A short history of the discrimination and persecution of the European Roma and their fate under Nazi rule
Wansee Haus - Berlin
In 1980, the German Sinti proposed the establishment of a cultural center for their people at Dachau as a sign of recognition and compensation for the persecution and suffering of the European Gypsies by the Nazis. The municipality of Dachau harshly rejected this proposal, however, stating that the citizens of that town had already been stigmatized sufficiently by the sinister memories that the name Dachau evokes; the Gypsies would only add to the negative image of the community. When some of the younger Sinti, together with some of the older ones who survived the concentration camps announced a hunger strike at Dachau to draw the attention of the public to their claim, the district magistrate threatened them with one year of prison if they came to Dachau, by citing the domestic right to evict trespassers. The Sinti Roma came despite the threat of consequences. When they tried to enter the ground of the former concentration campCnow a memorialC they were told: "Go away, you disturb the peace of the dead, this is the dignified place!." But Romani Rose, the speaker for the young Sinti, replied "if anyone has the domestic right in this place it is we, the survivors of the victims." It was not until the film Holocaust aroused new discussions about Nazi crimes, that the mass murder of the Roma committed by the Nazis and their collaborators finally won the attention of the public, thus stimulating at least the recognition of the widely unknown fate of the Roma under the Nazis, and leading for the first time to an unbiased investigation of the facts. A number of researches have since been published, which not only focus on this forgotten chapter of Holocaust history, but which also cast light upon the continuous discriminatory policy towards the Roma since the end of World War II. This paper will present a compilation of these new relevant articles and books. As to their fate, Roma and Jews seem to be kinsfolk. Both peoples lived in Europe for centuries without a territory of their own, subjected to arbitrary treatment and legislation by the settled peoples, scattered and driven from place to place again and again in search of new homes and secure means of livelihood, discriminated against because of their "being different." The Roma are believed to have lived as peasants in the region of Punjab, northeast India, which they left about 1,000 years ago. The reasons for their migration are not clear; it is highly probable that they were expelled by Muslim invaders. On their way through the Middle East, Armenia and Byzantium, they obviously made several attempts to settle. During the 9th and 14th centuries massacres of Gypsy communities in the Middle East are documented. Other documents note that Romani tribes reached Europe as peaceful immigrants around the beginning of the 14th century. They are recorded as having been in Crete in 1322, and in the Balkans as early as 1378. While some of the Gypsies in Eastern Europe became sedentary, in Western Europe they were mostly tolerated as migrant workers only, thus developing a special pattern of migration.
At least in the feudal system the Roma had a key role in society and economy as peddlers, tinsmiths, musicians, itinerant showpeople, fortunetellers, and also as blacksmiths and horse dealers. It is remarkableCthough it may seem contradictoryCthat the tolerance towards the Gypsies ended with the establishment of the bourgeois constitutional democracies. Modern society, granting equality in the eyes of the law, though only to those ready to assimilate to the behavioral pattern of the majority, confronted Jews and Gypsies with a problem of integration, requiring them to abandon their ethnic identity and cultural tradition. For both groups this challenge and its resulting problems was forcibly solved by the Endlösung, the physical extermination planned and carried out by the Nazis and their collaborators. But while the genocide of European Jewry was publicly admitted and recognized by the West German government, and attempts were made to recompense the survivors and to find ways of reconciliation, nothing like this happened to the Romani people. Prejudice and discrimination against the Roma survived the Nazi period almost unquestioned and unrestricted not only in Germany but also in almost all other European countries. To this day Roma are regarded and treated as