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G.J. Colijn & Marcia Sachs Littell (eds.)
Confronting the Holocaust: A Mandate for the 21st Century 
University Press of America, Lanham, 1997.  Pp. 19-49.


Ian Hancock

“Di zelbike zun vos farvayst di layvnt,farshvartst oykh’m Tsigayner.”   (“The same sun that whitens the linen also turns the Gypsy black.”)
Yiddish proverb
“One exhibit [at the Holocaust Museum at Buchenwald] quotes SS chief Heinrich Himmler on December 8th, 1938, as calling for the ‘final solution of the Gypsy question,’ and cites his order of December 16th, 1942, to have all Gypsies remaining in Europe deported to Auschwitz.”
Sheldon Rantz (1995:11)

While Holocaust scholars are rapidly adding to their knowledge of the details of the fate of the Romani people in Hitler’s Germany, and while it is now generally acknowledged that together with Jews, the Romani victims were the only ethnic/racial population selected for total annihilation according to the genocidal policy of the Final Solution2 (Friedlander, 19953; Hancock, 1996), far less has been written about the reasons for the Nazi policy of ethnic cleansing as it was directed at that population.  Tenenbaum, who forty years ago defined the Final Solution as the “physical extermination of Jews and Gypsies in the great death camps” (1956:373) nevertheless called the German persecution of Gypsies “one of the major mysteries of Nazi racialism” (1956: 399).

Earlier discussions of the Third Reich have usually assumed that the so-called Zigeuner were merely regarded as asocials, misfits in the Nazi’s new spartan order, and were targeted on those grounds alone (see e.g. Bauer, 1980:45; 1994:441); but an examination of the historical roots of antigypsyism in Germany (what Tenenbaum refers to as Hitler’s “gypsomania”) demonstrates very clearly that the notion that Romanies were a racial threat to national stability extends to the time of their initial entry into that country in the early 1400s.  Elsewhere I have provided a chronology of the Holocaust as it relates to Sinti and Romanies4 (Hancock, 1989), where a list of some of the events in Germany’s history which preceded it is also included. In the present essay the focus is on the pre-1933 period in more detail, and also to examine the reasons for anti-gypsyism, since it is here that we can find the origins of Hitler’s policy of extermination as it affected Romanies and Sinti; but I will also demonstrate that it is for exactly the same reasons that the Romani people in Europe are today the most vilified and discriminated against of all ethnic or national populations, and the most victimized by racist violence and discriminatory governmental policies.

The Historical Roots of Antigypsyism

Reasons for the institutionalized prejudice against the Romani people may be traced to a number of factors:

a)        The association of the first Romanies in Europe with the encroachment of the Asiatic invaders and of Islam, reflected in a number of contemporary exonyms applied to Romani populations, such as Saracens, Tatars, Gypsies (from “Egyptians”), Turks, Heathens, &c.  Romanies, who entered Europe following the holy wars which resulted from the occupation of the Byzantine Empire by the Muslims, were everywhere regarded as being a part of the western infringement of Islam, and were persecuted as a result.  The Ottomans not only posed a threat to the Christian establishment and had occupied the Holy Land, but they had also blocked off routes to the East, thereby also affecting trade and the European economy.

b)        The association in mediaeval Christian doctrine of light with purity and darkness with sin.  The earliest church records documenting the arrival of Romanies alluded to the darkness of their complexion C moreso the case seven hundred years ago than today C and the inherent evil which that supposedly demonstrated.  “The conviction that blackness denotes inferiority and evil [was] well rooted in the western mind.  The nearly black skins of many Gypsies marked them out to be victims of this prejudice” (Kenrick & Puxon, 1972:19).  Hobson expands upon this (1965:338): “association with darkness and dirt is a convenient hook on which to hang certain projections, especially if [the target] is a relatively unknown visitor from a far-off country with a strange culture, or if he threatens important economic and other social, vested interests.  He is also clearly ‘not me.’  While the association between darkness and evil is a purely metaphorical one, its effects have been devastating.”  Philip Mason (1968:61) has emphasized that “hardly any white man has overcome the confusion between biological accident and symbolic metaphor.”

The persona of the Romani as non-white, non-Christian outsider became incorporated into Christian European folklore, which served to justify and encourage the prejudice against him.  Like Asahuerus, the Jew doomed to wander through eternity because he refused to allow Jesus to rest on his way to Calvary, Romanies were accused of forging the nails with which Christ was crucified.  And while Jews were accused of drinking the blood of Christian babies in hidden rites to which no outsider was privy, Romanies were likewise charged with stealing and even eating those babies.  Parallelling even more closely the Asahuerus myth is the belief that the original sin of the Romanies was their refusal to give Mary and the baby Jesus shelter during their flight fro King Herod into Egypt (Scheier, 1925, vol. II, p.77).

c)        Romani culture, called Rromanìja or Rromanipe, does not encourage close social relationships with non-Romani populations5, who are referred to as gadñe in Romani and sometimes gentiles in English.  Such an exclusivist society can create an assumption on the part of those who are excluded that it is furtive, and must therefore be hiding something.  A common accusation in mediaeval Germany, for instance, was that Romanies were spies, a charge which was also repeated by the Nazis many times.  The maintenance of cultural and/or religious restrictions which keep outsiders at a distance must certainly be seen as a factor, historically, in both antigypsyism and antisemitism.

d)        Because of laws forbidding Romanies to settle anywhere, various means of livelihood had to be relied upon which could be easily and quickly gathered up when it became necessary to move out of an area.  One such was fortune-telling, but this only helped reinforce the image of mystery and exoticism which was growing in the European mind.  Romanies in turn exploited this image as a means of protection, since one is less likely to show hostility towards a person whom one believes to have some measure of control over, or knowledge of, one’s destiny.  The fact that Romanies are, fundamentally, an Asian population in Europe, speaking an Asian language which serves as the vehicle of a culture and world-view rooted in Asia, has also created conflict.  Fortune-telling is a highly regarded profession in India, but drew no such respect in Europe; begging is likewise viewed very differently in Hindu and Islamic society, but has no such special status in Europe. 

e)        The fact that as Okely has pointed out, “outsiders have projected onto Gypsies their own repressed fantasies and longings for disorder” (1983:232; see also Sibley, 1981:195-196), and have at the same time used those imagined characteristics of the “gypsy” as a yardstick by which to measure the boundaries of their own identities.  Thus an individual’s occasional urge to challenge the system, or to perpetrate some anti-social act, or even his subconscious fascination with anarchy, as psychologists know are not likely ever to be realized by that individual, but which can be experienced vicariously or subliminally by being projected onto the “outlaw” Romani population.  This phenomenon is reflected repeatedly in the media as well as in works of fiction.  Use of the word “Gypsy” for an image rather than for an individual occurred recently in an article concerning a case of alleged poisoning in California: the detective involved was quoted as saying “this guy is definitely a Gypsy . . . the Gypsy was Angela Tene” (Nicoll, 1995:25).  It is highly unlikely that he would have said “this guy is definitely a Jew . . . the Jew was Angela Tene,” since the ethnicity or race of a suspect is immaterial to the details of a case.  It can only have been included, therefore, if it were believed that some link existed between criminality and genetic identity.  In press coverage, the race of a suspected criminal who is a person of color is often provided, though as a rule omitted where the suspect is white; in the European papers, such information may even appear in the articles’ headlines as well (cf. Hancock, 1978:145-162).

