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Gypsies (Sinti & Roma) in the Holocaust
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Gypsies in Auschwitz
It is extremely difficult to locate the sorts of sources about Gypsies in the Holocaust of the type widely available about Jewish victims of the Nazi terror. This may reflect difference between an extremely literate culture and a largely illiterate one. It is known that perhaps 250,000 Gypsies were killed, and that proportionately they suffered losses greater than any other group of victims except Jews. The accounts here were collected, and made available on the net, from various sources.
"Gypsies", or the "Roma" as they prefer to be called, are an ethnic group which originated in India (their language - Romany - is directly descended from Sanskrit) which for unknown reasons took to a wandering life-style in the late middle ages. Eventually they reached Europe and became part of the ethnic mix of many countries, contributing not a little in areas such a music and the arts.
Because they were strangers to many of the people they moved among, strong prejudices grew up, and indeed continue to this day. Although they were indisputably "Aryan" according to the Nazi racial typology, they were pursued relentlessly.
Gypsies in Auschwitz - Part 1
"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 gendarms. 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. Yitzhak Arad, BELZEC, SOBIBOR, TREBLINKA - the Operation Reinhard Death Camps Indiana University Press -, 1987.,--pp150-153--
According to the The Institut Fuer Zeitgeschicthe, in Munich, at least 4000 gypsies were been murdered by gas at Auschwitz-Birkenau. (See victim count, Holocaust Almanac)
Gypsies in Auschwitz - Part 2
"Like the Jews, Gypsies were singled out by the Nazis for racial persecution and annihilation. They were `nonpersons,' of `foreign blood,' `labor-shy,' and as such were termed asocials. To a degree, they shared the fate of the Jews in their ghettos, in the extermination camps, before firing squads, as medical guinea pigs, and being injected with lethal substances.
Ironically, the German writer Johann Christof Wagenseil claimed in 1697 that Gypsies stemmed from German Jews. A more contemporary Nazi theorist believed that `the Gypsy cannot, by reason of his inner and outer makeup (Konstruktion), be a useful member of the human community.'
The Nurembuerg Laws of 1935 aimed at the Jews were soon amended to include the Gypsies. In 1937, they were classified as asocials, second-class citizens, subject to concentration camp imprisonment.
As early as 1936, some had been sent to camps. After 1939, Gypsies from Germany and from the German-occupied territories were shipped by the thousands first to Jewish ghettos in Poland at Warsaw, Lublin, Kielce, Rabka, Zary, Siedlce and others. It is not known how many were killed by the Einsatzgruppen charged with speedy extermination by shooting. For the sake of efficiency Gypsies were also shot naked, facing their pre-dug graves.
According to the Nazi experts, shooting Jews was easier, they stood still, `while the Gypsies cry out, howl, and move constantly, even when they are already standing on the shooting ground. Some of them even jumped into the ditch before the volley and pretended to be dead.' The first to go were the German Gypsies; 30,000 were deported East in three waves in 1939, 1941 and 1943. Those married to Germans were exempted but were sterilized, as were their children after the age of twelve.
Just how were the Gypsies of Europe `expedited'? Adolf Eichmann, chief strategist of these diabolical logistics, supplied the answer in a telegram from Vienna to the Gestapo:
Regarding transport of Gypsies be informed that on Friday, October 20, 1939, the first transport of Jews will depart Vienna. To this transport 3-4 cars of Gypsies are to be attached. Subsequent trains will depart from Vienna, Mahrisch-Ostrau and Katowice [Poland]. The simplest method is to attach some carloads of Gypsies to each transport. Because these transports must follow schedule, a smooth execution of this matter is expected. Concerning a start in the Altreich [Germany proper] be informed that this will be coming in 3-4 weeks. Eichmann.
Open season was declared on the Gypsies, too. For a while Himmler wished to exempt two tribes and `only' sterilize them, but by 1942 he signed the decree for all Gypsies to be shipped to Auschwitz. There they were subjected to all that Auschwitz meant, including the medical experiments, before they were exterminated.
Gypsies perished in Dachau, Mauthasusen, Ravensbruck and other camps. At Sachsenhausen they were subjected to special experiments that were to prove scientifically that their blood was different from that of the Germans. The doctors in charge of this `research' were the same ones who had practiced previously on black prisoners of war. Yet, for `racial reasons' they were found unsuitable for sea water experiments. Gypsies were often accused of atrocities committed by others; they were blamed, for instance, for the looting of gold teeth from a hundred dead Jews abandoned on a Rumanian road.