Untermenschen, though the term itself is no longer explicitly used. Nor did these victims of Nazi racial policy receive comparable restitution for their suffering like the Jewish survivors, and for more than thirty years after World War II their fate was not even considered deserving of thorough scientific research. As late as the 1950s the courts of the Federal Republic of Germany refused claims from Sinti and Roma for restitution for concentration camp imprisonment, or damage to their health, by declaring that Nazi actions against Gypsies had been "necessary measures taken by the police to prevent crimes," and in 1956 the Supreme Court decided that the persecution, deportation and concentration camp imprisonment had been justified due to the "asocial (i.e. criminal) character of the Gypsies," thus perpeptuating the Nazi ethic; the murderer is not guilty, but the victim is. Are the Roma a quantité négligeable because as a group they are politically irrelevant and without an effective representation or lobby? Little is known about the genocide of the Roma. More than a half million European Gypsies fell victim to the Nazi racial policy. They were gassed, hanged and starved to death in the camps, they perished from medical experiments and forced labor, they died in deportations and mass killings on the spot, and executed by firing squads in many parts of Nazi-occupied Europe. In the Nazi satellite Croatia the Ustashi had already "achieved " the almost total extermination of the Romani population there by 1942. Contemporary experts estimate that 50 percent of European and 70 percent of the mid-European Roma were killed. How could this happened? If we look back into the history of the Roma, we find that it has always been one of persecution and discrimination. As strangers with a dark complexion, strange language and divergent behaviour they were at all times the target of hostility. The name itself conveys negative associations, although the etymology is not absolutely well founded. The Greek named atsingani refers to a heretical sect, obviously alluding to their palmistry and predictions. Derivations of this word are cigano, Zigeuner, etc. The German term "Zigeuner" is believed to combine the meaning of "to loaf about" (herumziehen) and "rogue," "gangster" (Gauner), while the English term "Gypsy" is said to be a bowdlerization of "Egyptian," because they were said to have come from the Orient. The associations evoked at all times up to today by the name "Gypsy" range from some falsely romantic and fanciful onesCsuch as freedom, a bohemian way of life, sentimental music, hot food and love (cf. Schnitzel and Carmen), to a majority expressing outright hatred and refusal. Prejudices against Gypsies are no less innumerable and defamatory than anti Jewish, anti Semitic prejudices. They are believed to steal not only goods and money but also children; to cheat, to lie, to use witchcraft, to be dirty, disgusting and smelly, primitive and brutal, restless, unwilling to work, asocial, criminal, a nuisance, a plagueCa problem that needed to be "solved."
These stereotypes are deduced from folk sayings, literature and folklore as well as from legal documents, "scientific" or "expert" reports from all European countries, this so far being a European phenomenon. At all times their dark skin gave rise to the assumption that they were the incarnation of evil, the doctrine of white angels and black devils being well rooted in the Christian mind, while from a racial point of view black skin is taken as a sign of inferiority. They were even believed to deliberately darken themselves with vegetable dye. From the beginning Roma were attacked by both Christian clergy and Muslim priests, being assumed to be non-religious people. But while attempts to force them into churches and mosques are recorded in various places, they were nevertheless placed outside of society. Priests and Islamic leaders declared them to be unworthy of alms and charity; their bodies were not to be buried, the children not baptized. The Roma are one of the rare examples of the Church being reluctant to accept conversion, which the Gypsies were nominally ready to accept if only for the sake of expediency. Not only did the clergy doubt the sincerity of such conversion, they also feared them as competitors in the sphere of the supernatural, claimed by the priests, especially throughout the mediaeval period, when superstition had a predominant influence on people of all classes.