While racially-based arguments were codified and used by the Nazis as justification for the extermination of Jews and Romanies, an added factor condemned the Jews of Europe as well: their supposed economic strength, which was used as an anti-Semitic argument long before Hitler came to power.

The Holocaust forever altered the structure of society in much of the area, and particularly in Poland, the Czech lands, and Hungary, where the Jews had played an important cultural as well as an economic role. At the other end of society the Gypsies were equally savaged by the Nazi death machine (Walters, 1988:271).

f)       The fact that Romanies have no military, political, economic and particularly territorial strength, and no nation state to speak for them, ensures that they are an ideal target for scapegoatism.  Beck (1985:103) has made this point succinctly in referring to the situation of Romanies in Romania:

Romania’s German-speaking populations have received support from the West German state.  Magyars are supported by the Hungarian state, and Jews by Israel.  Groups such as the [Romanies] do not have such an advantage.  Lacking a protective state, they have no one to turn to when discrimination is inflicted upon them as a group.  Unlike ethnic groups represented by states, [Romanies] are not recognized as having a history that could legitimize them.

Non-territoriality is having its most extreme repercussions in post-communist Europe, where Romanies now find themselves outsiders in everybody’s ethnic territory.  While the American press does not acknowledge it, the Romani minority in Bosnia and Serbia is being systematically eradicated, while in Slovakia, France, Germany and elsewhere, programs of deportation and banishment are routinely in effect.  Further to Beck’s observation on scapegoatism, it has been argued, by e.g. Kenedi, that there is a need in all societies to select groups to blame its ills upon, and those least able to defend themselves, such as Romanies, provide the most likely candidates.

g)        The fact that, since the 19th Century, a literary “gypsy,” (always written with a lower-case “g”) has emerged, which is presented as the epitome of freedom: freedom from responsibility, freedom from moral constraints, freedom from the requirements of hygiene, freedom from nine-to-five routine.  This has remained unchallenged by the Romani community because of the traditional lack of access to the means necessary to combat stereotyping, and thus there has grown in the popular mind an image which combines fascination with resentment, even with repulsion.  As Janos Kenedi has noted (1986:14), because of their reliance in large measure upon literary and poorly-researched sources for their background information on Romanies, “the mass media, in a veiled and often less-veiled form, goad opinion in an anti-Gypsy direction.”  This fictionalized image originates in the idealizing of the western European Romani populations during the period of the industrial revolution, when they came to symbolize in literature an earlier idyllic, rural way of life.  This coincided with European concepts of the “noble savage,” and the realization that there were heathen populations in the heart of civilization in desperate need of Christian salvation.  The early Victorian period saw the appearance of several works on missionary activity amongst Romanies (Mayall, 1988).

h)       The need to keep the gentile population at arm’s length has also prevented investigators from gaining too intimate an acquaintance with the Romani world, which has led to highly embellished and stereotyped published accounts.  These in turn have kept alive the “otherness” and distance of Romanies, both of which factors have helped sustain a literary or fantasy image, and which have worked very effectively against Romani issues being taken seriously.  Most recently a review article dealing with an outsider’s introduction to the Romani community described how two investigators, one of whom was “terrified” and the other armed with “a deck of cards and a packet of cigarettes” steeled themselves and intrepidly “went in” (Smith, 1995:18). The second chapter of Barry Cockroft’s (1979) book on British Romanies is entitled “First Sighting.”  The first chapter is “Above All, Freedom.”

In sum, then, we can seek the historical basis of anti-Romani prejudice in a number of areas, in particular racism, religious intolerance, outsider status and the fact that Romanies maintain an exclusivist or separatist culture.  In large part too, the literary image of the “gypsy” blurs the distinction between the real and the imagined population, so that even factual reports of antigypsyism seldom receive the concern they deserve.  How many historical treatments of the 20th Century Armenian genocide, for example, have mentioned, even as a footnote, the fact that nearly all of the Armenian Gypsies (the Lom) were destroyed by the Turks and the Kurds?  All of these factors underlie the problems which face the Romani population throughout the world today.

Anti-Romani Attitudes in pre-20th Century Germany

Romanies were first documented in German-speaking Europe in 1407; the first anti-Gypsy law was issued in 1416, the beginning of centuries of legal discrimination.  Bischoff (1827:3) wrote that “in Germany, the greatest number of decrees of banishment were published against them . . . this unhappy people was persecuted, strung up without exception as thieves and robbers when caught and, guilty or innocent, destroyed by the thousands.”  By 1417 commentaries on their frightening physical appearance were beginning to be recorded; Hermann Cornerus wrote of the Romanies’ “very ugly” and “black” faces, and likened them to the Tatars (in Eccard, 1723), while in 1435 the Roman Catholic monk Rufus of Lübeck wrote disparagingly of their dark skin and black hair (Grautoff, 1872).  The first accusations of their being spies, carriers of the plague and traitors to Christendom were made in 1496 and again in 1497, and yet again in 1498.  In 1500, All Romanies were banished from Germany on pain of death by Maximilian I, while German citizens were told that killing Romanies  was not a punishable offense.  In 1543, in a diatribe directed at both Jews and Romanies, Martin Luther recommended that Jews be rounded up and put into stables “like Gypsies,” in order to be reminded of their lowly status in German society (Gilbert, 1985:19) and in a sermon he gave in 1543 he said Romanies charged high prices, gave away information and were traitors, that they poisoned the wells, started fires, kidnapped children and cheated the public in all sorts of ways intended to cause harm (Luther, 1883:19-24).  While the Lutheran Church has officially apologized to the Jewish people for Luther’s anti-Semitic remarks, they have yet publicly to acknowledge his racism directed at Romanies.

In 1566, King Ferdinand reaffirmed the expulsion order of Maximilian; two years later, Pope Pius the Fifth banished all Romanies from the realm of the Holy Roman Church.  In 1659, the mass murder of Romanies was reported in a pogrom near Neudorf, outside of Dresden; in 1709, a German law was passed for the arrest of Romanies simply because of what they were, to be deported to the American colonies, or to be used as galley slaves.  In the following year, King Frederick I condemned all males to forced labor, and began a program of removing Romani children from their families in order to separate them permanently from their ethnic identity. 