Gypsy women were forced to become guinea pigs in the hands of Nazi physicians. Among others they were sterilized as `unworthy of human reproduction' (fortpflanzungsunwuerdig), only to be ultimately annihilated as not worthy of living. ... At that, the Gypsies were the luckier ones; in Bulgaria, Greece, Denmark and Finland they were spared.
For a while there was a Gypsy Family Camp in Auschwitz, but on August 6, 1944, it was liquidated. Some men and women were shipped to German factories as slave labor; the rest, about 3,000 women, children and old people, were gassed.
No precise statistics exist about the extermination of European Gypsies. Some estimates place the number between 500,000 and 600,000, most of them gassed in Auschwitz. Others indicated a more conservative 200,000 Gypsy victims of the Holocaust.
Gypsies in Auschwitz - Part 3
"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 Gypsie 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 proccedings 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 toture 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."
Excerpted from "Accounting for Genocide: Victims - and Survivors - of the Holocaust" (New York: Free Press, 1979) Helen Fein
This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.
(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997
- January 30, 1940,
PORRAJMOS - THE GYPSY HOLOCAUST
The Romany name for Gypsy Holocaust is Porrajmos. It means the Great Devouring
Draconian measures against Gypsies had started in Germany long before the twentieth century. There were some 148 to deal with Gypsies between 1416 and 1774. Gypsy hunts were common sport and huntsmen would return displaying their trophies of severed heads. In 1835 a Rheinish aristocrat listed amongst his trophies “A Gypsy woman and her suckling babe”.
Events preceding the Holocaust
Long before the war there were measures in place to identify Gypsies and to curtail their freedom.
1890’S, in Swabia: a conference called “The Gypsy Filth” was held and in 1899, Munich: the “Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Nuisance” created.
1905: Alfred Dillman identified more than 3,500 Gypsies from all over Europe in his book “The Gypsy Book” to help police.
1906, Prussia: there was a directive to combat “the Gypsy Nuisance” including bi-lateral agreements with Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Russia and Switzerland.
1909: the Swiss Department of Justice began a Register of Gypsies.
1909 Hungary: suggestion that Gypsies should be branded for identification.
1912 France: all Gypsies over 6 years old were made to carry identity cards. 8,000 Gypsies were processed.
1919-1921 Germany: Gypsy camps and nomadism were outlawed. Gypsies were banned from holiday resorts and spas and were ordered to return trading licences.
1922 Germany: All Gypsies over 14 had to carry identity cards with photographs and fingerprints. All foreign Gypsies were banned. They were refused trade licences and social gatherings were forbidden.
1927 November Prussia: there were armed raids on Gypsy communities to enforce registration.
1933: the Nazi party were voted into power and inherited anti-Gypsy laws that had been in force since the Middle Ages.
The Racial Hygiene and Criminal Biology Research Unit
In June 1935 intermarriage between Aryan and non-Aryan people was forbidden. The main Nazi institution to deal with Gypsies, The Racial Hygiene and Criminal Biology Research Unit, was first established. Robert Ritter was in charge of this unit, the express purpose of which was to determine whether Gypsies and Blacks were human or sub-human.
“Flying working groups” started tracking every Gypsy in institutions, prisons, caravans and sites. Once found they were tested in Ritter’s centre. The law meant that if two of a person’s eight grandparents were even part-Gypsy, that person had too much Gypsy ancestry.
It was planned to keep a number of families in a compound for future anthropologists to be able to study.
Later in a progress report in 1940 Ritter stated:
“… we have been able to establish that more than 90% of so-called native Gypsies are of mixed blood…Further results of our investigations have allowed us to characterise the Gypsies as being a people of entirely primitive ethnological origins, whose mental backwardness makes them incapable of real social adaptation….The Gypsy question can only be solved when the main body of a social and good-for-nothing Gypsy individuals of mixed blood is collected together in large camps and kept working there, and when the further breeding of this population of mixed blood is stopped once and for all”.
Deportation to the concentration camps.
From 1933 many Gypsies were sent to concentration camps where they were forced to do penal labour and where some underwent sterilisation.
“We were sitting having our coffee when they came. “Get ready you’re coming with us.” We were allowed a small bundle of our belongings, the rest we had to leave behind.