In France in 1456, a number of people were excommunicated because they had their palms read by Gypsies. Many appalling cases of Roma being sentenced to death for having engaged in witchcraft are recorded from France in the 15th century and later. Superstition, xenophobia and suspicion brought about all sorts of legends of Gypsy dishonesty and menace, that seemed to justify the most bloody and draconian laws and punishments for Gypsies. It is interesting to see the similarities between anti Jewish and anti-Romani prejudices on religious grounds. Gypsies were believed to be cursed by God and condemned to wander about to do penance for not having sheltered Joseph and Mary on their flight to Egypt. A Spanish carol relates that they had stolen Jesus= clothes from the cradle; a Greek Easter carol blamed them for assisting in the crucifixion of Jesus by having made the nails. In an Irish version of this legend they are haunted by a hot nail from the cross, which forces them to restless migration. Accordingly, It is not surprising to find that the Church authorities promoted anti-Gypsy laws. Especially disgusting and obscene were the attempts to denounce the Gypsies as a bastardized people of presumably unnatural origin, or as the product of an incestuous union between Chen and his sister Guin. Related to this aspect of "unnatural origin" is the idea of racial impurity and degradation caused by intermarriage with Roma. The Gypsies came too late to be blamed for the black plague, but they are accused of bringing dirt, disease and decay: "Gypsies in the well ordered states are like vermin on animals body." In 1910, a cholera epidemic was blamed on the Gypsies in Italy, which later proved to be totally unfoundedC but only after the Gypsies had been expelled by the residents of the respective districts. An insight into Gypsy culture (which cannot be given here) would show that these accusations are diametrically opposed to the real habits of the Roma. While the Roma were never offered a fair opportunity to make a normal living, nevertheless several violent attempts were made to civilized them, i.e. to put an end to their culture and nomadic way of life. Such took place under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in England, Charles the III in Spain, the Prussian Frederic the Great and Maria Theresa, as well as her son Joseph II in Austria and Hungary.
The feudal divine sovereigns having a monopoly on the bondage, robbery, plundering and oppression of their subjects could not tolerate anarchical elements such as the freely moving Gypsies, who refused to pay taxes and tributes. Moreover, their way of life offered a dangerously attractive alternative to poor peasants and mercenaries. As an example a Gypsy law of 1782 enacted by the Margrave of Baden states:
"Gypsies and other rabble, lazy, vagabonding and good-for-nothing, when entering the country for the first time, shall be taken in custody, be examined and publicly flogged because of unlawful conduct. When caught a second time, they shall be condemned to death and be executed".
"Vagabonds and beggars shall be arrested and locked up in a workhouse or prison, be severely punished and forced to do hard labour. After that they shall be banished. In case they return, they shall be treated even more severely. If caught a third time, they shall be put to torture and condemned to serve on the galleys. The children of Gypsies, since they are not "qualified" for capital punishment, shall be kept in penal servitude and do forced labour, and receive instruction in Christian religion."The enlightened Joseph II decreed in 1791, that in order to settle and integrate the Roma into the agricultural economy of the expanding empire, the following steps should be taken:
a systematic seizure and registration of the Gypsies
prohibition of nomadism
prohibition of Gypsy jurisdiction and
subordination to local jurisdiction
prohibition of into Gypsy marriage
precept of mixed marriages with non Gypsies
capture of Gypsy children and handing over to foster parents
prohibition against using the Gypsy language
Intention of these laws which contain in nuce all the elements of the late 19th and early 20th century legislation on "the combatting of the Gypsy plague," was the repudiation and elimination of "alien elements" by destroying the Romani family and clan system, its culture, religious norms and values. It is hardly necessary to remark that the euphemistic term " tolerance" in this context was a rather cynical unveiling of a policy to exploit cheap labor for imperial reasons. All these measures proved to be of no avail. The Roma opposed forced assimilation and escaped the controls of the sovereign authorities, which then of course were less effective than today. Another reason was that the myrmidons were so unpopular that the general population did not cooperate with them, while at the same time the trades of the Gypsies were needed in the country. In the early 19th century the German authorities, only dimly enlightened by the French Revolution, used to threaten the Roma but closed their eyesCwith some exceptions, like the zealous Freiherr vom Stein. He compiled a detailed register of the Gypsy families which were tolerated in Stuttgart: 150 individuals. The later Research Centre for Racial-Biological Studies at the Ministry of Health of the Third Reich praised Stein=s excellent preparatory work and deplored the lack of similar records for other places. With the constitution of the second German Reich of 1871, mainly two laws, the "right to move and to live where one likes" and the "suspension of restrictions to carry on a trade" gave birth to an official " Gypsy problem" and the successive exclusion of the Roma from society. The migration of millions of farm-workers to the big cities led to a new bureaucracy of registration and security officers, who also laid hold on the Roma. In free trade, especially the liberalized peddling trade, the Roma became unwanted competitors. Consequently new laws were enacted to exclude themfrom free trading by denying then the necessary trade licences and punishing itinerant peddling with deportation to the borders in the case of foreign Gypsies, or else forced labor in penitentiaries.
