Roma and the Holocaust

By Megan Smith
Gainesville, Florida 



The holocaust was the bureaucratic annihilation of 11 million Europeans at the hands of the Nazi regime. Men, women and children were targeted for racial, physical, and mental "defects". Anyone not in compliance with the Naziís view of a perfect Aryan was systematically dehumanized and destroyed. Victims lost their identity and became triangles, badges, and stars at the hands of the Nazis. Nazis targeted groups including, homosexuals, mentally ill, physically handicapped, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, and Africans. One group, the Roma, also known as gypsies, was targeted by the Nazis for total annihilation.

The Roma are an ethnic minority group originally from the Indian subcontinent. The Roma entered Europe and dispersed through the continent around 1300. Roma speak an Indo-Aryan language with many dialects, but the roots are from ancient Punjabi or Hindi. No universal Romani culture exists, but there are some common traits. These traits are loyalty to family, a belief in their God, Del, and beng, their devil. They believe in predestiny, and practice Romaniya, their standard of living. ("A Brief History of the Roma," 1999). The Romaís distinctive appearance, customs, and language, along with a nomadic lifestyle, and lack of regular employment has made them an easy target for persecution and oppression (Tanner, 1997).

Most groups targeted to be eliminated by Hitler were non-Aryans. However, the same racist policies Hitler directed toward other groups could not be directed at the Romani people because they were one of the oldest Aryan groups in Europe. The Roma presented a large problem for Hitler. To the Nazis, the Roma threatened the biological purity of the "superior" Aryan race. Hitlerís regime tried to persuade German scholars to say that the Romani people were not Aryan. Those not excepting this notion were imprisoned. Although this lie was eventually abandoned, the Roma were still persecuted for other reasons including, being "asocial"," subhuman", or members of a "lower race" (Tanner, 1997). During Hitlerís rein, the Roma were labeled "asocial" along with lesbians, prostitutes, vagrants, murderers, chronic alcoholics, and thieves. These people were identified by a black down turned triangle worn on the sleeve. The SS despised them and considered the color of their badges an insult to their own black uniforms ("Sinti and Roma").

When the Nazis came into power in 1933, German laws against the Romani people had already been in affect for hundreds of years. None of the horrific treatment the Roma endured was new to them, however, that is not to say that the holocaust did not have devastating affects on the Roma as a people. Some of the Nazi persecution against the Roma originated from previous government action. In 1890, a conference was organized on the Zigeunergeschmeiss ("Gypsy scum") giving military power to regulate the movements of Gypsies. In 1899, the Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Nuisance was established. At a conference in 1909, a recommendation was made for Gypsies to be branded so they could be identified (Hancock, 1991).

In 1920, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche introduce the notion of "lives unworthy of life". They also suggested that Gypsies be sterilized and eliminated. The Nazis later incorporated these ideas into their race theories. Throughout the 1920s, Gypsies in German territory were required to be photographed and fingerprinted. In 1926, a law was directed to control the "Gypsy plague". In 1927, special camps were built to imprison the gypsies and in 1928, more camps were built. Gypsies were placed under police surveillance. In 1930, a recommendation was made for all Gypsies to be sterilized and three years later, eugenic sterilization became legal. In 1934, two laws were passed forbidding Germans from marrying Gypsies and many Gypsies were sent to camps such as, Dachau, Dieselstrasse, and Sachebhausen. By 1935,Gypsies had become subject to the Nurenberg Laws for The Protection of Blood and Honor. Between June 12 and 18, 1938, Zigeuneraauframungswoche "Gypsy clean up week") took place. Gypsies were forbidden from attending school. In 1939, a Nazi party decree stated that "the aim of the measure taken by the state must be the racial separation once and for all of the Gypsy race from the German nation". In the same year the Office of Racial Hygiene stated that "all Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick; the only solution is elimination. The aim should therefore be the elimination without hesitation of this defective element in the population". Every persecuted group of people, including the Roma, was forced to wear a different identifiable triangle, badge, or star on their sleeve or on the front of their clothing. Helmut Knochen described the badges as "another step on the road to the Final Solution" (Hancock, 1991). Examples of badges included the star of David, worn by Jews; pink triangles, used to identify homosexuals; purple triangles, for the Jehovahís Witnesses; green triangles, for criminals; and blue triangles, for emigrants. In 1940, Gypsy employment of any kind was forbidden. As many as 250 Gypsy children were used as guinea pigs to test the cyanide gas crystal later used at Buchenwald concentration camp. In 1941, Gypsies were forbidden to serve in the army and 800 Roma were murdered on December 24. In 1944, 4000 Roma were gassed and then incinerated in one mass action at Aushwitz-Birkenau (Hancock, 1991).

During the war, the Roma were forced out of jobs, schools, military service, public buildings, and parks. They were forced into concentration camps where they died of gassing, overexhaustion, the elements, starvation, crematories, hangings, and beatings. Some Roma even had to dig their own graves, or participate in inhumane scientific experimentation. Many of the Roma were killed where they were apprehended by the SS (Hancock, 1997). At the hands of the Nazis, thousands of Rom people were sterilized against their will to stop them from spreading their disease by reproduction (Tanner, 1997). By 1945, the brutal actions of the Nazis had eliminated between 70% and 80% of the German Romani population and approximately 25% to 30% of all European Roma (Hancock, 1991).

There were thousands of Romani victims. Two surviving individuals, whose lives were effected by the Naziís treatment, were Galuchon and Anna W. As a young man, Galuchon and his family were sent to a French internment camp in 1941. From there, he was sent to do grueling work at a labor camp. He managed to escape the camp and joined the Marquis La Resistance. Galuchon was captured and sent to Germany. He escape again, but was soon recaptured. With the Germans surrender in 1945 Galuchon was set free. Before the holocaust Galuchon lived in a caravan group with his family, his wife, Carmen, and over one-hundred other families. By the end of the war, only 30% of his group remained alive. The rest of this group, including his wife, had all been killed by the Nazis ("About Patrin", 1996).

Anna W. was born in Frankfurt, German. In 1938, Anna and her family were forced to live in Leipzig. In Leipzig, Anna was not allowed to travel or attend school. In 1942, she was forced to leave Leipzig as part of the first transport headed to the Gypsy camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. All of her relatives were murdered at the camp. From there Anna was sent to Ravensbruk where she was sterilized. After Ravensbruk she worked at an ammunition factory in Schliebennear Buchenwald. She was forced to work the night shift. Anyone who did not meet the production quota was sent back to Auschwitz to be put to death. Later, Anna was transferred to Buna. There she did not meet the production quota and was being sent back to Auschwitz, where she would have been killed. She traded places with a women who wanted to be with relatives in Auschwitz. So, instead she was sent to Bergen Belsen, which she describes as worse than Auschwitz. At Bergen Belsen, Anna became very ill with pleurisy and pneumonia. She had no one there to care for her and she suffered until the British liberated the camp and took her to a hospital. Anna stayed in the hospital for eight months. After leaving the hospital, she had to return to Bergen Belsen because she had no family left. Anna lived in the liberated camp for two years. Anna later married, but because of her sterilization she was never able to enjoy her own children or grandchildren (Anna W., 1998). Anna and Galuchon are two examples of the thousands who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Anna and Galuchon, like man others, lost their family and friends and lived in fear.

The Romani people call this period of time, the Porrajimos, meaning "the devouring" because of the devastating effects the holocaust had on them. The lose of human lives can still be felt by the European Roma. Although Hitlerís plan to eliminate the Roma has ended, the Roma remain the least integrated and most persecuted people in all of Europe.



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