We were taken to huge halls on the Rhine. There we had to put out our clothes in baskets. The worst that can happen to a Gypsy is to be seen naked in front of women and children. We cowered together in a heap, so did the women. They cried and so did the men.
Real fear started in the trains and we were herded like animals. We travelled for three to four days, suddenly the train stopped and all we saw were SS soldiers. We had to build our own camp and when finished we moved on, others came and so it continued for the next five years.
The Concentration Camps
“In Birkenau, a big ditch was dug out and sprinkled with petrol. It was burning night and day. They used to line up Gypsies on the edge. They pushed them…the screams and the yells! They burned everyone in there, children, the old…everyone. I ran outside with another Gypsy woman. It was after lock up but I didn’t care any more. I thought a least if they shot me, I would die at one. We stood near the burning ditch and saw how they pushed those people in. It was horrible….No, I just can’t describe what it was like to you. It was the end of the world – a holocaust.
In 1940, 250 Gypsy children in the concentration camp at Buchenwald were used as guinea pigs for testing the Zyclon B cyanide gas crystals, a lethal insecticide which from 1941 onwards was used for mass murders at Auschwitz/Birkenau.
“At Buchenwald then, for the first time, this gas was used for mass murder, and it was for the murder of innocent Gypsy children.”
“It was towards the end of the war. They knew the Russians were near. Then Mengele started killing the children. They ordered a lock-up night and no-one was allowed to go outside… He took each child by the legs and hit then against a pillar.”
When the Russian army reached Auschwitz-Birkenau, some Gypsies had been transferred earlier to other camps but no Gypsies were found alive, there were no survivors.
After the War
Gypsy victims were never compensated for the atrocities committed against them. Gypsies in Germany and what had been the occupied lands were afraid to return to their homes.
The attempted genocide of the entire Gypsy people was forgotten. No-one from the Gypsy community was called to give evidence at the Nuremburg trials and those perpetrators were never brought to trial, (Himmler, Justin, Mengele).
It was not until 1994 that the first international conference on the Gypsy Holocaust took place in Vienna.
“Germany had in 1938 a Gypsy population of 16,275. Of these, 85 per cent, were thrown into concentration camps, and no more then 12 per cent survived.”
(The Wiener Library Bulletin 1950)
“The Nazis killed between a quarter and a third of all Gypsies living in Europe, and as many as 70 per cent in those areas where Nazi control had been established longest.”
(Strom and Parsons 1978)
“… The Gypsies had been murdered (in a proportion) similar to the Jews; about 80% of them in the area of the countries which were occupied by the Nazis.”
(Simon Wiesenthal 1984)
The biggest numerical losses were in Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, the USSR and Hungary. Estimates of the number of Gypsy victims who dies in Europe during the war range from half a million but it may be even more.
Liquidation of the Gypsy Camp in Birkenau
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)1` 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 the Familienzigeunerlager orZigeunerfamilienlager ("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 the Familienzigeunerlager barracks. A permanent exhibition commemorating the martyrdom of the Gypsies was opened at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 2001.
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.
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
Sinti & Roma
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.
- September 15, 1935
Various images of Roma and Sinti children taken at Auschwitz, 1942-1944.
Gypsy Child Victims
Gypsy children at Auschwitz who were part of medical experiments. Most such experiments were "terminal."
A Romani (Gypsy) victim of Nazi medical experiments to make seawater potable. Dachau concentration camp, Germany, 1944.
GENOCIDE OF EUROPEAN ROMA (GYPSIES), 1939-1945
Among the groups the Nazi regime and its Axis partners singled out for persecution on so-called racial grounds were the Roma (Gypsies).
Drawing support from many non-Nazi Germans who harbored social prejudice towards Roma, the Nazis judged Roma to be "racially inferior." The fate of Roma in some ways paralleled that of the Jews. Under the Nazi regime, German authorities subjected Roma to arbitrary internment, forced labor, and mass murder.
German authorities murdered tens of thousands of Roma in the German-occupied territories of the Soviet Union and Serbia and thousands more in the killing centers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. The SS and police incarcerated Roma in the Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, and Ravensbrück concentration camps. Both in the so-called Greater German Reich and in the so-called Generalgouvernement, German civilian authorities managed several forced-labor camps in which they incarcerated Roma.
On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Main Office, met with Security Police (Sipo) and Security Service (SD) officials in Berlin. With German victory in the invasion of Poland assured, he intended to deport 30,000 German and Austrian Roma from the Greater German Reich to the Generalgouvernement (that part of German-occupied Poland not annexed directly to Germany).