In 1721, Emperor Karl VI ordered the extermination of all Romanies everywhere, 220 years before the same directive was issued by Hitler.  In 1725, King Frederick William I condemned all Romanies of eighteen years and over to be hanged.  At the end of that century, Heinrich Grellmann published his groundbreaking treatise which established the Indian origin of the Romani people but claimed that, in doing his research among them, he felt “a clear repugnancy, like a biologist dissecting some nauseating, crawling thing in the interest of science.”  Ten years after that, in 1793, anti-Romani racism received further establishment sanction, this time from the Church, when the Lutheran minister Martinus Zippel declared that “Gypsies in a well-ordered state in the present day, are like vermin on an animal’s body” (Biester, 1793:110).  Acknowledgement of the physical and social differences of the Romanies were gradually being incorporated into German scholarly and ecclesiastical attitudes.

In his Addresses to the German Nation (1808), Johann Fichte wrote that the German “race” had been selected by God himself for preeminence among the world’s peoples; two years later, the German nationalist Jahn wrote that “a state without Volk is a soulless artifice, while a Volk without a state is nothing, a bodiless, airless phantom, like the Gypsies and the Jews”.  Once again, the fact of non-territoriality marked both Romanies and Jews as asocials, populations who didn’t fit in.  In 1819, Hartwig von Hundt-Radowsky compared Romanies and Jews, and wrote about their shared propensity for stealing babies (Wippermann, 1986:57).  Like the charge of cannibalism which was sometimes made, the accusation of child-stealing is psychologically a very powerful one, human beings instinctively reacting with fear or loathing.  In 1830, using the same techniques employed in the previous century, the Nordhausen city council attempted to bring about the eventual eradication of the Romani population by taking children away from their parents for permanent placement with non-Gypsies. One must ask who were the real child-stealers, given the prevalence of the stereotype of the Gypsy in this role.

In 1835, Theodor Tetzner referred in print to Romanies as “the excrement of humanity” (Hehemann, 1987: 99, 116, 127, and Wippermann, 1986:57-58).  In 1848, Colin de Plancy wrote that Romanies were in fact Jews “intermarried with Christian vagrants,” while in 1850, Robert Knox, in his Races of Men described Romanies as the “refuse of the human race.”  Five years after that, in 1855, Gobineau (who also wrote about Gypsies) published his book Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, which argued that human beings could be ranked into higher and lower races, with the white “Aryans”, and particularly the Nordic people within them, placed at the very top: “Aryans were the cream of mankind,” Gobineau believed, “and the Germans, the cream of the cream C a race of princes” (Tenenbaum, 1956:9).  This had particular impact upon the development of German philosophical and political thinking.  A decree issued in the Duchy of Baden in that same year warned the citizens that “in recent times, Gypsies, especially those from Alsace, have frequently been re-entering and travelling about with their families, purportedly to engage in trade but mostly for the purposes of begging or other illegal activities.”  In 1863, Richard Liebich wrote about the “criminal practices” of the Romanies, and described them as worthless life, a phrase which was repeated by R. Kulemann six years later, and which was to have ominous significance in the 20th Century (Hehemann, 1987:127).  The opinions of these scholars started to have repercussions at the highest administrative levels, for just one year later, on November 18th, 1870, Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck circulated a brief demanding the “complete prohibition of foreign Gypsies crossing the German border,” and which stated further that when arrested, they were to be “transported by the closest route to their country of origin.”  He also demanded in the same circular that Romanies in Germany be asked to show documentary proof of citizenship, and that if this were not forthcoming, they be denied travelling passes (Mihalik & Kreutzkamp, 1990:123).  When Alsace and Lorraine were annexed by the German Empire in 1871, each was made responsible for the control of Romanies at the borders into other areas of the new Reich (Fings, 1990:250).  Charles Darwin, also writing in 1871, “employed unmistakably racial terms when he noted ‘the uniform appearance in various parts of the world of Gypsies and Jews . . . which contrast[ed] sharply with all the virtues represented by the territorially settled and ‘culturally advanced’ Nordic Aryan race” (Fox, 1995:7).  Basing his ideas on Darwin, Cesare Lombroso published his influential work L’uomo deliquente in 1876, which contained a lengthy chapter on the genetically criminal character of the Romanies, whom he described as “a living example of a whole race of criminals.”  This was translated into German, French and English (in 1918), and had a profound effect upon western legal attitudes.  At the same time, a decree was issued in Bavaria which called for the strictest examination of documentation held by Romanies, both at the borders and inland, and the confiscation of their work-permits whenever the slightest reason warranted.  Their horses were also to be examined and confiscated if they were deemed unhealthy.  The movements of those who were allowed to remain were still to be carefully monitored (Strauß, 1989).

In 1883, Richard Pischel published his essay on the non-Aryan, and specifically Dravidian, origin of the Romani people, findings which are being substantiated by scholarship being undertaken in India today (Pischel, 1883; see also Hancock, 1995:17-28).  This was also discussed in Martin Block’s 1936 study, a profoundly racist document which had far-reaching influence upon Nazi policy regarding Romanies.  Thus his chapter entitled “Gypsy race and racial preservation” begins (on page 58) “[t]heir ethnological type, like their language, indicates relationship with the original inhabitants of India, either Dravidians or even the still earlier Mon-Khmer peoples.”

In 1886, Chancellor von Bismarck issued a directive to the governments of all the regions of Germany alerting them to “complaints about the mischief caused by families of Gypsies travelling in the Reich, and their increasing molestation of the population,” and stated that foreign Romanies were to be dealt with particularly severely.  This led to the creation of many regional policies designed to deport non-German-born Romanies (Hehemann 1987:246-50).  In 1889 a survey was held by the Imperial Chancery which summarized the progress of the regional reports on Gypsy activity called for by Bismarck in 1886 (Hehemann, loc. cit.).

In the early 1890s, the Swabian parliament organized a conference on the “Gypsy Scum” (Das Zigeunergeschmeiß), and suggested means by which the presence of Romanies could be signalled from village to village by ringing church bells.  The military was empowered to apprehend and move them on.  In 1893 a dossier was published in Cologne demanding that Romanies and Jews be grouped together as criminals and charged equally for the same types of crime (Hehemann, 1987:114, 119-120, 126-127).  An idea of the popular Gypsy stereotype held by the general public is found in Gustavus Miller’s 1901 Traumlexikon (“Dictionary of Dreams”), where under “Gypsies” the following observations are found: “For a man to hold any conversation with a gypsy, he will be likely to lose valuable property; to dream of trading with a gypsy, you will lose money in speculation.”  Similarly under “Jew,” the reader is told “[t]o dream of being in company with a Jew, signifies untiring ambition and an irrepressible longing after wealth; for a young woman to dream of a Jew, omens that she will mistake flattery for truth.”

