure" Gypsies alive on a reservation for the ethnic study of these racial "enemies of the state," but the regime rejected this idea. In a decree dated December 16, 1942, Himmler ordered the deportation of Gypsies and part-Gypsies to Auschwitz-Birkenau. At least 23,000 Gypsies were brought there, the first group arriving from Germany in February 1943. Most of the Gypsies at Auschwitz-Birkenau came from Germany or territories annexed to Reich including Bohemia and Moravia. Police also deported small numbers of Gypsies from Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway.Dr. Robert Ritter:
Racial Science and "Gypsies"
By studying Gypsies, Ritter, who was a psychiatrist, hoped to determine the links between heredity and criminality. With funding from the German Association for Scientific Research and access to police records, Ritter began in 1937 to systematically interview all the Gypsies residing in Germany. To do so, he traveled to Gypsy encampments and, after the deportation and interment of Gypsies began, to the concentration camps.
Ritter developed detailed genealogies--family histories--to distinguish "pure" Gypsies from those of "mixed blood" and to root out assimilated Gypsies from the general German population. The state police aided Ritter in this by requiring genealogical registration of all Gypsies forcibly moved into special municipal camps after 1935. Believing anyone with Gypsy blood to be a danger to society, Ritter classified a "part-Gypsy" as someone with one or two Gypsy grandparents or two or more part-Gypsy grandparents, that is, someone with as little as one-eighth gypsy blood.
Ritter's associates included the anthropologist Dr. Adolf Wurth and, until 1942, the zoologist and anthropologist Dr. Sophie Ehrhardt. Ritter's closest associate was Eva Justin, a nurse who received her doctorate in anthropology in 1944 based on her research with Gypsy children raised apart from their families. At the conclusion of her study, these children were deported to Auschwitz, where all but a few were killed.
In a report of his research findings in 1940, Ritter concluded that 90 percent of the Gypsies native to Germany were "of mixed blood." He described such Gypsies as "the products of matings with the German criminal asocial subproletariat." He further characterized Gypsies as "primitive" people "incapable of real social adaptation."
From late 1944 through 1946, Ritter taught criminal biology at the University of Turbingen; in 1947 he joined the Frankfurt Health Office as a Children's physician. While there, he employed Eva Justin as a psychologist. His collaborator Dr. Sophie Ehrhardt joined the anthropology faculty at the University of Tubingen in 1942 and continued to use Ritter's data in her postwar research. Dr. Adolph Wurth served in the Baden-Wurttemberg Bureau of Statistics until 1970.
Gypsies in Auschwitz
"For Nazi Germany the Gypsies became a racist dilemma. The Gypsies were Aryans, but in the Nazi mind there were contradictions between what they regarded as the superiority of the Aryan race and their image of the Gypsies...
At a conference held in Berlin on January 30, 1940, a decision was taken to expel 30,000 Gypsies from Germany to the territories of occupied Poland...
The reports of the SS Einsatzgruppen [special task forces] which operated in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union mention the murder of thousands of Gypsies along with the massive extermination of the Jews in these areas.
The deportations and executions of the Gypsies came under Himmler's authority. On December 16, 1942, Himmler issued an order to send all Gypsies to the concentration camps, with a few exceptions...
The deported Gypsies were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a special Gypsy camp was erected. Over 20,000 Gypsies from Germany and some other parts of Europe were sent to this camp, and most of them were gassed there...
Wiernik described the arrival of the largest Gypsy group brought to Treblinka, in the spring of 1943:
`One day, while I was working near the gate, I noticed the Germans and Ukrainians making special preparations...meanwhile the gate opened, and about 1,000 Gypsies were brought in (this was the third transport of Gypsies). About 200 of them were men, and the rest women and children...all the Gypsies were taken to the gas chambers and then burned'...
Gypsies from the General Government [Poland] who were not sent to Auschwitz and to the operation Reinhard camps were shot on spot by the local police or gendarmes. In the eastern region of the Cracow district, in the counties of Sanok, Jaslo, and Rzeszow, close to 1,000 Gypsies were shot..."
Excerpted from....______________________-BELZEC, SOBIBOR, TREBLINKA - the Operation Reinhard Death Camps Indiana University Press - Yitzhak Arad, 1987. ISBN 0-253-3429-7 __________________________pp150-153_-
According to the The Institut Fuer Zeitgeschicthe, in Munich, at least 4000 gypsies were been murdered by gas at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Gypsies in Auschwitz Part 2
"Gypsies were officially defined as non-Aryan by the Nuremberg laws of 1935, which also first defined Jews; both groups were forbidden to marry Germans. Gypsies were later labeled as asocials by the 1937 Laws against Crime, regardless of whether they had been charged with any unlawful acts. Two hundred Gypsy men were then selected by quota and incarcerated in Buchenwald concentration camp. By May 1938, SS Reichsfuehrer Himmler established the Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Menace, which defined the question as `a matter of race,' discriminating pure Gypsies from part Gypsies as Jews were discriminated, and ordering their registration. In 1939, resettlement of Gypsies was put under Eichmann's jurisdiction along with that of the Jews. Gypsies were forbidden to move freely and were concentrated in encampments with Germany in 1939, later (1941) transformed into fenced ghettos, from which they would be seized for transport by the criminal police (aided by dogs) and dispatched to Auschwitz in February 1943. During May 1940, about 3,100 were sent to Jewish ghettos in the Government-General: others may have been added to Jewish transports from Berlin, Vienna, and Prague to Nisko, Poland (the sight of an aborted reservation to which Jews were deported). These measures were taken against Gypsies who had no claim to exemption because of having an Aryan spouse or having been regularly employed for five years.
Some evaded the net at first. Despite a 1937 laws excluding gypsies from army service, many served in the armed forces until demobilized by special orders between 1940 and 1942. Gypsy children were also dismissed from schools beginning in March 1941. Thus, those who were nominally free and not yet concentrated were stripped systematically of the status of citizens and segregated. The legal status of Gypsies and Jews, determined irrevocably by the agreement between Justice Minister Thierack and SS Reichsfuehrer Himmler on 18 September 1942, removing both groups from the jurisdiction of any German court, confirmed their fate. Thierack wrote, ` I envisage transferring all criminal proceedings concerning [these people] to Himmler. I do this because I realize that the courts can only feebly contribute to the extermination of these people.
The Citizenship Law of 1943 omitted any mention of Gypsies since they were not expected to exist much longer. Himmler decreed the transport of Gypsies to Auschwitz on 16 December 1942, but he did not authorize their extermination until 1944. Most died there and in other camps of starvation, diseases, and torture from abuse as live experimental subjects. By the end of the war, 15,000 of the 20,000 Gypsies who had been in Germany in 1939 had died."
Identification Pictures of a Romani ("Gypsy") Woman
Marzahn, the first internment camp for "Gypsies" (Roma/Sinti) in the Third Reich. Germany. Marzahn camp was situated near a sewage dump and cemetery, and contagious diseases flourished. 1936.[Courtesy Landesarchiv Berlin]
Settela Steinbach & Others
Memorial to the 500,000 Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism
Romani ("Gypsy") couple at the Belzec concentration camp.
(Picture found on a SS prisoner.)
A group of Romanies ("Gypsies") about to be gassed in Belzec extermination camp.
(Picture found on a SS prisoner.)
Romani ("Gypsy") children at Auschwitz subject to various terminal medical experiments.