Governor General Hans Frank, the top civilian occupation official in the Generalgouvernement, foiled this plan when he refused to accept large numbers of Roma and Jews into the Generalgouvernement in the spring of 1940.
German authorities did deport some Roma from the Greater German Reich to occupied Poland in 1940 and 1941. In May 1940, the SS and police deported approximately 2,500 Roma and Sinti, primarily residents of Hamburg and Bremen, to Lublin District in the Generalgouvernement.
SS and police authorities incarcerated them in forced labor camps. The conditions under which they had to live and work proved to be lethal to many of them. The fate of the survivors is unknown; it is likely that the SS murdered those who were still alive in the gas chamber of Belzec, Sobibor, or Treblinka. In the autumn of 1941, German police authorities deported 5,007 Sinti and Lalleri Gypsies from Austria to the ghetto for Jews in Lodz, where they resided in a segregated section.
Nearly half of the Roma died within the first months of their arrival, due to lack of adequate food, fuel, shelter, and medicines. German SS and police officials deported those who survived these dreadful conditions to the killing center at Chelmno in the first months of 1942. There, along with tens of thousands of Jewish residents of the Lodz ghetto, the Roma died in gas vans, poisoned by carbon monoxide gas.
Intending to deport them from the so-called Greater German Reich in the near future, German authorities confined all Roma in so-called Gypsy camps (Zigeunerlager). With the suspension of deportations of Roma in 1940, these facilities became long-term holding pens. Marzahn in Berlin along with Lackenbach and Salzburg in Austria were among the worst of these camps. Hundreds of Roma died as a result of the horrendous conditions.
Local Germans repeatedly complained about the camps, demanding the deportation of the Roma interned there in order to "safeguard” public morals, public health, and security. Local police used these complaints to appeal officially to Reichsführer-SS (SS chief) Heinrich Himmler for the resumption of deportations of Roma to the east.
In December 1942, Himmler ordered the deportation of all Roma from the so-called Greater German Reich. There were exceptions for certain categories, including people of “pure Gypsy blood” dating from ancient times, persons of Gypsy descent who were considered integrated into German society and therefore did not “behave like Gypsies,” and persons (and their families) who had distinguished themselves in German military service. At least 5,000 and perhaps as many as 15,000 persons fell under these exemptions, although local authorities often ignored the distinctions during roundups. Police authorities even seized and deported Roma soldiers serving in the German armed forces (Wehrmacht), while they were home on leave.
In general, the German police deported Roma in the Greater German Reich to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the camp authorities housed them in a special compound that was called the "Gypsy family camp." Some 23,000 Roma, Sinti and Lalleri were deported to Auschwitz altogether. In the so-called Gypsy compound, entire families lived together.
SS medical researchers assigned to the Auschwitz complex, such as SS Captain Dr. Josef Mengele, received authorization to choose human subjects for pseudoscientific medical experiments from among the prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex. Mengele chose twins and dwarves, some of them from the Gypsy family camp, as subjects of his experiments.
Approximately 3,500 adult and adolescent Roma were prisoners in other German concentration camp; medical researchers selected subjects from among the Roma incarcerated in Ravensbrück, Natzweiler-Struthof, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps for their experiments, either on site in the camps or at nearby institutes.
Conditions in the Gypsy compound at Auschwitz-Birkenau were contributed to the spread of infectious disease and epidemics--typhus, smallpox, and dysentery--which severely reduced the camp population.
In late March, the SS murdered approximately 1,700 Roma from the Bialystok region in the gas chambers; they had arrived a few days earlier and many, though by no means all, were ill. In May 1944, the camp leadership decided to murder the inhabitants of the Gypsy compound. The SS guards surrounded and sealed off the compound. When ordered to come out, the Roma refused, having been warned and having armed themselves with iron pipes, shovels, and other tools used for labor.
The SS leaders chose not to confront the Roma directly and withdrew. After transferring as many as 3,000 Roma capable of work to Auschwitz I and other concentration camps in Germany in the late spring and early summer of 1944, the SS moved against the remaining 2,898 inmates on August 2.
Most of the victims were ill, elderly men, women, and children. The camp staff killed virtually all in the gas chambers of Birkenau. A handful of children who had hidden during the operation were captured and killed in the following days. At least 19,000 of the 23,000 Roma sent to Auschwitz died there.