An especially significant year in Romani Holocaust chronology was 1899, when Houston S. Chamberlain, whose father-in-law was the composer Richard Wagner, published his two-volume work Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (“The foundations of the 19th Century”) which credited the German people with the greatest scientific and cultural accomplishments, and which supported their philosophy of racial superiority.  In it, he yearned for a “newly-shaped” and “especially deserving Aryan race” (1899:I:266).  This was regarded as complete academic justification for actions directed at the Romani minority and others throughout the German-speaking territories.  On March 23rd, an information agency (Nachrichtendienst in Bezug auf die Zigeuner) was established in Munich under the direction of Alfred Dillmann to consolidate reports on the movement of Romanies throughout German lands, and a register of all Gypsies over the age of six began to be compiled.  This included obtaining photographs, fingerprints and other genealogical data, and in particular all information relating to “criminality.”  None of these measures affected the Jews.  This led in turn to two initiatives: Dillmann’s Zigeuner-Buch (1905), and the policy conference of December 1911.

The Twentieth Century

In 1904, the Prussian Landtag unanimously adopted a proposition regulating the movement of Romanies and their means of livelihood.  The following year, the groundwork was laid for what was to come a quarter of a century later, with the appearance of Alfred Dillmann’s Zigeuner-Buch (the “Gypsy Book”).  This consisted of three parts; an introduction which presented the arguments for controlling Romanies, a register, 310 pages long, of over 5,000 individuals, including name, date and place of birth, genealogy and kinship, criminal record and so on, and lastly a collection of photographs of Romanies from various police files.  The introduction maintained that the German people were “suffering” from a “plague” of Gypsies, who were “a pest against which society must unflaggingly defend itself,” and who were to be “controlled by the police most severely,” being “ruthlessly punished” whenever necessary.  The notion of the particular dangers of a mixed Romani and white gene pool, which Dillmann considered to characterize almost the entire Gypsy population, resurfaced in the Nuremburg Laws in 1935.  Such racially-motivated statements also supported the Zigeuner-Buch’s emphasis on the Gypsies’ genetic tendency toward criminal behavior (Vaux de Foletier, 1978, and Cortiade, 1992).  In 1943, the fear of race-mixing and a solution in sterilization was discussed in a book on the Danish Romani population, in which it was maintained that “mixed gipsies cause considerably greater difficulties [than “pure” Gypsies]; nothing good has come from a crossing between a gipsy and a white person” (Bartels & Brun, 1943:52).  On February 17th 1906, the Prussian Minister of the Interior issued a directive entitled Die Bekämpfung des Zigeunerunwesens (“Combatting the Gypsy Nuisance”) which listed bilateral agreements guaranteeing the expulsion of Romanies from those countries, with The Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bel-gium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Russia and Switzerland (Hehemann, loc. cit.).  Police were authorized to prosecute Romanies for breaking the law, which offenses included “lighting fires in the woods, illegal fishing, illegal camping” and so on.  Temporary school attendance was forbidden for children whose families were travelling through an area.  Prussia introduced “Gypsy licenses,” required by all Romanies wanting to stay in that region.  These were issued only if the applicant had a fixed domicile, no serious criminal convictions, educational provision for their children, and proper tax accounts.  Those qualifying were nevertheless still not allowed to settle locally (Günther, 1985:13-14).  In 1907 Hugo Herz wrote that Romanies, because of their “purely parasitical” existence, threatened normal society and the very State, concluding that “Gypsies represent an unhealthy social form within the organism of cultured people” (Hehemann, 1967: 114,119-20, 126-7).  This was followed a year later a by sharp increase in anti-Gypsy terrorism throughout Germany, which led to an influx of Romanies into western Europe, including Britain.  In 1909, Switzerland petitioned Germany, Italy, France and Austria to exchange information on the movements of Romanies across their shared borders, and while this was unsuccessful, the Swiss Department of Justice began a national register of Gypsies, based upon the Munich model.  Recommendations coming from a “Gypsy policy conference” in Hungary included the confiscation of their animals and wagons, and permanent branding for purposes of identification.  In December, 1911, a conference was organized at which the Munich Register was used as the basis for a larger file by incorporating data from the registers of six other German states.  A year later, France introduced the carnet anthropométrique, a document containing personal data, including photograph and fingerprints, which all Romanies were required to carry.  This requirement remained in effect until 1970.  Despite the terms of Article 108 of the National Constitution of the Weimar Republic, reaffirmed in 1919, and again in 1921, which guaranteed Romanies full and equal citizenship rights, antigypsyism throughout the German-speaking lands was steadily escalating.

Another significant year in the pre-Holocaust chronology was 1920, which saw the publication of psychiatrist Karl Binding and magistrate Alfred Hoche’s book, which argued for the killing of those who were “Ballastexistenzen,” i.e. whose lives were seen merely as ballast, or dead weight, within humanity (discussed in detail in Burleigh, 1994:15ff.).  The title of that study included the phrase “lebensunwerten Lebens,” the concept of “lives unworthy (or undeserving) of life” which was first introduced by Liebich 57 years earlier and which became central to Nazi race policy in 1933, when a law incorporating this same phrase was issued by Hitler on July 14th that year.  It singled out three groups which warranted this “euthanasia:” the terminally ill who specifically requested it, the incurably mentally ill, and people in comas grossly disfigured through accident or battle.  The Romani population was seen as belonging to the second category, a belief which eventually crystallized in Hitler’s 1933 law against them, and a later law issued on December 14th, 1937 which allowed imprisonment for “genetically inherited criminality” as well as for actual criminal activity.  On July 27th, 1920, the Minister of Public Welfare in Düsseldorf forbade Gypsies from entering any public washing or recreational facilities, including swimming pools, public baths, spas and parks.  In 1922 Viktor Lebzelter wrote about 41 Romanies from Serbia imprisoned in Krákow, Poland, in language one would use “to describe a different species” (Hohmann, 1981:33). In Baden, requirements were introduced that all Gypsies be photographed and fingerprinted, and have documents completed on them. 