Memorial to the 500,000 Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism, specifically the 450 women and children killed upon arrival at Mauthausen.
The 'Devouring': A look at the Romani Holocaust
27-01-2005 Brian Kenety
The Porrajmos, literally "the Devouring," is the term that the Roma use to describe the Nazi regime's attempt to wipe their people off the face of the Earth; for the genocidal wave of terror known to most of the world as the Holocaust. An estimated half million Roma were killed during the Second World War ? only five percent of the Czech-born population survived. Nearly all who lived through internment in the Czech-run labour camps near Hodonin and Lety ? now the site of a pig farm ? later perished in the so-called "Gypsy family camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Inmate number 1-9-9-6 was among the few Roma to survive Auschwitz. The Nazis didn't bother to tattoo an ID number on Antonin Hlavacek's arm ? Romani children, like the elderly, weren't meant to live long, so his number was written in ink. But sixty years later, Mr Hlavacek can no more forget the number he answered to at Auschwitz than the atrocities he witnessed as a young boy.
"The transports would come in when it was dark. We weren't allowed to go outside but heard it all. They'd pull everyone out of the train, pile up their clothes and belongings on the floor and send most of them straight to the 'showers'. Instead of water, it was gas that came out of the pipes. There was also a group of prisoners, selected every three months, that was given more food and made to work in what we thought was a bakery. Only much later did we realise it was a crematorium, where they burned people. The toilet was just one big hole with a piece of wood over it and in order to get to it, we had to move aside dead bodies because they were only taken away every three days."
The horrors of the death camps have been exhaustively documented, but the wartime fate of the Roma ? who, like Europe's Jewish population, were singled out for extinction by the Nazis along racial lines ? is less widely understood; their tremendous suffering and loss often reduced to little more than a historical footnote. No Roma were called to testify at the post-war Nuremberg Trials and no one spoke there on their behalf.
Artur Radvansky ? a Jewish Holocaust survivor whose of Auschwitz ? has made a point of bearing witness in recent years, travelling to Germany to explain the Holocaust to students of all ages. One horrific event stands out in his mind above all the others ? the day he watched camp guards bring in a group of Romani war veterans from Germany.
"I witnessed the most terrible thing, something which no-one else knows about in this country because no-one else is alive to remember it. One day, the Auschwitz guards brought in between 400 and 600 Roma from Germany. Many of the men were former German soldiers who had fought in Poland during the First World War. Some of them were still wearing their medals: the Knight's Cross, if you're familiar with it. They were decorated soldiers ? German soldiers ? and yet one night the guards came and took them to the gas chambers to be killed."
While the fate of the Roma ? a dark skinned people who largely lived on the margins of European society and had known persecution for centuries ? may now seem inevitable, in the earliest days of the Third Reich, the Roma and Sinti people, then commonly referred to collectively as "Gypsies," posed a problem for Hitler's racial ideologues. The Nazi anthropologists knew that the Roma had arrived in Europe from India and believed them to be descendents of the original "Aryan" invaders of the subcontinent, who returned to Europe.
So Nazi racialist Hans Gunther found a justification for measures already long in place to control "the Gypsy plague": if the Roma were no less "Aryan" than Germans, he theorized, then their supposed "inherent criminal character" must have stemmed from their having mingled with "inferior" races over centuries of nomadic life.
In 1933, after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the Nazis introduced a law to legalize eugenic sterilization, to control population growth among "Gypsies and most of the Germans of black colour." In 1939, the Nazi's Office of Racial Hygiene issued a statement saying "All Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick [...] the aim should therefore be the elimination ? without hesitation ?of this defective element in the population."
It was in January 1942 that the Nazi bureaucrats decided on the "final solution" to the "Jewish problem" ? extermination in mass concentration camps. At that time, so-called "pure Gypsies," as members of the "Aryan race", initially weren't targeted for extinction along racial lines and even continued to serve in the Germany army.
But in December that year, Heinrich Himmler, the commander of the German SS and the principal executor of the "Final Solution," gave orders that all Romani candidates for extermination be transported to Auschwitz; and in November 1943, expanded the order: all "Gypsies and part Gypsies" were be treated "on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps."
"Contrary to the fate of the Jews, Roma and Sinti were still taken into the German army until 1942 and only then did Himmler give the order to deport all the Roma and Sinti to Auschwitz, to the so-called 'Zigeunerlager'[Gypsy camp] - no matter what kind way of life they led, but only on the basis of their race."
Markus Pape is spokesperson for the Prague-based Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust (VPORH). He has done extensive research on Czech-run labour camps and his organization has been gathering testimony from Romani survivors for some time now. The vast majority of Romani people living in what is today the Czech Republic are descended from Slovak Roma; their ancestors transferred here to the Czech lands in communist-era resettlement programmes.
Mr Pape says most Romani survivors agree to speak about their experiencs only if they are not shown or identified on Czech media, so painful is the memory and so great their fear, even today, of persecution by skinheads and repurcussions from other racist groups active in Czech society.
Czech officials have been slow to acknowledge the wartime persection of the Roma. Not only do precious few memorials exist to honour the memory of those killed in the war, but the site of the largest Czech labour camp, near the town of southern Bohemian town of Lety, where over 1300 Roma were interned at a time, is today home to ... a pig farm.
Markus Pape again:
"Even though the Czechoslovak authorities made a major investigation into what happened at the Lety camp ? and found most of the perpetrators who caused the death of at least 241 children ? none of the guilty persons was ever punished. This is one fact which is to this day very difficult to explain to the Roma."
"The other fact is that in the 1970s, a huge pig farm was built on the former camp site ? and is being run until today. In spite of protests by Roma and annual memorial vigils held right next to the former camp site. The [Czech] government has not managed to explain why this is the way it is."
A law establishing Lety as a work camp for "nomads" ? read the Roma ? was passed in March 1939 by Czechoslovakia's proto-fascist Second Republic. In 1942, the Nazis designated the Lety facility as a concentration camp for Roma.
Nearly all of the Roma who survived the torture, malnourishment and typhoid rampant in the Czech-run camps of Lety and Hodonin, met their death in a special "Gypsy family camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but not without a fight, says Mr Pape.
"In May 1994, thousands of Sinti and Roma barricaded themselves in, ready to fight the SS men. They had found out that on that same day all of them were to be killed, by gas, at once. The SS decided not to attack, or try to kill these people. Unfortunately, later on, the ones who were still healthy enough to work were sent on to other concentration camps and only a few of them survived; and the children and old people were killed in a massacre in Auschwitz."
The liberation of the Auschwitz ? sixty years ago this Thursday (January 27) ? came too late for the Roma, as it did for over a million Jews, and tens of thousands of Poles, and political prisoners, homosexuals and "asocials" of all nationalities. Months before the liberation, camp authorities closed the "Gypsy family camp," gassing some 3,000 Roma in the first days of August, 1944. Over 20,000 Roma had already died there from starvation and disease, or in the gas chambers.
The interned Roma had been allowed to stay together as families only because the Nazis had learned from past experience that separating Romani parents from their children made them impossible to control as a group and exploit for forced labour. Far more Roma people died outside the camps than in them, especially in Eastern Europe, where pogroms and summary executions were a daily occurrence.
Antonin Lagrin's mother and father were among those who somehow survived "the Devouring" - the Romani Holocaust. But despite the stories his parents told him, he was shocked to learn the extent to which his family had been decimated.