In German-occupied of Europe, the fate of Roma varied from country to country, depending on local circumstances. The German authorities generally interned Roma and deployed them as forced laborers in Germany or transported to Poland to be deployed at forced labor or to be killed.
In contrast to German policy towards German and Austrian Jews, in which people of so-called mixed blood were exempted from deportation measures (though not from forced labor), the SS and police, after much waffling and confusion, decided that “Gypsies” of “pure blood” were harmless and that the “half-breeds,” regardless of the percentage of “mixture” of blood, were dangerous and hence deportable.
German military and SS-police units also shot possibly at least 30,000 Roma in the Baltic States and elsewhere in the occupied Soviet Union, where Einsatzgruppen and other mobile killing units killed Roma at the same time that they killed Jews and Communists. In occupied Serbia, the German authorities killed male Roma in shooting operations during 1941 and early 1942; then murdered the women and children in gas vans in 1942. The total number of Roma killed in Serbia will never be known. Estimates range between 1,000 and 12,000.
In France, Vichy French authorities intensified restrictive measures against and harassment of Roma after the establishment of the collaborationist regime in 1940. In 1941 and 1942, French police interned at least 3,000 and possibly as many as 6,000 Roma, residents of both occupied France and unoccupied France. French authorities shipped relatively few of them to camps in Germany, such as Buchenwald ,Dachau, and Ravensbrück.
While the authorities in Romania, one of Germany's Axis partners, did not systematically annihilate the Roma population living on Romanian territory, Romanian military and police officials deported around 26,000 Roma, primarily from Bukovina and Bessarabia, but also from Moldavia and Bucharest, the capital, to Transnistria, a section of south western Ukraine placed under Romanian administration, in 1941 and 1942. Thousands of those deported died from disease, starvation, and brutal treatment.
The authorities of the so-called Independent State of Croatia, another Axis partner of Germany and run by the militant separatist and terrorist Ustasa organization, physically annihilated virtually the entire Roma population of the country, around 25,000 people. The concentration camp system of Jasenovac, run by the Ustasa militia and the Croat political police, claimed the lives of between 15,000 and 20,000 Roma.
It is not known precisely how many Roma were killed in the Holocaust. While exact figures or percentages cannot be ascertained, historians estimate that the Germans and their allies killed around 25 percent of all European Roma. Of slightly less than one million Roma believed to have been living in Europe before the war, the Germans and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000.
After the war, discrimination against Roma continued throughout Central and Eastern Europe. The Federal Republic of Germany determined that all measures taken against Roma before 1943 were legitimate official measures against persons committing criminal acts, not the result of policy driven by racial prejudice.
This decision effectively closed the door to restitution for thousands of Roma victims, who had been incarcerated, forcibly sterilized, and deported out of Germany for no specific crime. The postwar Bavarian criminal police took over the research files of the Nazi regime, including the registry of Roma who had resided in the Greater German Reich.
Only in late 1979 did the West German Federal Parliament identify the Nazi persecution of Roma as being racially motivated, creating eligibility for most Roma to apply for compensation for their suffering and loss under the Nazi regime. By this time, many of those who became eligible had already died.
Maria Sava Moise Born: Iasi, Romania June 1, 1925
Maria was one of four children born to poor Gypsy parents in the capital of Moldavia in eastern Romania. The family lived in a mixed neighborhood that included Romanians and Gypsies. Maria grew up in a house with a yard where the family kept a pig and some chickens. Her father made a living by singing and by working at some of the many wineries that dotted the Moldavian countryside.
1933-39: My parents couldn't afford to send me to school. To help make ends meet, my sister, older brother and I helped my mother pick grapes for a local winery. The work was seasonal and we were contracted by the week. We worked hard and long, from 5 a.m. until evening.
1940-44: When I was 16, my father was drafted by the Romanians to fight against the Soviet Union. The following year, Iasi's Gypsies were rounded up by the Romanian police and sent eastward by cattle car. When we disembarked in Transnistria, we were marched to a farm and left in open fields to die slowly. That's how my sister died. My husband, Stefan, managed to run away. By coincidence, my father's unit was stationed nearby and on New Year's Eve of 1943 he smuggled some of us back to Romania on a troop train.
Maria survived the rest of the war in Iasi. After the war, she and her husband reunited and resettled in Iasi.