In 1925, a conference was held on the Gypsy question, at which Bavaria proposed a law compulsorily to settle Gypsies, and to incarcerate those not regularly employed (referred to as arbeitscheu or “work shy”) to work camps for up to two years, for reasons of “public security.” This applied equally to settled and non-settled Romanies.  On July 16th, 1926, the Bavarian “Law for Combatting Gypsies, Vagabonds and Idlers” proposed at the 1925 conference, was passed.  It was justified in the legislative assembly thus: “[Gypsies] are by nature opposed to all work, and find it especially difficult to tolerate any restriction of their nomadic life; nothing, therefore, hits them harder than loss of liberty, combined with forced labor.”  The law required the registration of all Gypsies, settled or not, with the police, registry office and unemployment agency in each district.  Bavarian State Counselor Hermann Reich praised “the enactment of the Gypsy law. . . This law gives the police the legal hold it needs for thorough-going action against this constant danger to the security of the nation.”  The Swiss Pro Juventute Foundation began, “in keeping with the theories of eugenics and progress” (Fraser, 1992:254), to take children away from Romani families without their consent, to change their names, and to put them into foster homes.  Those pre-Nazi ideas of ethnic cleansing continued until 1973, and were not brought to public attention until the 1980s.  Switzerland has apologized to the Romanies, but still adamantly refuses to allow access to the records which will help parents locate the children stolen from them.  Again we must reexamine the accusation of the Gypsy as child-stealer.

On November 3rd, 1927, a Prussian ministerial decree was issued which required all Romanies to be registered by means of documentation “in the same manner as individuals being sought using wanted posters, witnesses, photographs and fingerprints.”  Even infants were fingerprinted, and those over the age of six required to carry identity cards bearing their photograph as well.  Between November 23rd and 26th, armed raids were carried out by the police on Romani communities throughout Prussia to enforce the decree of November 3rd.  Eight thousand men, women and children were processed as a result.  Bavaria instituted a law forbidding Romanies to travel in family groups, or to own firearms.  Those over sixteen found themselves liable for imprisonment in work camps, while others without proof of local birth began to be expelled from Bavaria.  A group of Romanies in Slovakia was tried for cannibalism, which Friedman (1950:3) interpreted as part of the growing campaign to increase negative public sentiment against the Romani population.  After April 12th, 1928, Romanies in Germany were placed under permanent police surveillance; the same directive was reissued and reaffirmed the following month, even though it was in direct violation of the provisions of the Weimar Constitution.  Professor Hans F. Günther wrote in that year that “it was the Gypsies who introduced foreign blood into Europe.”  On April 3rd, 1929, resulting from the 1926 law, the jurisdiction of the Munich office was extended to include the whole of Germany; the German Criminal Police Commission renamed it The Central Office for the Fight Against the Gypsies in Germany.  On April 16th and 17th, police departments everywhere were ordered to send fingerprints and other data on Romanies both to that office and to the International Criminology Bureau headquarters in Vienna C Interpol.  Working closely together, they enforced restrictions on travel for Romanies without documents, and imposed up to two years’ detention in “rehabilitation camps” on those sixteen years and older. 

In 1930, the Norwegian journalist Scharfenberg recommended that all Gypsies be sterilized, and on January 20th, 1933, just ten days before Hitler came to power, officials in Burgenland called for the withdrawal of all civil rights for Romanies, and the introduction of clubbing as a punishment. 

The Nazi Period, 1933-1945

It was stated earlier that a fuller chronology has been published elsewhere, and it does not need to be reproduced here; reference is made, however, to a number of the more significant events during this period, while the earlier chronology (and also Hancock 1989 and 1996) may be referred to for further details and references.

On January 30th, Hitler was elected Chancellor of The Third Reich.  March 18th saw the renewal of the cooperative agreement of German States for Combatting the Gypsy Menace, which was based on the Bavarian decree of 1926.  It allowed any German state to issue additional regulations restricting licenses to Gypsies for itinerant work, the supervision of school-age Romani children by the welfare authorities, and restricting travel.  On May 26th, the Law to Legalize Eugenic Sterilization was introduced.  On July 14th, Hitler’s cabinet passed the law against “lives not deserving of life” (Lebensunwertesleben), called The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.”  It ordered sterilization for certain categories of people, “specifically Gypsies and most of the Germans of black color” (the so-called “Rhineland Bastards”). It also affected the Jews, as well as the disabled, and others seen as “asocial” (i.e. social misfits).  The Law for the Revocation of German Citizenship was implemented against Romanies unable to show proof of German birth, as well as against the “Eastern Jews,” who constituted nearly 20% of all Jews in Germany in 1933. In the week of September 18th-25th, the Reichsminister for the Interior and Propaganda called for the apprehension and arrest of Romanies, under the terms of the “Law Against Habitual Criminals.”  Many were sent to concentration camps as a result of this, and made to undertake penal labor.  From January 1934 onwards, Romanies were being selected for transfer to camps for processing, which included sterilization by injection or castration.  Over the next three years, such centers were established at Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Sachsenhausen, Marzahn and Vennhausen.  On March 23rd The Law for the Revocation of German Citizenship was reinstituted, and again directed at Romanies, Eastern Jews, stateless persons and other “undesirable foreigners;” on April 11th, the municipal housing policy in Düsseldorf withheld residence permits from Romanies wanting to live within city limits.  In July, two laws issued in Nuremburg forbade Germans from marrying “Jews, Negroes and Gypsies.”

In May, 1935, some five hundred Romanies were arrested simply because they were Romanies, and incarcerated in a camp on Venloerstraße in Cologne.  This was surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed police.  On September 15th, Romanies became subject to the restrictions of the National Citizenship Law (the Reichsbürgergesetz) and the Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which forbade intermarriage or sexual relationships between Aryan and non-Aryan peoples.  It stated: “A marriage cannot be concluded when the expected result will put the purity of German blood of future generations in danger.”  A policy statement issued by the Nazi Party read “[i]n Europe generally, only Jews and Gypsies come under consideration as members of an alien people.”  Gypsies, Jews and Afro-Europeans were considered “racially distinctive” minorities with “alien blood.”

On September 17th, The National Citizenship Law relegated Jews and Romanies to the status of second class citizens, and deprived them of their civil rights.  On November 26th, the Central Reich Bureau and the Prussian Ministry of the Interior circulated an order to local vital statistics registration offices throughout Germany, prohibiting mixed marriages, specifically between Germans and “Gypsies, Black people, and their bastard offspring.” In December, all Romanies in the town of Gelsenkirchen were incarcerated in camps on Crangerstraße and Reginenstraße, which were patrolled by the police, armed soldiers and dogs.

On March 4th, 1936, a memorandum to the State Secretary of the Interior, Hans Pfundtner, addressed the creation of a national Gypsy law (Reichzigeunergesetz), the purpose of which was to deal with the complete registration of the Romani population, their sterilization, the restriction on their movement and means of livelihood, and the expulsion of all foreign-born and stateless Romanies.  On March 20th, “action against the Gypsies” was instituted in Frankfurt am Main, when the City Council voted to move the entire local population to an internment camp.  The camp, on Dieselstrasse, was designated on September 22nd that year, and the arrests and internment began a year later. In June, the main Nazi institution to deal with Romanies, the Racial Hygiene and Criminal Biology and Research Unit (which was Department 13 of the National Ministry of Health) was established under the directorship of Dr. Robert Ritter at Berlin-Dahlem.  The National Interior Ministry supervised this entire project, partially funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (the German Research Foundation).  Its expressed purpose was to determine whether the Romani people and the Afro-Europeans were Aryans or sub-humans (“Untermenschen”).  By early 1942, Ritter had documented the genealogy of almost the entire Romani population of Germany.