"I saw a list of names of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau which had the names of about fifty relatives. That came as a big surprise. I didn't know there were so many of us there. I just knew of my close relatives. My great grandfather was shot there and my great grandmother was kicked to death just because she tried to get snow off her head when she was working outside in the freezing cold. Camp prisoners must have gone through horrific things, but my parents don't like to think about them."
Krystyna, a Polish Roma (Gypsy)
"Everybody here knows that Jewish and Polish were killed in the war, but nobody ever says anything about the Roma who were murdered" says 65 year old Krystyna, a Polish Roma (Gypsy). She survived a massacre, several years in hiding and the Plaszow concentration camp in Krakow. Despite all her suffering, Krystyna only received compensation 2 years ago. She is not complaining, she is happy she finally got something - but it annoys her that's she doesn't have the same status as the other survivors. "In Plaszow there is a plaque remembering the Jews and Polish people who died there - but it doesn't mention the Roma!"
Most survivors are not angry like Krystyna. They live in villages and didn't even know that they were special as survivors or they could get compensation. When the people from IOM turned up to see their documents they were reluctant to show them. For some after a life of hardship they didn't believe anyone would really give them anything. For others it brought back memories of when the Nazis arrived.
For most of the 8 survivors I met the war was buried deep inside and rarely talked about. 73-year old Mirga was ten years old when war broke out, and as he started to tell his story his family gathered to listen as well. Mirga and his parents were send to a camp, he doesn't remember which, and he was the only to come back after the war. It took him 30 years to find his father's name on a list of people send to Auschwitz. The rest of the family is unaccounted for. He remembers flashes of the horror in the camp "I saw so many people be killed and murdered in that camp - I saw the dogs eating the bodies" he shakes his head. "So many of us children died there".
In the beginning of August 2004, on the 2nd it was the 60th anniversary of 'Zigeuner nacht" - the night the Nazis liquidated the Roma camp in Auschwitz. For the commemorations not many survivors turned up, most are too old, too poor and too far removed from the reality of this kind of event. But Krystyna was there with probably the largest candle of them all, and so was Hugo, a German survivor who as a child passed through many camps including Auschwitz. Among the many Politicians and Roma leaders who spoke that day, Hugo's shaking voice reading about his childhood stood out.
In the camp flowers were laid, at the crematorium candles were lit and through the whole ceremony a group of young Roma read out the names of the 23.000 Roma who are registered to have died in Auschwitz.
Gypsies: Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust
Photograph by AKG London
Sad eyes. A pinched lip. What fears gripped Maria Bihari? Sitting through a series of mug shots, she became one of unknown numbers of German Gypsies who were catalogued by the Racial Hygiene Research Unit, a part of Hitler’s Public Health Ministry. Gathering little more than individual names and birthdates, Nazis went from one Gypsy camp to another to survey residents. But the notation ofzigeuner, the derogatory German word for Gypsy, was enough to send a person to a concentration camp. Perhaps Maria’s fear was of the unknown. Or perhaps she knew her destiny far too well.
Zigeuner! The name is of unknown origin, but over time Germans spat out their word for Gypsies as easily as they spoke it. Those who sized up the black-haired, dark-skinned people as they began to arrive from India in the 1300s soon labeled them as different, setting off centuries of ostracism and persecution, historical hostilities that led to the death of unknown numbers in Nazi concentration camps.
Few Germans could grasp the Gypsy way of life. Who in their right mind, they wondered, would scoff at the comforts of a stable home to hitch a horse to a wagon and roam the land without direction? Whether real or imagined, the possibility of Gypsies spying for the Turks may have so threatened kings and Kaisers from the 1400s and beyond that they are believed to have issued countless edicts declaring them outlaws. In 1710 Frederick I is said to have even ordered the construction of a gallows bearing the carved words: “The penalty of thieving and Gypsy riff-raff.” For a society filled with the spirit of Enlightenment, which stressed an honorable work ethic, vagrant Gypsies provoked scorn.
Then in 1783, historian Heinrich Moritz penned the first extensive German work on the outcasts. Promoted as science, it read: “They are opposed to all forms of work when it is laborious and demands great effort.” That was enough for the German citizenry. With their teeth already on edge, they devoured anti-Gypsy sentiment.
For more than a century after, successive governments tried to assimilate the nomads into the larger society through education, intent on erasing them culturally if not physically—at least for a time. That motive darkened and grew more sinister by the time the Nazi regime came to power in the 1930s. No longer just an identifying name, zigeuner had become a venomous racial slur. Gypsies followed close behind Jews as enemies of the German people, having no place in Adolf Hitler’s ideal of a racially pure Aryan state. To bar them from attending the 1936 Olympic Games, Hitler had 600 Gypsies transported from Berlin to a concentration camp east of the city. Unable to tolerate the presence of the “antisocial malefactors” any longer, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler signed an order in 1938 “to pursue a settlement of the Gypsy problems on grounds of race.” Mass deportations to concentration camps began two years later. By the end of 1944 the Racial Hygiene Research Unit, an arm of the Third Reich’s Public Health Ministry, had drafted some 24,000 documents that decided whether a Gypsy inmate lived or died. Those who were not killed right off were forced into slave labor and subjected to compulsory sterilization and nightmarish medical experiments. Eventually, though, untold numbers drew a last burning breath in the gas chambers.
Today scholars and politicians argue whether the extermination of Jews and Gypsies is historically comparable, how many Gypsies were actually murdered by the Nazis (some estimate as many as 500,000), and what kind of memorial should be erected at the Berlin Parliament in their honor.
Determined to shed the stigma attached to zigeuner, two German Gypsy factions over time began calling themselves Sinti and Roma. But by 1994 the new names had failed to result in a new image; that year nearly two-thirds of German citizens declared that they would not accept Sinti and Roma as neighbors.
The first glimmer of change came in 1997. Germany declared that Sinti and Roma with established German roots would be recognized for the first time as a national ethnic minority. Perhaps the new millennium heralds a new beginning for long-suffering Gypsies, replacing intolerance with acceptance.
Based on a sidebar published this month in National Geographic Deutschland, the German-language edition of National Geographic magazine.
THE CHILDREN IN RAVENSBRÜCK
A small glass case in the present-day Ravensbrück museum contains a small book. It is the camp’s birth register. One of the barracks in the camp was a so-called mother-and-child barrack, to which pregnant women were sent a few weeks prior to their confinement. It was the responsibility of Blockälteste (senior block prisoner) to keep track of the prisoners in her barrack. In order to record the children who were born here, she had used a small note book, in which she wrote the prisoner’s, i.e. the mother’s family name, her first name, date of birth, nationality and prison number. When the child was born, its name, date and time of birth and its sex were entered in the same space as the mother’s. If the child died during its stay in the barrack, a cross would be added in the same space, as well as the date of death.
This birth register included only the children who were born in the mother-and-child barrack. In addition several other children were born in the camp, which are not registered in this register. Neither are the children, who arrived in the camp together with their mothers.
The first of many children arrived in Ravensbrück as early as in 1939, Gypsy children who came to the camp from Burgenland, Austria, together with their mothers. From Holland, France and Hungary also many Jewish children, girls, came to Ravensbrück with their mothers. Only very few of these children lived to see the end of the war. The majority ended their days in the gas chambers together with their mothers.