Stefan Moise Born: Iasi, Romania January 30, 1923
Stefan was born to Gypsy parents in the capital of Moldavia in eastern Romania. The family lived in a mixed neighborhood of Gypsies and Romanians. Stefan's father made a living playing guitar in local restaurants. As a child, Stefan learned to play the violin and he often performed with his father.
1933-39: When I was a teenager and old enough to branch out on my own, I left my father and teamed up with another young man to perform in restaurants. We performed all over Moldavia. The outbreak of war in 1939 was bad for business and many restaurants closed down, so I had to resort to farm work to support myself.
1940-44: In 1942 Iasi's Gypsies were rounded up by the Romanian police and sent eastward by cattle car. When we disembarked in Transnistria, we were marched to open fields and left to starve with inadequate rations. Urged by my wife, I managed to run away. Of course, I took my violin. I hitched a ride on a freight train to Odessa and found work playing in a hotel, but all the time I couldn't stop feeling guilty for leaving my wife and sister. In 1944 I was arrested and inducted into the Romanian army.
After the war, Stefan was reunited with his wife in Iasi. He worked as a musician until his retirement in 1983.
Karl Stojka Born: Wampersdorf, Austria April 20, 1931
Karl was the fourth of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsy parents in the village of Wampersdorf in eastern Austria. The Stojkas belonged to a tribe of Gypsies called the Lowara Roma, who made their living as itinerant horse traders. They lived in a traveling family wagon, and spent winters in Austria's capital of Vienna. Karl's ancestors had lived in Austria for more than 200 years.
1933-39: I grew up used to freedom, travel and hard work. In March 1938 our wagon was parked for the winter in a Vienna campground, when Germany annexed Austria just before my seventh birthday. The Germans ordered us to stay put. My parents converted our wagon into a wooden house, but I wasn't used to having permanent walls around me. My father and oldest sister began working in a factory, and I started grade school.
1940-44: By 1943 my family had been deported to a Nazi camp in Birkenau for thousands of Gypsies. Now we were enclosed by barbed wire. By August 1944 only 2,000 Gypsies were left alive; 918 of us were put on a transport to Buchenwald to do forced labor.
There the Germans decided that 200 of us were incapable of working and were to be sent back to Birkenau. I was one of them; they thought I was too young. But my brother and uncle insisted that I was 14 but a dwarf. I got to stay. The rest were returned to be gassed.
Karl was later deported to the Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was freed near Roetz, Germany, by American troops on April 24, 1945. After the war, he returned to Vienna.
Johann (Hansi) Stojka Born: Austria 1929
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.
Hansi was later deported to do forced labor at the Buchenwald and Flossenbürg concentration camps. He was freed near Roetz on April 24, 1945. After the war, he returned to Vienna.
Ossi Stojka Born: Austria 1936
Ossi was the youngest of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsies who traveled in a family wagon. Their caravan 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. Ossi's ancestors had lived in Austria for more than 200 years.
1933-39: Ossi was 2 years old when Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. The Stojka family wagon was parked for the winter in a Vienna campground when the Germans marched in. They ordered the Gypsies to stay put. The Stojkas had to convert their wagon into a wooden house and had to adjust to staying in one place.
1940-44: Gypsies were forced to register as members of a different "race." When Ossi was 5, the Germans took away his father. Next, they took his sister, Kathi. Finally, Ossi and the rest of his family were deported to a Nazi camp in Birkenau for Gypsies. There was very little to eat, mostly turnips. Little Ossi fell ill with typhus, and was taken to the barracks for sick prisoners. The infirmary was often referred to by prisoners as the "antechamber of the crematoria."
Ossi was given no medical treatment in the infirmary, and died of typhus and malnutrition. He was 7 years old.
Ceija Stojka Born: Kraubath bei Knittelfeld, Austria 1933
Ceija was the fifth of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsy parents. The Stojka's family wagon traveled with a caravan that spent winters in the Austrian capital of Vienna 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. Once, my father made me a skirt out of some material from a broken sunshade. I was 5 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 we had to learn how to cook with an oven instead of on an open fire.
1940-44: Gypsies were forced to register as members of another "race." Our campground was fenced off and placed under police guard. I was 8 when the Germans took my father away; a few months later, my mother received his ashes in a box. Next, the Germans took my sister, Kathi. Finally, they deported all of us to a Nazi camp for Gypsies in Birkenau. We lived in the shadows of a smoking crematorium, and we called the path in front of our barracks the "highway to hell" because it led to the gas chambers.