On June 5th, a circular issued by the National and the Prussian Ministries of the Interior instructed the police to renew their efforts to “fight against the Gypsy plague.”  Information about Romanies was no longer to be sent to Vienna, but to the Munich Center for the Fight Against the Gypsy Nuisance.  On June 6th, 1936, the same ministries released a second circular, signed by Himmler which stated that “Gypsies live by theft, lying and begging, and are a plague. . . It will be difficult for Gypsies to get used to an orderly, civilized way of life.”  Also on this day, a decree issued by the National and Prussian Ministry of the Interior brought into existence the Central Office to Combat the Gypsy Menace.  This office in Munich became the headquarters of a national data bank on Romanies, and represented all German police agencies together with the Interpol International Center in Vienna, where it was located in the police headquarters on Roßauerlände.  In June and July, several hundred Romanies were transported to Dachau by order of the Minister of the Interior as “dependents of the Munich Centre for the Fight Against the Gypsy Nuisance.”  Attempts to escape were punishable by death. 

In this year, Dr. Hans Globke, Head of Service for the Ministry of the Interior for the Third Reich, who served on the panel on racial legislation, declared that “in Europe, only Jews and Gypsies are of foreign blood,” while race hygienist Dr. Robert Körber wrote in his paper Volk und Staat that “The Jews and the Gypsies are today wide apart from us because their Asiatic progenitors were totally different from our Nordic forebears” (quoted in Tenenbaum, 1956:400), a sentiment reiterated by Dr. E. Brandis, who wrote that “only the Gypsies are to be considered as an alien people in Europe (beside the Jews).”  Dr. Claus Eichen published his book Raßenwahn: Briefe über die Raßenfrage (“Delusions of race: Notes on the race question”) in which he justified sterilization of “asocial” and “criminal” elements in German society, i.e. Gypsies.  German anti-Gypsyism became trans-national in Europe when Interpol in Vienna established the Centre for Combatting the Gypsy Menace, which had grown out of the earlier Bureau of Gypsy Affairs.  In Leipzig, Martin Block published his general study of Romanies, and justified Nazi racist attitudes, echoing Grellmann when he wrote of the “nauseating Gypsy smell,” and the “involuntary feeling of mistrust or repulsion one feels in their presence.”  In Berlin, Romanies were cleared off the streets away from public view because of the upcoming Olympic games, so that visitors could be “spared the sight of the Gypsy disgrace” (Zimmermann, 1990:91). 

In 1937, an editorial in the Hamburger Tagblatt for August by Georg Nawrocki, took the Weimar Republic to task for its lenient attitude towards Gypsies: “It was in keeping with the inner weakness and mendacity of the Weimar Republic that it showed no instinct for tackling the Gypsy question.  For it, the Sinti were a criminal concern at best C we, on the other hand, see the Gypsy question above all as a racial problem, which must be solved, and which is being solved” (Vossen, 1983:70).  On August 18th, Romanies in Frankfurt were arrested and incarcerated in the Dieselstraße camp.  In the same year, 1937, Heinrich Himmler issued a decree entitled Bekämpfung der Zigeunerplage (“The Struggle Against the Gypsy Plague”) which stated, like Dillmann’s Zigeuner-Buch 27 years before it, that Gypsies of mixed blood were the most predisposed to criminality, and that police departments should systematically send data on Romanies in their areas to the Reich Central Office (Döring, 1964:58-60).              Between June 12th and June 18th, 1938, Zigeuneraufräumungswoche, “Gypsy clean-up week,” took place, and hundreds of Romanies throughout Germany and Austria were rounded up, beaten and imprisoned (Novitch, 1968:7).  This was the third such public action by the German state, earlier attacks having taken place on November 23rd-26th, 1927 and September 18th-25th, 1933.  Like Kristallnacht, it was a public sanctioning and approval of the official attitude towards members of an “inferior race.”  After March 16th, Romanies were no longer allowed to vote, a directive shortly thereafter also applied to Jews.  The second mention of the Endlösung der Zigeunerfrage (“Final Solution of the Gypsy Question”) appeared in a document calling for its implementation signed by Himmler on December 8th, 1938 (Ranz, 1995:11).

At the beginning of 1940, the first mass genocidal action of the Holocaust took place when 250 Romani children from Czechoslovakia were murdered during tests with the new Zyklon-B gas in the camp at Buchenwald (Proester, 1940; Novitch, 1968) .  Robert Ritter published a report in which he stated that “we have been able to establish that more than 90% of the so-called ‘native’ [i.e. German-born] Gypsies are of mixed blood . . . Furthermore, the results of our investigations have allowed us to characterize 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 asocial and worthless Gypsy individuals of mixed blood is collected together in large labor camps and kept working there, and when the further breeding of this population of mixed blood is permanently stopped.” (Müller-Hill, 1989:57). 

In August, 1941, Himmler issued a decree listing the criteria for racial and biological evaluation.  An individual’s family background had to be investigated over three generations (compared to two generations for one’s Jewish genealogy).  He implemented a system of classification based on the degree of Romani ancestry in one’s genetic descent: <Z> meant “pure Gypsy,” <ZM+> meant more than half Gypsy, <ZM> meant half Gypsy, <ZM-> meant less than half Gypsy and <NZ> meant non-Gypsy.  Having two great-grandparents who were even only part-Gypsy (i.e. if one were of 25% or less Gypsy ancestry) counted as <ZM->.  On July 31st, Heydrich, chief architect of the details of the Final Solution, issued his directive to the Einsatzkommandos to “kill all Jews, Gypsies and mental patients” (Müller-Hill, 1989:56; see also Friedlander, 1995).  In September that year, Minister of Justice Dr. Otto Thierack wrote in a memo to Hermann Goebbels that

With regard to the destruction of asocial life, Dr. Goebbels is of opinion that the following should be exterminated: (1) All Jews and Gypsies (2) Poles in prison for three or four year terms, and (3) Czechs and Germans who have been sentences either to death or to life imprisonment.  The idea of exterminating them through work is best (International Military Tribunal, Vol. VI, p. 279).

On December 16th, 1942, Himmler issued the order to have all Romanies remaining in Germany deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination, and so the end began for the second “major group which National Socialists proposed to exterminate in its entirety: the Gypsies” (Peukert, 1987:210).