The children, who were born in Ravensbrück, were all conceived before the mothers were arrested. The attitude of the camp leadership had been quite consistent during the first few years. The fetus was aborted as soon as the pregnancy was discovered. Later the SS changed their policy. The mothers were allowed to carry their babies to term, but the SS disclaimed any responsibility for the child’s future. How many children were born in Ravensbrück is still disputed today. But apparently it has been agreed that there were between eight and nine hundred births.
In most cases the newborn child became a tragedy. Regardless how much the mothers fought to keep them, most of the children died. The main reason for this phenomenon was that the mother had to report for work only a few days after her confinement, often already the day after. It was not allowed to bring the child to the workplace. And the camp had no provisions for taking care of the children, whose mothers had to go to work. No matter how supportive the mother’s prison friends were, trying to look after the child while the mother worked, the prospects of the child’s growing up were very slim. There was no baby food available. There was no milk. As a rule the mother was too weakened to have any milk herself. There were no baby clothes, no diapers, nothing for keeping mother and child clean. Nevertheless, every mother fought like a lioness to keep her child alive.
The children’s life span varied. Some would live a few days, others a few weeks or months, a few several years. As mentioned, the mother was not allowed to bring the child to work, but she had to bring it whenever she reported for a roll call.
No matter how inhumane life in Ravensbrück might have appeared to the little ones, there were always some children around. Some of them always pulled through. They looked for each other; they found tiny places where they could play. Their games often reflected the world that surrounded them. In her book “Prisoner in Ravensbrück” Lise Børsum has given an unequalled account of this phenomenon:
“The children quickly got to know the pulse of the camp. We could see bigger and smaller children play roll call and selection for the gas chamber and transport. They stood in a row and one of them reprimanded the others and shouted at them and called ‘Achtung! (‘Attention’). The children usually stayed behind the big laundry. The child who gave the orders pulled one of his playmates after another out of the row, and ordered them to get into the ‘gas oven’. The ‘gas oven’ was an old centrifuge that had been discarded by the laundry and was standing outside against the wall. Its diameter was large and it was studded with many holes and covered by a lid. The children played so intensely that the eyes of those who were pushed into the centrifuge and had the lid slammed shut over them, were filled with fear.”
And she writes further:
“There were many little boys in the camp. They were thin and frozen with red little noses. It was strange to see how they played and enjoyed themselves just the same. They took stools from the barracks, turned them upside-down, and used them as toboggans, sliding down a small slope while they screamed, ‘Get out of the way.’ But the fingers that clutched the legs of the stools were frozen and bare.”
Whether it was because the SS too had the feeling that the war was coming to an end, or that not even the toughest Nazi could help being affected by the fact that there were children in the camp, when Christmas Eve 1944 approached, the SS agreed that a Christmas party for the children be arranged.
At the time there were about 400 older and younger children in the camp. After the war Ilse Unger, a well-known German political prisoner, has described the children’s Christmas party in Ravensbrück, as follows:
“In every block women sat and sewed, knitted, embroidered, darned and made the loveliest toys from the smallest remnants. Innumerable gifts accumulated. The women created veritable works of art, toys, dolls, sweaters, clothes and suits. Tenderly we clutched toy after toy in our hands and dried our tears as they fell.
Christmas Eve arrived. The puppet show began. The flashlights that were used as stage lights illuminated the dolls’ faces with a fairytale-like glow. As for us, we sat and watched the children’s faces. The children were completely absorbed by the play forgetting, for a little while, the sad fate they had met with. And when they began laughing and eagerly crowded together around the stage, a quiet joy surfaced in all of us. Something dissolved within us, and the desire to right again the wrong that was done to the unfortunate tiny human beings in this camp, rose in all of us.”
That was Christmas Eve. The following morning the camp woke up to its hard and brutal reality as usual. But in many of the little children’s minds the memory of the marvelous evening they had enjoyed lived on. Hardly one of them had definite memories of life outside the camp. The children’s every day lives in Ravensbrück did not allow for major celebrations. Therefore, Christmas Eve 1944 remained a fairy tale, but for many it was their last. Before the clock of freedom struck for the prisoners in the camp, most of the 400 children were gone.
There are many tales of tragedies about the children in Ravensbrück. One of them is told by Charlotte Müller, Ravensbrück prisoner No. 10,787. Käte Rentmeister, one of the older prisoners in the camp, a Communist and the mother of five children, had told her a story that shook her deeply. At the time when the event occurred, Käte had been assigned to wake up those prisoners in the middle of the night, who had to report for transport prior to the morning roll call the following day. The evening before the Schreibstube (office) had given Käte Rentmeister a list of the prisoners in question. She also had to make sure that they would report “nach vorne” (up to the camp leadership) well in advance of the departure of the transport.
On her nightly rounds she would, time permitting, drop by the camp’s central heating installation, i.e. the furnace room that provided heat first and foremost to the bath and to the house of the commandant. There she would have a chat with the forewoman, a prisoner with a black triangle and at the same time she could warm up a little. In winter it would often be bitterly cold in the camp, and it was especially in the early winter mornings that she would drop by the furnace room.
Suddenly one morning when she was there, the door opened. Käte, who was standing where the newcomer could not see her, almost did not believe her own eyes. SS Oberschwester (head nurse) Marschall enters the room, a newborn naked child in her arms. As on a signal the forewoman opens the oven door, and without hesitating for a moment Marschall throws the newborn infant into the red-hot oven. Without a word she leaves the furnace room. Käte approaches the stoker but is unable to utter one word. After a few minutes’ silence the stoker says, nodding with her head towards the door through which Marschall has just left: “Why do you look at me like this? This is not a rare occurrence.”
One day, when Norwegian-born Rakel Bøckenhauer was in the bathroom (prisoners had to line up to use its primitive washing facilities) preparing to receive a transport that was expected in the evening, she was suddenly aware of a little boy running up and down the stairs near one of the exits to the bathroom. The boy was probably around five years old. Intuitively she understood that he could not possibly realize that he was in a forbidden zone and that he could be shot at any time, were an SS man to discover him. Quickly she ran outside to the stairs, grabbed the boy and pulled him into the bathroom. The child was poorly dressed and on his feet he had only some worn rags. He shivered from cold. His teeth positively chattered and he managed to say only a few unintelligible words. Finally she did understand something. “Auntie, auntie,” said the boy, “I am so cold, I am so cold.” Resolutely Rakel took him with her into the bathroom, filled one of the tubs with warm water, took off all his rags and put him into the tub. She gave him a good wash and when she was finished she asked him: “Are you warm now?” The little boy looked at Rakel with large, terror-filled eyes and nodded eagerly. “Stay here,” she told him and went into the adjoining room, where she had hidden some children’s clothes as well as an entirely new pair of children’s shoes. She returned to the boy. His eyes beamed with happiness when he caught sight of the shoes, but then something seemed to die in his look and he said: “But I have no bread in return.” “These shoes are a gift from me”, said Rakel, “and you can keep all the bread for yourself.” The child looked at her. “But you are just as nice as my Mommy. This morning she left through the gate and has not come back yet. And now I have waited and waited for her all day. It was to stay warm that I began to run up and down the stairs.”
Now Rakel understood everything. The mother had been sent on transport and nobody had told the boy the truth. So she consoled him and said: “Your mother will definitely come back. Believe me, she has not forgotten you at all.” The boy nodded.