In 1899 a law provided education in a reformatory for minors in cases of "demoralization and neglect." This law aimed at the dissolution of the familiesC"hordes"or "gangs" as the legislators defined them. Irregular attendance at school was a reason to take Romani children away from their parents. Also in 1899 the German states established a Gypsy agency, which compiled registersC a kind of data bankCcontaining detailed personal data of Roma and their family relations, ancestors etc. After World War I fingerprints were added, and after 1933 complete family trees. With the zealous cooperation of sociologists and officers of justice, the Roma became the most thoroughly registered group. In 1905, the Bavarian Security Office published a manual comprising all of the regulations necessary for the "elimination of the Gypsy plague," decreed between 1816 and 1903. Bavaria was the center of activities against the Roma. As a result they moved to other regions, but this again cause the establishment of a consultant conference of several regional police authorities in order to standardize the restricting regulations. During World War I the Gypsies were subjected to an especially intensive supervision by the recruiting offices and local police. Roma holding foreign citizenships of enemy states were to be put in prisoner-of-war camps or police custody, or drafted into the German army. During the Weimar Republic the net of regulations became more refined. All the material was concentrated at the new Gypsy Information Service at the headquarters of the criminal police in Munich. In 1926, the Bavarian government added a new law, aimed at combatting "Gypsies and shirkers," which made far more difficult the acquisition of a trade licence. Together with a bulk of other documents, Gypsies also had to present a certificate of baptism as well as a marriage licence. In 1929, Hessen followed Bavaria with a similar regulation, and in addition prohibited travelling and temporary resting of "hordes;" Gypsies and itinerant people. A "horde" was defined as two families or a group of people, even a family together with the families of the married children. A harmless picnic could have been unlawful according to this law. This was the end of any sort of traditional Romani life. Every Gypsy was a potential criminal. Everything he did according to his way of life was an infringement of law. The Nazis, following the first German democracy, were thus able to refer to a long anti-Gypsy tradition and efficient laws in operation to exclude the Roma from the German racial body (Volkskörper). The preparation of the fascist reorganization of society, which no longer intended to reeducate the cultural dissidents but to exterminate them, began in 1933. A whole group of professors and scientists of all disciplines defined from the völkisch point of view, who had to be regarded as racially pure, fitting, deficient or alien (artfremd). Definitely because of their non-Aryan appearance, the Roma shared the lowest rank of the Nazi racial hierarchy with the Jews. To quote some of the racial ideologies:
"The Gypsies have indeed retained some elements from their Nordic home, but they are descended from the lowest classes of the population in that region. In the course of their migration they have absorbed the blood of the surrounding peoples and thus have become an Oriental, Western Asiatic racial mixture . . .The Gypsies will generally affect Europe as aliens."
"The Jew and the Gypsy are today far removed from us, because their Asiatic ancestors are totally different from our Nordic forefathers."
"The Gypsies are completely different in nature (wesensfremd) from us and obey other rules of life. They are foreign elements (artfremd) in every nation."
Professors of constitutional law explained that aliens could not be "fellow Germans" (Volksgenossen), that they endangered the fruits of German diligence and the pure German blood.
"The consciousness of identity of species and national unity becomes apparent in the ability to recognize the alien elements and to differentiate between friend and foe."
"The alien cannot be body corporate of the nation; he who does not exploit his productivity, and in disregards the traditional values and goods disassociates himself from the nation."