Ceija was subsequently freed in the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945. After the war, she documented and published Lowara Gypsy songs about the Holocaust.
Marie Sidi Stojka Born: Austria ca. 1906
Marie belonged to a tribe of Gypsies called the Lowara Roma who traveled in a caravan and made a living as itinerant horse traders. The caravan spent winters in Vienna, Austria's capital, and summers in the Austrian countryside. When Marie was 18, she married Karl Stojka from the same tribe. Marie's family was Roman Catholic and her ancestors had lived in Austria for more than 200 years.
1933-39: By 1936 I had six children. We lived with a caravan, and we were used to freedom, travel and hard work. 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 and we lost our civil rights. We had to convert our wagon into a wooden house and I had to learn how to cook in an oven instead of on an open fire.
1940-44: Gypsies were forced to register as members of another "race." Our campground was fenced off and placed under police guard. A year later, the Germans took my husband away; they returned his ashes a few months later. Grieving, I cut my long hair, and with the help of a priest, secretly buried his remains in consecrated ground. Finally, the Germans deported the rest of us to a Nazi camp in Birkenau for Gypsies. I watched over my children as best I could in that terrible place, but my youngest son died of typhus.
In 1944 Marie was deported to Ravensbrueck, and was eventually liberated in April 1945 in Bergen-Belsen. After the war, she was reunited with her five surviving children.
Theresia Seible and Rita Prigmore
Theresia Seible, Gypsy mother of twins born under Nazi doctors’ supervision, and Gypsy twin Rita Prigmore describe research on twins.
We were treated as though we just didn't exist. As if we just weren't there. You know, it is terrible when a person's dignity is taken away from them. You are nothing anymore. We are people, not animals they can study. Why should we do it? We resisted. It went on for a year like this, back and forth. Our house was always being watched by the SS. They came with cars, took us to various clinics. They always had one pretext. Always our Gypsy blood.
Dr. Professor Heyde, he did all the same medical research on Gypsies, on Jews, even on soldiers, on retarded people. We were identical twins, Gypsy twins, two little girls born on the third, third, 1943 in a clinic, research clinic. When my mom had to bring us in, they did all this research. And at that time when they went back to check on us and there was only one in there, and then she found out that my sister, Rolanda, was in the bathtub, where the nurse took her, and she had a bandage around her head.
When I got halfway up the stairs, a young nurse met me and she said: Are you looking for something?” And I said, "Yes, where are the newborns?” She said, “The twins are just on the left here.”
Then I grabbed the child and heard my father say in Sinti, “For Heaven’s sake, leave the pillow and the blanket! That’s stealing! They’ll have a reason to arrest us!" I grabbed the child as she was and ran halfway down the stairs.
My father ran toward me, took the child, put her under his coat and fled. I went back up and my mother hit one of the nurses. There was a lot of chaos as she tried to shove my mother back and shut the door. She didn’t know we already had one child.
At that moment, another nurse came as if sent from God and said to the doctor: “Tell the woman you took the child into the operating room and brought it out dead! What have you done with the child? The woman wants to see her dead child!” And that’s when my arms just, I just cannot describe this to you
Mug shots of Joschka K., who was interned at the Gypsy camp at Halle when taken into police custody. Germany, 1940.Bundesarchiv, Koblenz. Germany Mug shots of Sofie B., who was interned at the Gypsy camp at Halle when taken into police custody. Germany, 1940.Bundesarchiv, Koblenz. Germany Mug shots of Martin B., who was interned at the Gypsy camp at Halle when taken into police custody. Germany, 1940.
Ružena Danielová, 1982
Holocaust Survivor Hannes Weiss
"It has been over 50 years since the war,
but there is still discrimination."
-Holocaust survivor Hannes Weiss "
[Anne Frank: A History for Today]
Even though Hannes Weiss, a Gypsy, survived World War II, many of his family members did not. He is now living in the Netherlands.
Hannes Weiss was born in 1930, making him one year younger than Anne Frank, and his family was discriminated against because they were Gypsies (Caucasoid people who are generally dark-skinned, dark-haired and found throughout the world). He commentson how he and his family were treated as non-Aryans by the Nazis:
"It was different back then. People would yell, "Black Gypsy, dirty Gypsy.' Terrible! Then the doctors came. I was just a kid. They examined us: studied how you walked, measured everything, just so they could determine what a Gypsy was. We didn't know what it was all about.