The Post-War Period

The question is frequently asked regarding the number of Romanies murdered in the Holocaust.  Estimates from as low as 20,000 to as high as four million have appeared, with half a million having somehow become the default figure.  This must be considered an underestimation for a number of reasons, expressed most clearly by König (1989:87-89):

[T]he count of half a million Sinti and Roma murdered between 1939 and 1945 is too low to be tenable; for example in the Soviet Union many of the Romani dead were listed under non-specific labels such as “remainder to be liquidated,” “hangers-on,” “partisans,” [&c. . .] The final number of the dead Sinti and Roma may never be determined.  We do not know precisely how many were brought into the concentration camps; not every concentration camp produced statistical material . . . Sinti and Roma often. . . do not appear in the statistics.

Also, as the Auschwitz Memorial Book points out, Romanies were murdered unrecorded, sometimes by the hundreds, outside the camps, in the most numbers in the eastern territories, for which only scant records exist.  As research continues, for example that being undertaken for Czechoslovakia by Polansky (Strandberg, 1994) or for Serbia by Ackoviƒ (1995), the figures rise steadily higher.  In order to estimate the percentage of total losses, we would have to know, in addition to the number of dead, the number of Romanies throughout Europe before 1933, and this we will never be able to determine accurately, although both Colliers Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Americana list the pre-war European Romani population as 700,000.  A guess as good as any is that there were perhaps three million Romanies throughout the German-controlled territories at the period of their maximum extent, between one and one and a half a million of whom were murdered, i.e. between a third and a half of the population.  The world population at the same time was probably ca. five million.

Only a few thousand survived in the Nazi-controlled territories, and none was asked to testify in behalf of the Romani victims at the war crimes trials.  Reparations to Romanies as a people have yet to be made by the German government, which has only in recent years even admitted the racial motivation of the Nazi genocidal campaign against the Romani people.

The massive increase in neo-Nazi activity since the reunification of Germany and the collapse of Communism need not be elaborated upon here; it has been documented in a series of book-length treatments published by Helsinki Watch, and in a 50-page report by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission.  And in poll after poll, the Romani population in Europe stands as the prime target of both sanctioned and unsanctioned discrimination.  In 1995 alone, in the Czech Republic alone, there were over 450 documented attacks against Romanies, several resulting in death; those were only the reported incidents.  There have been rapes and house-burnings in Romania and Bulgaria; letter bombs and booby-trap explosives have killed four Romanies and blinded and maimed many more.  At the October, 1995 OSCE meeting in Warsaw, one of our delegates was hit and robbed by four youths on the street shouting racial epithets; another was turned back at the Polish border simply because he was a Romani, and as a result was not able to attend the meeting.  The previous year, in the same city, a group of nine of us, all Romanies, were refused service in a restaurant. 

One of the issues at the 1995 conference in Warsaw was the official protest of Romania’s resolution to replace the words Rom and Romani with Úigan in all official documents.  The word, which was a synonym for “slave” during the five and a half centuries of Gypsy slavery in that country, is as offensive for Romanies as the word “nigger” is for African Americans.  The Romanian government’s reason for this is that Romani sounds too much like Romanian, and outsiders might think that Romanians were Gypsies.  In November, 1995, Amnesty International released a 62-page document on human rights abuses in Romania which referred in part to “reports about torture and ill-treatment by police officials [and their] violent abuse of power . . . Massive arbitrary measures against the Romani minority and the lack of protection of this group against racist attacks have continuously posed a problem since March, 1990.”  The Romanian government has responded by declaring that “hereafter, slandering of the state and the nation will be prosecuted by imprisonment of up to five years” (Romnews, No. 46, November 19th, 1995, p. 1.).

Echoes of the Holocaust

Attention is drawn to Romania deliberately here, because a frightening link with the Third Reich is having repercussions in the present day, though it has so far gone unheeded.  In the pages of the newsletter of the Virginia-based Romanian Children’s Connection, attention has been brought to the appalling conditions of the orphans in Romania’s state institutions, where in some places they constitute as many as 80% of the children, although Romanies make up only between 10% and 20% of the national population.  The Romanian government is struggling to address this situation, which is a legacy left it by Nicolae CeauÕescu.  Like Hitler before him, CeauÕescu was intent on creating a superior “Dacian” race by genetic manipulation.  His fascination with Hitler’s race policies was no secret; Pacepa (1988:281) describes this as follows:

In the early 1970s, when CeauÕescu learned that Romania had over 600,000 emigrés abroad, he became very interested in Hitler’s Fifth Column.  This was not too surprising, as CeauÕescu had always studied Hitler’s ‘charisma,’ and had repeatedly analyzed the original Nazi films of Hitler’s speeches . . . In almost every speech, he recalls the Romanian people’s origins in proud Roman and Dacian warriors, just as Hitler harped on the Aryans.

Because he took pains to conceal his actions, however, and because little documentation has yet come to light, much of it having been destroyed, the means by which CeauÕescu tried to accomplish his aims are only now being pieced together. 

The establishment of his “death camp” orphanages apparently pre-dated his fascination with Hitler by some years. On July 28th, 1991, using footage secretly filmed by Hans Kunink, who was working with the human rights organization Terre des Hommes which is based in Den Haag, Mark Jones presented a documentary on NBC’s Cable News Network in which he reported that CeauÕescu started the camps as early as 1965; there had been years of planning.  When Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp, was discovered in January, 1945, Nicolae CeauÕescu was 27 years old.  Like the Nazis, CeauÕescu advocated racial purity.  Years later, he would express his concern for, quote, “the new human type we intend to mold in our society.”  CeauÕescu had Romania’s history books rewritten.  He argued that the true Romanians were Dacians, far more advanced than what he called “the other aboriginal races . . . superior even to ancient Rome.”  CeauÕescu wanted a huge robot work force.

His intention was to breed on the one hand large numbers of “pure” Romanians and on the other, those who were to make up his “robot work force,” the status the Romani slaves had already endured for over five hundred years in his country.  In both cases, the weak were allowed to die, since they were of no use to either population.  Terre des Hommes reported that the annual death rate in some of the homes was between 50% and 65%.  Such children were classified as “irrecuperable” or “irrecoverable” by the government, and no attempt was made to sustain them.  Hans Hunink’s film showed the mass graves where their bodies had been dumped, sometimes not even in boxes, after they had been allowed to die.  According to that report, irrecuperables were sent to Riu Radului, near Sibiu,

. . . one of 170 isolated ‘forbidden zones.’  No visitors were allowed inside; one mile up the road is a mass grave, four football fields long.  Dutch humanitarian Hans Hunink discovered the mass grave last winter; Hunink believes that most of the dead are children.

Women, married or not, were encouraged to have many children; they were rewarded publicly for giving birth to five or more, and birth control was made illegal.  Romanian officials have since maintained that Romanies were not therefore discriminated against, since the policy affected both populations equally, but the awful difference lay in what was destined for each group.  Because of the state of the Romanian economy, and because CeauÕescu was executed in December, 1989, this bizarre plan never materialized, but it has left a legacy in the surplus children who languish in Romania’s orphanages, and whose bodies fill the graves reported by Terre des Hommes.