The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring of July 14th, 1933, and in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws for the Protection of German Blood (Blutschutzgesetz), and the Nationality Law (Reichsbürgergesetz) were to affect the Roma. Though they had not been designed initially with regard to them, the law for the prevention of unhealthy offspring later allowed for mass sterilizations of Gypsies after "scientific" studies of the Gypsies had been carried out to show that they had different blood and skull structure. Thoughin that same year, the chief of the German police had already suggested to an international police commission in Copenhagen:
"The Gypsies, as a foreign element, will never become full members of a host population . . It might be worth considering including such Gypsies (unwilling to conform and work) under those persons affected by the sterilization law."
From 1937 on, Nazi race scientists proposed the following solutions to avoid the mixing of Roma and Germans: Gypsy ghettos, deportation, elimination (without specific proposals), and sterilization.
The legal commentaries on the Nuremberg laws put the Gypsies in the same category as the Jews:
"In Europe generally, only Jews and Gypsies are foreign blood."
"Apart from the Jews, only the Gypsies come into consideration in Europe as members of an alien people."
The 12th regulation order to the nationality law excluded Jews and Gypsies from even the lowest status of Schutzangehöriger (protected categories).
Much legal argument and historical debate has been spent in defining whether, and from when racial persecution against the Gypsies first took place, because the Nazis classified the Gypsies as "asocials." It is a highly questionable effort, which shall not be pursued here, because from the above-cited quotations it is quite obvious that the Roma were treated as non-Aryans (as this term was interpreted by the Nazis) from the beginning of the Nazi period, even though the laws and actions against them were not carried out with exactly the same consistency as against the Jews. While Gypsies were not immediately excluded from the service in the Armed Forces of the civil service or prevented from marrying pure Germans, the definition of part-Gypsy was stricter than that of part-Jew, i.e. someone with two of his 16 great-great-grandparents being Gypsies was classed as a part-Gypsy and later, after 1943 would be sent to Auschwitz. The majority of the German Gypsies were classed as part Gypsies and would not have been killed had the same rules been applied to them as were applied to part-Jews. The "racial scientists" mainly responsible for the massacre of the German Roma were Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant, Eva Justin. In 1936 a special institute for research on the Gypsies, later called the Racial Hygiene and Population Biology Research Unit of the Ministry of Health in Berlin-Dahlem, was founded by Dr. Ritter, a neurologist from Tübingen, who was also helped and supported in this field by the Ministry of the Interior. Ritter and his team compiled genealogical tables of German Roma, classifying them as being of pure or mixed race, and he published a great number of articles proposing the "solution to the Gypsy problem." The data on which this "research" was based, his files on the Roma, collected at the Gypsy Information Service of the criminal police at Munich, together with the Romani family trees forcibly taken away from the Romanologist Dr. Sigmund Wolf of Magdeburg by the Gestapo Centre in that city following orders from the Ministry of the Interior. Ritter=s intention was to prove the heredity of criminal characteristics and racial inferiority of the Roma. By the beginning of 1942 the Ritter Institute had established 30,000 personal files, this being approximately the number of German Roma, of whom 90 percent had been classified as part-Gypsies, and whoCaccording to Justin and RitterCwere even more dangerous and inferior than the pure Roma. The police authorities closely cooperated with the Ritter Institute in order to register all the Gypsies, and witnesses related that they were threatened with sterilization or imprisonment in concentration camps, if they tried to conceal genealogical information. In 1936, all the police authorities had been ordered by Frick, the Secretary of the Interior, to work together with the International Centre for Combatting the Gypsy Plague in Vienna, and the Gypsy Information Centre in Munich. He also decreed that identity cards had to be supplemented with the classification "Gypsy" or "part-Gypsy" or "leading a Gypsy-like life." On the 17th of June that same year, Heinrich Himmler became head of the German police, and thus responsible for the Roma. The first measures were taken against them in July, when 400 Roma were sent from Bavaria to Dachau. Before the Olympic Games, from August 1st-6th, 1936, the Roma of Berlin were put into a camp at Marzahn, which later became a residential camp supervised by the police. Other camps of that kind were established between 1937 and 1938, in which Roma were ordered to live under a number of restrictions. A decisive step affecting the Roma was the "social Decree against Crime of December 14th, 1937, which ordered the "preventative imprisonment in