"Later on we did: All the Gypsies had to be killed. Mother and father were terrified. That's when they left Germany.
"There was a big razzia (raid), and many of our family members were picked up and taken to Auschwitz. We escaped and went into hiding. Then there was another razzia. We hid under the floorboards, and they shot right through the floor.
"Then we took to the road. We were just like nocturnal animals: walking all night and hiding during the daytime.
"We went into hiding, but we were betrayed. People would do anything for money. We were taken by train to camp Westerbork (where Anne Frank, her family and the others hiding in the annex were taken in southern Holland before being transported to Auschwitz). While we were standing on the train platform the policeman who was guarding us said, "When I take my hat off, run!' I guess you realize that we didn't wait for the hat. We were off in a flash!"
[Anne Frank: A History for Today]
These Gypsy children, residents of a German children’s home, were transported to Auschwitz shortly after this photo was taken, and were murdered there by the Nazis. Throughout history, Gypsies have been discriminated against in Europe. By one estimate there were around 900,000 Gypsies in Europe in 1939, and around 35,000 lived in Germany and Austria; most were in southeastern Europe. The Nazis viewed Gypsies the way they did Jews and Africans: as an inferior race. They began discriminating against Gypsies early on, planning to destroy them.
In 1933, a group of Gypsies was forcibly sterilized and, though they were not named in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, they were also forbidden to marry Aryans and were stripped of their civil and political rights. Gypsies living in Germany were rounded up and put into concentration camps from 1933 on.
The Nazi fascination with the Gypsies, as with the Jews, resulted in a series of scientific experiments being performed on them. Nazi doctors such as Robert Ritter conducted racial and biological research studies and later Josef Mengele and other doctors performed gruesome medical experiments on these people.
Many Gypsies died at the hands of the mobile killing squads that accompanied the German Army in Eastern Europe after 1939; later, gypsies were transported to extermination centers. It is estimated that between 250,000 to 500,000 gypsies were killed by the Nazis during World War II, targets of the Nazi extermination policy.
Hannes Weiss points out that today, "It has been more than 50 years since the war, but there's still discrimination. The Nazis tried to annihilate our people. I want to do everything I can to keep us alive."
Hannes Weiss survived the war, but many family members did not. He lives inHolland and has organized an association for gypsies.
World War II. Gypsy woman suffering from typhus at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp waiting with other gypsies for medical treatment. 60.000 civilian prisoners - many suffering from typhus and dysentry - were found in the camp. Thousands were dead. Bergen-Belsen, April 1945.
Roma in Germany
Most of the Roma in Germany and the countries occupied by Germany during World War II belonged to the Sinti and Roma family groupings. Both groups spoke dialects of a common language called Romani, based on Sanskrit (the classical language of India). The term "Roma" has come to include both the Sinti and Roma groupings, though some Roma prefer being known as "Gypsies." Some Roma are Christian and some are Muslim, having converted during the course of their migrations through Persia, Asia Minor, and the Balkans.
For centuries, Roma were scorned and persecuted across Europe. "Zigeuner," the German word for Gypsy, derives from a Greek root meaning "untouchable."
Many Roma traditionally worked as craftsmen and were blacksmiths, cobblers, tinsmiths, horse dealers, and toolmakers. Others were performers such as musicians, circus animal trainers, and dancers. By the 1920s, there were also a number of Romani shopkeepers. Some Roma, such as those employed in the German postal service, were civil servants. The number of truly nomadic Roma was on the decline in many places by the early 1900s, although many so-called sedentary Roma often moved seasonally, depending on their occupations.
Two Roma (Gypsies) photographed near Craiova. Romania, probably early 1930s
Romani (Gypsy) women and child. Romania, 1930s.
Two Romani (Gypsy) artisans. Ploesti, Romania, 1930s.
Roma (Gypsies). Czechoslovakia, 1937.
Roma (Gypsies) near Uzhgorod, Slovakia. Czechoslovakia, 1938.
Nomadic Roma (Gypsies). Czechoslovakia, 1939.
A photographer with a group of nomadic Roma (Gypsies). Probably Czechoslovakia, 1939
Buchenwald Gypsy Memorial
A beautiful tribute to the thousands of gypsies murdered by the nazis. each stone pictured has the name of a camp where countless souls perished. the little stones on top are placed by visitors to honour the victims.
Nazi Racial Doctor Robert Ritter Questions a Gypsy Woman