But now Rakel had a problem. How would she be able get the boy out from the bathroom and how could she prevent the SS from finding out that he had gotten the new shoes from her? If this became known she would be in serious trouble. And what’s more, she was a key person in the camp. She was deeply involved in the illegal resistance work that, among others things, was aimed at keeping up the morale among the prisoners, and she could not run the risk of ending up on the SS blacklist.
Fortunately there were two women in the bathroom. Through her coworker Rakel quickly got in touch with a reliable Blockälteste and alerted her about the little boy. When it was confirmed that the contact had been established, she said to the little one, “Now you must run back to barrack number such and such, where a camp Mommy is waiting for you. But remember, someone else gave you the shoes. You got them from your mother before she left the camp. Remember that you got them from your mother before she went out the gate.” The boy looked at her with his large eyes, nodded and said: “I got the shoes from my mother before she went out the gate.” When Rakel was convinced that the boy knew what to tell the SS if he was caught on his way to the barrack, she said to him: “Now I open the door. Run as fast as you can to your new camp Mommy.” Then she opened the door. Anxiously she followed the child’s movements through the window. The last thing she saw was that he swung around the corner of the barrack. In that moment he turned around, waved and continued running.
A child had been saved – but for how long?
In July 1944 there was a heat wave in North-Germany. In the middle of the stifling heat a new transport of many hundreds, perhaps almost one thousand Hungarian Jews arrived in Ravensbrück. They were not let into the bathroom, either on the first or on the second day. The newcomers had to alternately stand and sit on the roll call square and were not given anything to eat or drink. They suffered terribly from thirst. Just then a prisoner came along, who worked in the Kistenkommando (box unit), where also many Norwegians worked. He carried a bucket of water from the kitchen. The Kistenkommando was a hard Kommando (work unit). The work consisted of lifting down huge wooden boxes from railway cars and trucks and moving them to different camp barracks. It had been decided some time ago that the prisoners could go to the kitchen at certain intervals to get water, either for drinking purposes or to get washed with.
The transport from Hungary had now been sitting on the roll call square for two days. When they saw the prisoner with the water bucket they became desperate. They tried to get some sips from the bucket, and in the disturbance that erupted, the bucket overturned and the water ran out. Those who stood closest threw themselves down and tried to suck drops of water from the ground. The prisoner with the water bucket became annoyed: “Ihr seid Tiere” (you are animals), she shouted. “Jawohl”, answered one of the Jewish women, “wir sind lange unterwegs, und die SS hat uns zu Tieren gemacht. Sieh bloss dort drüben!” (“Yes, we have been traveling for a long time and the SS have caused us to become animals. Just look over there”), and she pointed to a gathering of women. And there in the middle of the roll call square a young Jewish woman had just given birth to a child, a little boy. Some of the women, who sat around her, had torn up their slips and tried to clean the baby. They had just put the child to its mother’s breast. The prisoner with the bucket stood as though paralyzed looking at the scene before her. She had often thought of the Infant Jesus in the manger. Dear God, compared to this little Jewish boy on the roll call square in Ravensbrück, the Christ child had been born in luxurious surroundings. How many days would this little boy live?
When it came to deciding what to do with an individual child, the question of race was of course relevant. The SS was merciless with Jewish or Gypsy children. Either they went on transport with their mothers to Auschwitz or Lublin – as long as these camps existed - or they ended up in the gas chamber in Ravensbrück. Generally there were no exceptions.
When it came to pregnant women or mothers who had come to the camp because of Rassenschande (race defilement) – i.e. young German women who had had relationships with foreign prisoners of war or with foreign guest workers and who had become pregnant as a result – the attitude of the SS was somewhat more obscure. In these cases it was as a rule Dr. Rosenthal who made the decisions. If the father was from one of the eastern European countries such as Poland, Russia, Yugoslavia, etc. he was merciless, and the woman was forced to have an abortion without any exceptions. However, if the father hailed from one of the western countries, it happened that the mother was allowed to carry the baby to term, especially during the last two years of the war.
SS Oberschwester (head nurse) Marschall was Dr. Rosenthal’s able assistant in this project. On the occasion of Easter Sunday 1944, the two of them sent more than 250 women on a transport to Bergen-Belsen. Some of the women were in their last months of pregnancy; others were mothers with infants they had just given birth to. They rode in ordinary cattle cars without facilities of any kind.
All of them perished in Bergen-Belsen.
However, there were also happy stories about the children, perhaps not many but there were some. Best known is perhaps the story about the 13 children and the Rotarmisten (Red Army prisoners).
When a woman died in the camp and left a child behind, which happened often, everything was done to provide a so called substitute mother,eine Lagermutter (a camp mother) for the child. In the fall of 1944 there were suddenly 13 orphans in the camp, spread over different barracks. At the time several of the SS Aufseherinnen (supervisors) were friendlier disposed towards the prisoners than before, particularly theFledermaus (bat, nickname) who dealt with the Rotarmisten.
One day Lagerälteste approached the bat and said: “Listen, we have a problem. We have thirteen children between 3 and 5 years old. We have spoken to the Rotarmisten. They are willing to take care of the children. Is that all right?” To Lagerälteste’s surprise the bat nodded. “Aber natürlich,” she replied, “Auf eigene Verantwortung” (“Of course, at their own risk”). “Selbstverständlich” (“of course”), answered Lagerältesteand left as fast as she could before the bat had time to change her mind.
The children were lovingly received by the Rotarmisten. Many of them had their own children. Many of them had lost theirs, and many had not heard from their children after they had been imprisoned. As previously mentioned, there were many doctors and nurses among the female Soviet prisoners of war. Moreover, there were several teachers among them, two of whom now assumed the responsibility for the children’s education. The first thing the children learnt was the meaning of the word Achtung (attention). The moment Achtung was heard, the 13 children stood ramrod straight and stayed in this position until the bat left the barrack. If she spoke to them, they answered politely. If she did not say anything, they remained standing. The Rotarmisten were not given any extra rations, despite the fact that there were now also 13 children in the barrack. But that was a minor problem.
Many other women arranged to help the Rotarmisten with food for the children. Some arrived with clothes and some with toys, depending on what they managed to forage. The children’s education was quite professional. They learnt children’s songs and of course they were also taught to sing the Internationale (Socialist hymn).
In April 1945 when the Red Army was close to the camp, evacuation began. The first group to leave was the Rotarmisten along with the children. At nightfall, like all the others in their group, they had to improvise a place to spend the night in the woods. The children slept on branches of fir-trees and were covered with blankets that had been brought along. Some of the camp mothers tried to have a nap while the others stood guard.
Already the first night the SS soldiers, who were supposed to watch the column of prisoners, began to take off. The women noticed this, and some of the Rotarmisten tried to distract the other guards as best they could, partly by asking them questions that were difficult to answer, and partly by initiating conversations under the strangest pretexts. Protected by the darkness and covered by the others, the 13 camp mothers and the 13 children managed to sneak away without being discovered by the SS or shot at. The situation was already becoming so chaotic that no one noticed that this group had been reduced by 26 people during the night.
The escape succeeded. After hiding in the woods for two days the fugitives managed to contact the soldiers of the Red Army. Soon they were all safe.