concentration camps for people who by antisocial behaviorCeven if they have not committed a crimeChave shown that they do not wish to conform to society, thereby constituting a public danger to all." In the regulation orders later attached to this decree on April 4th, 1938, Roma are mentioned together with beggars, tramps, prostitutes, persons with infectious diseases and the work shy, as persons to whom this law applied. The action was supposed to draft a certain number of people into forced labour, which was considered necessary to fulfill the Nazis= four year plan. Every district office of the criminal police had to arrest at least 200 men, who would then be brought to Buchenwald. At the end of 1938 the combined work of the criminal police and the Ritter Institute led to a decree directed specifically against the Gypsies. It was issued on December 8th, 1938, with the heading "Combatting the Gypsy plague:"
1) Experience gained in the fight against the Gypsy plague and the knowledge derived from racial- biological research have shown that the proper method of attacking the Gypsy problem seems to be to treated as a matter of race . . .It proves to be necessary for a final solution of the Gypsy problem to treat pure Gypsies and part Gypsies separately.
2) To this end, it is necessary to define the racial affinity of every Gypsy living in Germany, and also of every vagrant living in a Gypsy-like way.
3) I therefore order that all settled and non-settled Gypsies, etc., are to be registered at the Central Office for the Fight against the Gypsies.
4) The police authorities will report all persons, who by their looks and appearance, and by their customs and habits, are to be regarded as Gypsies or part-Gypsies.
2(1) An official census is to be taken of all Gypsies, part Gypsies etc., who have passed the age of six.
3(1) The final decision about the classification of a person as a Gypsy, part-Gypsy or Gypsy-like vagrant will be made by the criminal police on the advice of experts.
The regulation order of March 1st, 1939, demonstrated the racial nature even more clearly, and also indicated its sinister consequences:
"The aim of the measures taken by the State must be the racial separation once and for all of the Gypsy race (Zigeunertum) from the German nation (Volkstum), then the prevention of racial mixing and finally the regulation of the conditions of life of the racially pure and the part-Gypsy. "The police have to break with the present way of dealing with the Gypsy problem . . .the Gypsy problem has to be considered and solved on a central scale (im Reichsmaßstab)."
Roma had to undergo racial examination, they had to give back all former identity papers and received new identity cards. Racially pure Roma got brown cards, part-Gypsies had a light blue line crossing the brown card, and non-Gypsy vagrants got grey passes. The documents bore fingerprints, and the police headquarters had to record all of them. Gypsies could no longer receive trade licenses, they were not allowed to stay longer than two nights in any one place when travelling, they were subjected to severe supervision, and in doubtful cases preventative detention had to be ordered. Later on too, the churches were approached in order to help the Ritter Institute by reporting their Gypsy congregants to the authorities.
When the war began in 1939, the policy of imposing restrictions was replaced by measures to make Europe "free of Gypsies" (Zigeunerrein). By express letter dated October 17th 1939, the headquarters of Central Security (RSHA) ordered the district police stations "immediately to prohibit Gypsies and part-Gypsies from leaving their places of residence by threatening deportation to a concentration camp for trespassers." Between the 25th and the 27th of October local police had to search for and to count the Roma and then to assemble them in special camps in order to wait there for later deportation. Provisions were to be made immediately for the camps, including guarding and transportation. At the same time, the deportation of the Roma to Poland together with the Jews was proposed by Heydrich and other high ranking SS officers. Eichmann suggested a plan to deport the Roma by attaching a few wagons to the deportation trains or trucks of the Jewish transports. But the deportation plans for the end of 1939 were postponed, probably because priority was given to the exchange and resettlement of Poles and Germans and the deportation of Jews, but also because of a shortage of means of transportation. The assembly and work camps were, however, established in several places, though little is known about them. Some reports indicate that conditions were comparable to those in concentration camps. Work was assigned to the inmates by the police guards. The money they earned was used for the maintenance of the camps, with only a small amount of pocket money being allowed to be kept. But it seems that the discipline itself was less rigid. A special decree of November 20th, 1939 was initiated by Heydrich, by which Romani women previously convicted, or suspected of fortunetelling, had to be placed under preventative arrest in concentration camps, because it was believed that in the present wartime situation this would be destructive and dangerous, and could further harass the population.
