The Forgotten Holocaust: A brief history of the Roma


By Annesha Das Gupta

The question is asked: “Have you heard of the holocaust?” The answer comes: “Yes, sure. The atrocities that were performed against the Jews. Tell who hasn’t!” “But what about the Romani Holocaust?”

“Romani Holocaust? What is that?”

Yes, in each and every part of the world, across all the educational institutions, this is what has gone amiss. People are made to forget a race of human beings who suffered but whose sufferings were never made to surface in our textbooks.

Let us look at the historical amnesia. It is time to redeem it.

The Romani Holocaust – Mainstreaming

  • Before the Nazis – A short introduction



Image Courtesy: Bob Dawson

According to the eminent Romani scholar, Ian Hancock, the Romanies were unfortunately victimized much before the arrival of the era of the Nazis, and that its reasons are complex but can be explained in four main points: a) The first Roma who arrived in Europe were there because of the Ottoman Turkish, who conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire and so the Roma people were also perceived as possible threats. b) The Roma, a group, who were neither whites nor Christians and therefore, were considered to be aliens. c)  They also never claimed to any geographical territory or have an economy, militia or a government. d) The culture, as Hancock says, was the final nail in the coffin, which segregated and build up a strict social boundary against the Roma and the non-Roma world.

Further, Hancock explains in his essay, Romanies and the Holocaust: A Reevaluation and an Overview, that sometime in the early 1920s a psychiatrist called Karl Binding and a magistrate, Alfred Hoche, jointly authored and published a book named, The Eradication of Lives Undeserving of Life. It was mentioned referring to the Roma people that were “unworthy of life” and the “incurably mentally ill”.

After the coming of the Nazis, they followed up the practices in the US such as euthanasia and sterilization and implemented them on the Roma.

A law incorporating the phrase “unworthy of life” was put into effect just four months after Hitler became the chancellor of the Third Reich.

  • Arrival of the Nazis

Image Courtesy: The Telegraph


Thus, when the Nazis, first arrived in 1933, German laws were already into effect against the Roman for over 100 years.

But the conquest of the Balkan, southern and Eastern Europe began when Hitler ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia, a former ally, in the spring of 1941 after they refused to allow the German troops to cross its territories.

The Romani Holocaust – was planned and executed by the Nazi Germany and its allies. Bob Dawson, a Roma and ‘gypsy’ heritage collector explains: “Nazi racial theory met a stumbling block with the Roma and Sinti as they were more ‘Aryan’ than the Germans and yet the Nazis realized they were not Aryan in the same way as the Nordic ideal”. Further, he goes on to say, that, Nazi racial theorists, such as Hans Gunther, had to find an explanation to explain “alleged racial flaws” and they were ‘asocial’ and distinct from Germanic Aryans because of their mingling with “inferior races”.

In September 1935, Roma became subjected to the restrictions of the Nuremberg laws just like the Jew masses. Whereas, two years later the Nation Citizenship Law relegated the Romanies and the Jews, as second-class citizens. In the same year, Heinrich Himmler decreed the “Struggle against Gypsy”, where the Roma people were stated as “mixed blood” and involved in “criminal activities” so their each and every move must be reported to the regional police departments of Reich Central Office.

Again, between June 13-18,1938, was declared as “Gypsy Clean-Up Week” (or Zigeunerauf in the documents) throughout Germany which was in reality, the horrendous preparations for the complete extermination of the Roma and Sinti people.

In 1939, Johannes Behrendt of the office of Racial Hygiene Institute issued a brief statement where it was said that “all the ‘gypsies’ should be treated as hereditarily sick and the only solution is their elimination with any destination”.

In January of 1940, it is found that about 250 children from Brno were murdered in Buchenwald, where many were used as test subjects to examine the efficacy of the Zyklon-B cyanide gas Crystals and later in the gas chambers. It is worth mentioning that a distinctive attribute of the Holocaust was the extensive use of human subjects in medical experiments. The most notorious of the physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

His nefarious experiments used to include the placing of subjects in pressure chambers, testing of drugs on them, freezing them and even injecting of chemicals into children’s eyes which was apparently an attempt to change the color of their eyes. Though, unfortunately, most of his documents including a 3,300 paged  have allegedly been destroyed by a Dr. Otmar Von Chuer of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.

On 16 December 1941, Himmler issued that the Romanies of the West Germany were to be deported at Auschwitz-Birkenau. And three years later, on 4 August, about 2,400 Romanies were gassed and cremated there and the event is remembered as Zigeunernacht.

According to Mrs. De Wick,an eyewitness, Anne Frank, a notable Jewish Holocaust victim, had witnessed the prelude to the murder of Romani children at Auschwitz. In her words: “I can still see her standing at the door and looking down at the camp street as a herd of naked gypsy girls were driven by to the crematory, and Anne watched them going and cried”.

Do not forget them – Victims and survivors of the Roma Holocaust


Image Courtesy: The Journal

 In different regions of the world, the Romani Genocide or the Romani Holocaust is known by different terms. The term Porjamos which literally translates to “devouring” in the dialects of the Romani language was first coined by Ian Hancock in the early 1990s. Hancock also used the world Kalderash Rom, which mostly popular among the activists but remains unknown to many Romanies as well as to the descendants of the Holocaust victims and survivors.

Whereas the people involved with the Romani Civil Rights movement in Hungary has the preference for Pharrajimos (cutting up) which is Marhine, meaning untouchable and since the letter ‘p’ is not is use there, it is unpronounceable among the community.

The total number of the Romani people who were killed in the Holocaust accounts more than one and a half million people and whereas in Nazi occupied France it was, between 16,000 to 18,000 of them.

According to Francoise Sagan, “Being a Jew under Hitler made you first a guilty party and then a parcel which the Yellow Star, itself now become a label, dispatched to those unknown camps – a process which took a more or less brief period of time, but a period of time all the same. Being a ‘Gypsy’, however, made you an instant target, since the relatively small number of persons of the race facilitated in their execution”.

In 1950, the Wurttemberg Ministry of the Interior issued a statement to the judges of the hearing a war crime restitution, claiming that the ‘Gypsies’ were persecuted under the Nationalist Socialist Regime not for any social reason but for their criminal and anti-social tags.

Twenty-one years later, in 1971, Bonn Convention, according to Hancock, taking advantage of this, cited that they were not paying the Roma people as the reasons for their victimization during the Nazi period because of their security only.

Whereas in the February of 1987, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum held a conference named ‘Other Victims’ with a panel on Romanies but unfortunately no member of the Roma community is part of the organization or the presenters since 2002.

It was as late as in 1982 when West Germany finally decided to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. The Polish government commemorated the genocide on August 2nd, 2011.

The first memorial commemoration of the Holocaust victims was erected on May 8, 1956 in the Polish Village of Szczurowacom. Other incident is of the Gypsy Caravan Memorial, which traveling since 1996, along Poland, from Tarnow via Auschwitz sites and Borzecin Dolny, where the well-wishers and people of the Roma community gather for the remembrance.

Lastly, on 24 October 2012, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism was unveiled in Berlin.

Many people who belong to the community are afraid to reveal their presence openly in the society. Primarily,because of the unfair stigma attached to their identity and the various unsympathetic laws against them. the gap needs to be abridged so that Roma community can proudly claim their place in the society and move up the social ladder.

Read More at www.