There is still another happy story. In August 1944, immediately before the allied forces under the leadership of General de Gaulle and his free French troops advanced in to Paris, Raymonde Poirot was arrested by the Gestapo. She had worked in the French resistance movement for several years, mostly as a courier. Now she had been in Paris and was on her way to her base somewhat east of the city. Suddenly the Gestapo was all over her. She was in her second month of pregnancy. As soon as she could, she told her interrogator about her condition, hoping that he would show some sympathy for her. The French woman Raymonde understood just as little of what was in store for her, as had the Norwegian woman Henriette in Kristiansand. She was deported to Germany in a cattle car and arrived in Ravensbrück in October, where she met other French female prisoners. She explained her situation to them. However, not only the French women but also the Czech, Russian, Polish and German prisoners tried to help her as best they could. Raymonde was strong and healthy. Her pregnancy progressed without complications. Soon she felt the baby’s first movements. She steeled herself and resolved that somehow she would bring the child home to France. Now it was only a question of how long the war would last.
But the war lasted much too long. Raymonde worked in the laundry and on Sunday, March 11, 1945 in the afternoon she gave birth to her child in the corner of the room. Fortunately there were no SS nearby and just as fortunately the laundry Kommando was exempt from reporting at roll calls. Raymonde’s fellow prisoners put a towel into her mouth, so that no one should hear her scream. The birth was without complications. Two of her prison friends helped her. They had prepared themselves as best they could and had gotten hold of some washed-out towels with which to wrap the infant. Soon Raymonde was able to sit in the corner of the laundry and hold her baby in her arms.
“Mon petit chiffon” (“my little rag bundle”), she whispered. She called him Guy and baptized him with her tears, “Mon petit chiffon.” A German and a Czech prisoner were with her just then. The Czech woman understood a few words of French. She looked at her German prison friend. “Lumpi” (rag bundle), she smiled, and that would be Guy Poirot’s name. Soon they were able to smuggle Guy and his mother to the Mutter-und-Kind (mother and child) barrack, where they were somewhat protected, also from the SS. All those who were able to, helped. Somehow, one day at a time, they managed to provide nourishment for Guy. But what may really have saved the situation was perhaps the fact that they got hold of extra food for Raymonde. She managed to nurse the baby but did not have enough milk. Some of the women got hold of a bit of dry milk, others cooked some soup that they strained. Most of the children in the barrack died, but Guy pulled through. He was born on a Sunday, and soon he was also called Sunday’s child.
In his negotiations with Himmler during the last phase of the war Folke Bernadotte had received permission to bring not only the Scandinavian women but also several thousand women of other nationalities out of Ravensbrück. They would be picked up by the Swedish Red Cross and brought to safety in Sweden. A huge machinery was set in motion to have Raymonde included on the list. Everyone seemed to concentrate on this goal. Raymonde would be able to take Guy home to France. But she could not possibly appear with the child, it had to be accomplished in a different way.
The women gathered and worked out a strategy how to save Guy. The moment the boy’s mother had passed the guard on her way to the waiting bus and so to speak stood with one foot on its step, another French woman came running: “Raymonde, you have forgotten your rag bundle.” Then she threw the bundle as hard as she could across the SS guard’s head, across the gaping soldiers and across the other prisoners. Raymonde was ready. She caught the rag bundle in the air and ran into the bus. Gently she opened one end of the bundle, and her little son’s head became visible. Her friends in the bus covered her. Quickly she began nursing the baby, so that the Gestapo man in the bus would not hear him if he began to cry. All the women on the bus were quickly informed of the situation and formed a wall around Guy’s mother.
Once the bus began to move, the situation eased but the tension persisted until they had arrived onboard the ship that would bring them to Sweden.
Guy is still alive today, and Lumpi is still his nickname.
Images of Gypsy Persecution
Images of Gypsy Persecution
A Gypsy child in Rivesaltes
View of the entrance to the Gypsy camp on Brzezinska Street in the Lodz ghetto after its liquidation.
A group of Gypsy children sitting outside in the Rivesaltes internment camp
Anna Altenberg poses in her Purim costume as a Gypsy
Serbs and Gypsies who have been rounded up for deportation are marched to the Kozara and Jasenovac concentration camps
The Entire Gypsy Camp at Auschwitz, of 4000 people, was exterminated on August 1, 1944
Set up as a family camp, the Gypsy unit rapidly deteriorated and became extraordinarily filthy and unhygienic even for Auschwitz, a place of starving babies, children and adults. B. insisted that there were "sufficient rations...delivered to the camp for all of them to survive", but that certain adult Gypsies of high standing kept most of the food, thus denying it to all others, including hungry children. The Auschwitz leaders, "shocked" by the situation, came to the conclusion that it was virtually impossible to change it and that the only solution was to "gas the entire camp." According to B., Mengele strongly opposed that decision, made several trips to Berlin to try and get it reversed, and went so far as to declare to other Auschwitz authorities that annihilating the Gypsy camp would be "a crime."
[Most other sources agree that Mengele was in favor of killing the Gypsies.]
Prisoner doctors who had worked there at the time told me that Mengele seemed to be all over the camp at once that day, actively supervising arrangements for getting the Gypsies to the gas chamber. He had been close to some of the Gypsy children-- bringing them food and candy, sometimes little toys, and taking them for brief outings. Whenever he appeared, they would greet him warmly with the cry, "Onkel ['Uncle'] Mengele!" But that day, the children were frightened. Dr. Alexander O. described the scene and one child's plea to Mengele:
Mengele arrived at around eight o'clock or seven-thirty. It was day-light. He came, and then the children....A Gypsy girl of eleven, twelve,....the oldest [child] of a whole family--maybe thirteen, with malnutrition sometimes they grow less. "Onkel Mengele [she calls], my little brother cries himself to death. We do not know where our mother is. He cries himself to death, Onkel Mengele!" Where did she go to complain? To Mengele--to the one she loves and knows she is loved by, because he loved them. His answer: "Willst du die Schnauze halten!" He said it in a common, vulgar way....but...with a sort of tenderness..."Why don't you shut your little trap!"
Others told how Mengele combed the blocks, tracking down Gypsy children who had hidden, and how he himself transported a group of those children in a car to the gas chamber--drawing upon their trust for him and speaking tenderly and reassuringly to them until the end.
Lifton, pp. 323; 185-186.
I went out again and went to the block where my children were. They were only skin and bone, unrecognizable. They lay there, one can say, already dying. And so I said to my father, bring the children to the sick bay, bring the children in, I said, I will see what I can do. Had they come in there earlier, it might have made a difference. And so my father brought in the eldest the next day, she was ten. And when I saw her, she could not speak a word anymore. She only lay there, her eyes open, and not a word. Could only lie there, was more dead than...only breathed. So I spoke to her... then she died. They simply threw her there, with the other corpses. My own child.
And so one after the other. The one, she was six, was already dead when I came there. I did not see her anymore. Not long after, the other one died too. They were only skin and bones. Skin and bones, nothing else, one could count the ribs. The eyes so deep in the head. The children were dead, all three.
Testimony of a Gypsy woman survivor of the Gypsy family camp, Anatomy, p. 452.
This is the reason why three-year-old Emilia died: the historical necessity of killing the children of Jews was self-demonstrative to the Germans. Emilia, daughter of Aldo Levi of Milan, was a curious, ambitious, cheerful, intelligent child; her parents had succeeded in washing her during the journey in the packed car in a tub with tepid water which the degenerate German engineer had allowed them to draw from the engine that was dragging us all to death.