A report dated August 28th, 1991, indicated that the coercive sterilization of Romani women in Czechoslovakia and the permanent removal of their children was still going on, despite assurances from the Czech government that it had been stopped (Pellar, 1991; see also Offner & de Rooj, 1990).

The age-old charge of spying re-emerged a few years ago in 1989, when the British government used it as a reason for their not allowing the construction of a site for Romanies near a Ministry of Defence research facility.  It was said that the presence of Gypsies near the establishment would “pose a risk to security . . . and allow terrorists near the top-secret site for reconnaissance work” (The Surrey Advertiser, May 25th, 1990).

Lombroso’s and Dillmann’s and the Nazis’ insistence that criminality is a genetic characteristic of the Romani people was the focus of a 1981 article in a police journal by American criminologist Terry Getsay, who wrote about the “criminal propensity” of the Gypsies as a people; two entire books on the topic appeared in 1994, published by police specialty presses: Jack Morris’ The master criminals among the Gypsies and Marlock & Dowling’s Licenced to steal; the latter talks about “dishonest Romani, the true Gypsies” (p. 17), and cautions that “no one is invulnerable to Gypsy crime” on the dust-jacket.  Such crime, it says, “has a feel, a smell and an aura that screams ‘Gypsy’” (p. 5).  An article on Gypsies published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in 1994, in wording reminiscent of the 1899 police conference in Germany, stressed that “interagency cooperation represents the greatest asset law enforcement can employ [against Gypsies]” (Mazzone, 1994:5).

An unsettling echo of the 1920 decree which forbade Romanies to use public facilities came on October 18th, 1995, when the mayor of Vsetin in the Czech Republic issued a similar order banning Romanies from using public bathing and swimming facilities in that city (Open Media Research Institute, Daily Digest, 20th October 1995).

History also repeated itself in Munich in October, 1988, when the City Council announced its intention forcibly to relocate Romanies refugees to a containment center on the site of an earlier Nazi deportation and slave-labor camp in that city; it was a toxic waste dump, and was to have guards and guard dogs patrolling it (Die Tageszeichnung for October 26th, 1988).  The same action was taken in the same city in May, 1935.

In 1936, Romanies had been cleared from the streets of Berlin in anticipation of the Olympic Games; fifty-six years later, the police in Spain did exactly the same thing in preparation for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, when Spanish Romanies were moved to the Campo de la Bota outside the city for the same reason C to hide the Gypsy “eyesore” from the public.

When attempts to create a robot work force for a master race were being made forty years after the fall of Nazi Germany, when the coercive sterilization of Romani women is being reported in the 1990s, when Germany can deport its unwanted Romanies to neighboring countries and pay those countries to take them, we must ask ourselves how far we have come since the days of Hitler.  When we watch the present-day rise of neo-Nazi activity, not only overseas but here in our own country, and stand impotently by as Romanies are beaten and murdered in Europe, sometimes by the very police meant to protect them, we must face the fact that the writing is clearly on the wall.  If the situation is not regarded seriously and steps are not taken to prevent it, then the world will have another porrajmos, another massive devouring of Romani lives, to account for.


1. This is a modified version of paper originally presented at the Conference entitled Gypsies in the Holocaust:   The Nazi Assault on Roma and Sinti, co-sponsored by the Drew University Center for Holocaust Study and   The United States Holocaust Research Institute, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, Thursday,  November 9th 1995.

2. Though not entirely: Kimmerling (1995:63, fn. 26) notes that

Most mainstream Israeli historians and social scientists agree upon the incomparability of the Holocaust with other organized genocides and invest much energy in ‘proving’ this argument.  Any counter-argument is seen as ‘revisionism’ and virtually seen as equivalent to the denial of the Holocaust itself.  When in 1995 the Ministry of Education tried to introduce an optional curricular program for high schools about the Armenian and Gypsy genocides, the plan was vetoed by several respectable history professors, who argued that the subject was better presented as part of the more general program dealing with World War II.

 This “competitive” aspect is particularly explicit in a monograph by Gilad Margalit (1996), who states that   “Antigypsyism and antisemitism are two very different phenomena of ethnic hatred, distinct in their content,   dimensions and appearance (p. 3) . . . antigypsyism . . . is only a marginal preoccupation of the German     extreme Right, compared to the constant and latent and exposed preoccupation with Jews and Judaism (p.   26).”

3. Friedlander deals in particular with the targeting of the handicapped in his new book, the one other population selected for extermination according to Nazi genocidal policy, and the one on which race-engineering   techniques for dealing with Romanies and Jews were later based.

4.There is considerable confusion about the terminology used when discussing the Romani people, and some clarification is in order.  All Romani populations throughout the world share a single common origin in India, having left there as a single group about a thousand years ago as a result of the spread of Islam (Hancock, 1995); at the time of arrival in Europe was between 1250 and 1300 AD; the fragmenting into the various sub-groups occurred during this time, as a result of different sociohistorical factors. These divisions were accompanied by the acquisition and use of different names; Sinti   refers to the Romani population in northern Europe, a population which suffered especially severely at the   hands of the Nazis.  The Sinti refer to their language and culture as Romani, and use the word Rom only to   mean (Romani) husband.  Other groups use the word Rom in the same way as Sinti, i.e. as the larger group   designation; the Sinti do not refer to themselves as a group as R(r)oma.  When referring to the Sinti specifically, the word Sinti should be employed.  The International Romani Union recognizes the historical unity   of all Romani populations, and that all populations furthermore have the word Rom in their respective dialects of Romani, either to mean “(Romani) husband” (as opposed to “non-Romani husband”), or to refer   to the group as a whole, or else to mean both. Thus, the word   Rrom (plural Rroma) is now used in all IRU  documents as the general ethnonym for all peoples who descend from Romani-speaking populations, in-     cluding the Sinti, Vlax, Manuš, Romni…el, Kale, &c.  The spelling with double-/rr/ is in accordance with  standardized orthography, there being two /r/ phonemes in the language (Cortiade et al., 1996) [Since writing this essay, I have edited in the word Romani(es) throughout, following the rationale outlined in my book We Are the Romani People, pp. xxj-xxij].

5.Romani cultural restrictions on contact with outsiders, while probably having their origins in Hinduism and   the caste system, are not maintained for religious reasons today. They are based in the concept of ritual pollution, which must be guarded against by the proper preparation of food, handling of animals, washing and placement of clothes and bed linen, and by proper male-female relationships.  Since non-Romanies do not observe these behaviors, they are in a state of defilement, and thereby able to defile others (specifically Romanies themselves) by association.  Not all Romani groups maintain all of these restrictions to the same extent.

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