Thus, in an instant, our women, our parents, our children disappeared. We saw them for a short while as an obscure mass at the other end of the platform; then we saw nothing more.
Levi, Survival p. 20.
The three victims mounted together onto the chairs.
The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.
"Long live liberty!" cried the two adults.
But the child was silent.
"Where is God? Where is He?" someone behind me asked.
At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over...
Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive...
For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
"Where is God now?"
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
"Where is He? Here He is--He is hanging here on this gallows..."
That night the soup tasted of corpses.
Wiesel, p. 72.
The number of people murdered at Auschwitz is an open question. The best estimate is that 1.1 million died there, 90% of them Jews.
Immediately after the war, Soviet and Polish commissions reported four million victims of the camp; Camp Commandant Rudolf Hoss testified that three million died there.
It is impossible to ascertain exactly how many people were at Auschwitz for two reasons. First of all, no records were kept of people murdered afterselections at the train station; they were never assigned numbers or entered into camp records but vanished into what the Nazis themselves called "night and fog" ("nacht und nebel"). Secondly, the Nazis destroyed many records before abandoning Auschwitz.
Scholars such as Franciszek Piper, writing in Anatomy, pp. 61-76, arrive at their estimates by looking at the more accurate records of people deported to Auschwitz from various countries, and then subtracting the number of people known to have been transferred to other camps or to have survived the war.
Based on these calculations (1,300,000 deportees minus 200,000 survivors), at least 1,100,000 persons were killed or died in the camp.
Piper, p. 71.
Franciszek Gajnowiczek....is a stooped, gray-haired man who has survived Auschwitz to testify that when he was selected at random for execution one day in 1941, a Franciscan priest named Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to take his place, and did take his place and did die. (The Vatican in due time proclaimed Kolbe to be beatified and well on the way to sainthood.)
Doctors played a crucial role at Auschwitz. They participated in virtually all selections, decided on life and death among the patients in the medical blocks (executing the weakest with phenol injections), and in fact thronged to sign up at Auschwitz because of the plentiful human experimental material available in Block 10. These German doctors saved the lives of many prisoner doctors, typically not out of mercy but to enlist them as collaborators in their human experiments.
The story of Auschwitz is summed up by the lives, actions and experiences of two physicians who worked there, Dr. Josef Mengele and Dr. Ernst B.
Born 1911, he was the eldest of 3 sons of Karl Mengele, manufacturer. Refined, intelligent, and popular in his town, Josef studied philosophy at Munich and medicine at Frankfurt am Main. In 1931, he joined a paramilitary group; in 1935, his dissertation dealt with racial differences in the structure of the lower jaw. In 1937, he joined the Nazi party; in 1938, the SS. In 1942, he was wounded at the Russian front and pronounced unfit for service. The following year, he volunteered for assignment to the concentration camps and was sent to Auschwitz.
Mengele began his research on twins, and haunted every arriving convoy in search of these subjects. Twins had a special destiny in Auschwitz: they escaped the gas but became the subjects of horrendous experiments which many did not survive. Mengele had many of his subjects killed for dissection, or disposed of them when they weakened or he no longer needed them. Mengele was obsessed with the nurture v. nature controversy: he wished to demonstrate that heredity counted for everything, environment nothing. Among his interests were eye color, blood type, and noma, the disease that left gaping holes in the cheeks of Gypsy children inmates.
Dr. Jancu Veckler:
In September 1943, I arrived at the Birkenau Gypsy camp. There I saw a wooden table with eyeballs laying on it. All of them were tagged with numbers and little notes. They were pale yellow, pale blue, green and violet.Former prisoner Hani Schick, a mother of twins who was subjected to experiments together with her children, testified that on July 4, 1944, on Mengele's instructions, blood samples were collected from her children in such quantities that the procedure ended in the death of both son and daughter.
In [a] case in which a mother did not want to be separated from her thirteen- or fourteen-year-old daughter, and bit and scratched the face of the SS man who tried to force her to her assigned line, Mengele drew his gun and shot both the woman and the child. As a blanket punishment, he then sent to the gas all people from that transport who had previously been selected for work, with the comment: "Away with this shit!"
Prisoners would "march before him with their arms in the air," Dr. Lengyel tells us, " while he continued to whistle his Wagner"--or it might be Verdi or Johann Strauss. It was a mannered detachment....
More overtly, there are many stories of his striking people with his long riding crop, in one case running it over tattoos on the bosoms of Russian women, as a Polish woman survivor described, "then striking them there", while "not at all excited but...casual,...just playing around a little as though it were a little funny."
Mengele's passion for cleanliness and perfection carried over into a selections aesthetic; he would send people with skin blemishes to the gas chamber or those with small abcesses or even old appendectomy scars. "My two cousins were sent in front of my eyes by Mengele to their deaths because they had small wounds on their bodies," was the way one survivor put it.
Mengele fed his legend by dramatizing murderous policies, such as his drawing a line on the wall of the children's block between 150 and 156 centimeters (about 5 feet or 5 feet 2 inches) from the floor, and sending those whose heads could not reach the line to the gas chamber.
Mengele could also kill directly. He was observed to perform phenol injections, always with a correct medical demeanor...Mengele also shot a number of prisoners and was reported to have killed at least one by pressing his foot on a woman's body.
This duality,--a confusing combination of affection and violence-- was constantly described to me. The Polish woman survivor, for example, described him as "impulsive...[with] a choleric temper,", but "in his attitude to children [twins]...as gentle as a father...."... Twin children frequently called him "Uncle Pepi", and other twins told how Mengele would bring them sweets and invite them for a ride in his car, which turned out to be "a little drive with Uncle Pepi, to the gas chamber." Simon J. put it most succinctly: "He could be friendly but kill."
On January 18, 1945, as the Soviet Army arrived, Mengele fled Auschwitz. Captured in June, he spent time in two U.S.-run prison camps, where he was not identified as a war criminal. Eventually, he escaped and made his way to Argentina. He lived in hiding there, in Paraguay and in Brazil, until January 24, 1979, when he drowned while swimming in the ocean in Bertioga, Brazil.
Dr. Ernst B.
This anonymous doctor, interviewed extensively by Lifton, refused to participate in selections, performed no harmful experiments, and saved the lives of many patients and inmates. After the war, he was acquitted of war crimes and staunchly defended by ex-inmates, some of whom even refused to identify him for the authorities.
He was a young general practitioner in 1939, when the war began. He joined the SS and was eventually sent to Auschwitz in mid-1943. Knowing little about the camps, he brought his wife. When he expressed horror at the sight of emaciated prisoners, a good friend, Dr. Bruno Weber, told him to send his wife home, but that if he stayed, he could function independently of the SS hierarchy in the camp.
Weber then laid out to B. "almost with irony" the central Auschwitz truth, invoking the official term the "Final Solution of the Jewish question": "He [Weber] said, 'If you want to see how it works, go look out of the window. You will see...two large smokestacks...The normal kind of production of this machine...is a thousand men in twenty-four hours."
B. searches for a Jewish friend
A former prisoner physician, Michael Z., told me how taken aback he was when Ernst B. burst into the laboratory "look[ing] for a Jewish friend. He asked me, speaking quite loud...:'Do you know Cohen?' I told him, '[Please] be quiet, you do not have the right to speak like that.'" Dr. Z. explained why he felt it necessary to protect Dr. B. by quieting him down and, by implication, to protect himself as well....But at the same time Z. was deeply moved by [the] SS doctor's quest: "I understood that he was indeed a man who had a different kind of mind....that he was capable of human feelings...Yes, it did impress me...because it was unheard of to see an SS pronounce the name of a Jewish friend."
He refuses to perform selections
But B., when repeatedly approached by Wirths, gave a series of reasons for refusing: that he had too much work, found it incompatible with his assignment, and simply could not--was psychologically unable to--do it.
He protects and saves prisoners
Once over his selections crisis, Dr. B. had no major difficulties in Auschwitz. He consolidated a remarkable set of relationships with prisoner doctors...When they were sick he made provisions for their medications and general care and visited them himself. He helped them send messages to, and arrange visits with, wives and friends in other parts of the camp. He contributed to their survival by keeping them closely informed about various Auschwitz currents and plans. And he directly saved lives in additional ways: by protecting prisoner doctors from selections, by finding them and rescuing them from the gas chamber when they had been selected, and by the benign experiments...
His friendship with Mengele
Dr. B. remembered Mengele as "helpful," "a really fine comrade"... and admirable in his open expression of "outspoken antipathies and sympathies..."
When I brought up the question of Mengele's human experiments, B. sprang to the defense of his friend: human experiments were "a relatively minor matter" in Auschwitz; children (who made up most of the twins Mengele studied) had little chance to survive in Auschwitz, but Mengele made certain they were well fed and taken care of... And when I asked B. whether he would change his views if I presented him with extensive evidence of Mengele's practice of occasionally sending one or both twins to the gas chamber, B. answered unhesitatingly in the negative "because under the conditions of Auschwitz one must always say that Mengele's experiments were not forms of cruelty."
Evacuated to Dachau, he gives a gun to Jewish doctors
With Allied armies approaching, he discussed with prisoner doctors possible arrangements for their escape from Nazi control, including the idea of providing them with SS uniforms. He then shook hands with them and "said goodbye in a very friendly way", and as a last act took a pistol out of his drawer and gave it to one of them for their protection.
Yet he is nevertheless a Nazi
At the end of the interview, when comparing Nazi times with the present, he said that, despite the "full liberalization" today, there is an absence of "ideals for youth", a "lack of commitment", which leads to "chaotic conditions" and the absence of "a coherent community". The Nazis "overdid it" in the opposite direction, he acknowledged, but in Hitler's admittedly "primitive methods" there was "something right", something that "was good with the Nazis."
Sixty-First Anniversary of the Liquidation of the Gypsy Camp in Birkena
August 2, 2006 marks the 61st anniversary of the liquidation of the so-called Gypsy Family Camp in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the Nazi death camp. On that day in 1944, the Nazis killed 2,897 men, women, and children in the gas chambers. August 2 has been observed since 1997 as the Romani Extermination Remembrance Day.
Romani woman (prisoner no. Z-63598), imprisoned October 1, 1943. The letter 'Z' stands for 'Zigeuner' or Gypsy. [Auschwitz Memorial Archives.] In terms of numbers, the Romanies (Gypsies) were the third-largest group of deportees to Auschwitz, after the Jews and the non-Jewish Poles. Romani (Gypsy) transports reached Auschwitz from 14 countries. The first Romanies arrived on July 9, 1941, when there were two Polish Romani among a group of nine prisoners sent to the camp by the German criminal police in Katowice.
In December 1942, the Germans decreed that Romanies (Gypsies) should be imprisoned in concentration camps. Auschwitz was the camp chosen. Entire Romani (Gypsy) families were deported to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The first transport arrived on February 26, 1943, when theFamilienzigeunerlager or Zigeunerfamilienlager ("Gypsy Family Camp") was still under construction; when completed, it comprised 32 residential and 6 sanitation barracks.
Romani children, victims of medical experiments at Auschwitz.
A total of 20,967 men, women, and children were imprisoned in the Romani (Gypsy) camp between February 26, 1943 and July 21, 1944. This figure does not include about 1,700 Romnies from Bialystok, who were not entered in the records. Suspected of carrying typhus, they were sent straight to the gas chambers and exterminated.
Diseases killed the majority of the nearly twenty thousand prisoners in the Zigeunerlager. Children deported to or born in the camp were particularly at risk, with noma ("water cancer"), scarlet fever, measles, and diphtheria all endemic. Some children also became subjects of Dr. Josef Mengele's criminal experiments.
The Germans intended to exterminate the Romanies completely as early as May 1944. On May 15, Gypsy Camp directorUnterscharfuehrer SS Georg Bonigut ordered the inmates to stay in their barracks. The next day, 50 to 60 SS men surrounded the camp. They attempted to force the prisoners out of the barracks, but failed to do so. Fearing casualties, the Germans withdrew. There were significant numbers of Wehrmacht veterans among the prisoners. The Germans also feared that a mutiny could spread to other parts of the camp. On May 23, over 1,500 Gypsies were transferred from Birkenau to Auschwitz, from where they were subsequently transferred to Buchenwald. Two days later, 82 Gypsies were shipped to the Flossenburg camp and 144 Gypsy women to Ravensbrueck. Fewer than 3,000 people remained in the Family Camp.
The extermination of the Romanies in Birkenau occurred on the night of August 2/3, 1944, on orders from Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler. A ban on leaving the barracks was imposed on the evening of August 2. Despite resistance by the Gypsies, 2,897 men, women, and children were loaded on trucks, taken to gas chamber V, and exterminated. Their bodies were burned in pits next to the crematorium.
A total of about 23,000 Romanies were imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau; approximately 21,000 of them perished. The remainder were transferred to other camps. They labored in industry. Romanies were also subjected to criminal medical experiments. They were used as subjects in experiments at Buchenwald on the effects of drinking sea water. It is estimated that about half of the Romanies in lands occupied by the Third Reich died as a result of German persecution and terror.
Today, Romanies remember the murdered members of their families. On August 2, 1997, two Roma survivors, Herbert Adler (no. Z 2784) and Adolf Labinger (no. Z 41121), unveiled a restored memorial plaque on the ruins of one of theFamilienzigeunerlager barracks. A permanent exhibition commemorating the martyrdom of the Gypsies was opened at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 2001.
Roma (Gypsies) near Uzhgorod, Slovakia. Czechoslovakia, 1938.
Roma (Gypsies) near Uzhgorod, Slovakia. Czechoslovakia, 1938
Nomadic Roma (Gypsies). Czechoslovakia, 1939
Romani (Gypsy) Inmates at Forced Labor in Ravensbrueck
Romani (Gypsy) inmates at forced labor in Ravensbrueck concentration camp. Germany, between 1941 and 1944.
Roma (Gypsies). Czechoslovakia, 1937
Roma (Gypsies). Czechoslovakia, 1937
Deportation of Romani (Gypsy) Families
Deportation of Romani (Gypsy) families from Vienna to Poland. Austria, between September and December 1939.
Roma (Gypsies). Probably Czechoslovakia, 1939
A photographer with a group of nomadic Roma (Gypsies). Probably Czechoslovakia, 1939.
Romani (Gypsy) survivors in a barracks of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during liberation. Germany, after April 15, 1945.
Two Roma (Gypsies) photographed near Craiova. Romania, probably early 1930s.
Romani (Gypsy) family near Craiova. Romania, probably 1930s
Romani (Gypsy) family near Craiova. Romania, probably 1930s.