The deportation plan was reaffirmed in April, 1940. The police authorities of Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hanover, Stuttgart and Frankfurt-Main were ordered to send a total number of 2,500 Roma, "in complete families," to the Generalgouvernement. The thousand Roma from Hamburg and Bremen were brought to Belzec to build a camp there, and then passed through a number of other camps. The Roma from Cologne and Stuttgart are believed to have been sent to the ghettos of Kielce and Radom, while a fourth transport was perhaps disbanded in the open country. The deported Gypsies had been threatened with sterilization and concentration camp imprisonment in the event that they should try to return to Germany, and they had been urged to sign a document acknowledging this. At the end of 1941, the deportations were continued and about 5,000 Roma from Austria (Bergenland) were brought from camps there and put into a special section of the Jewish ghetto at Lodz. Before this deportation, their personal belongings had been confiscated. When after two months a typhus epidemic broke out in the Gypsy ghetto at Lodz, the Roma were transported to the extermination camp at Chelmno and executed there by firing squads. Also in the Warsaw ghetto, Gypsies were kept under the same conditions as Jews and later exterminated together with those Jews in Treblinka and Maidanek in the autumn of 1942. Gypsies were also brought to Belzec and Sobibor. After 2,500 German Gypsies had been deported, 3,000 had been arrested in concentration camps and 5,000 Austrian Gypsies killed. Himmler ca/me back to Ritter=s suggestion, i.e. to differentiate between pure and part Gypsies, and to provide separate solutions. Pure Sinti and Lallere Roma, and socially assimilated Gypsies, should be exempted, and their fate be postponed to a later date. He envisaged that they should be kept in a kind of reservation in the "colonies" that the Third Reich planned to conquer. It is probable that Hitler was also influenced by Alfred Rosenberg, who once had admired the "Aryan racial purity" of the Roma. Up to that time nobody had dealt seriously with the differentiation between pure and part-Gypsies because even Ritter had difficulties with his theories; for example he believed that despite their "purity," the Lallere were the most dangerous of Gypsy criminals. Himmler at least informed the district criminal police offices, in August, 1942, that in every single case a detailed classification had to be made. He also selected Romani leaders who were ordered to send in lists of those members of their clans who were to be exempted according to the definition. The whole bureaucratic procedure was so complicated and obviously too difficult for the local police authorities, that it is unlikely that this was ever carried out or helped to save any Roma. Moreover, the criterion for the exemption of certain Gypsies, according to Himmler=s regulations, was less racially motivated but rather based on reasons of culture and security. The whole way in which this question was dealt with again shows the absurdity of Nazi racial policy. Bormann, Goebbels and Thierack, as well as other high-ranking Nazis opposed Himmler=s plan totally. A letter from Thierack to Bormann dated October 13th, 1942 indicates this clearly:
With the intention to liberate the German area from Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies . . . I envisage transferring all criminal proceedings of these people to Himmler. I do this because I realize that the courts can only feebly contribute to the extermination of these people . . . there is no point in keeping these people for years in prison.
On December 3rd, 1942, Bormann wrote to Himmler:
I have been informed that the treatment of the so called pure Gypsies is going to have new regulations . . . Because they have not behaved in a social manner, and because they have preserved Germanic customs in the religion . . .I am of the opinion that the conclusions of your expert (Ritter) are exaggerated. Such special treatment would mean a fundamental deviation from the simultaneous measures for fighting the Gypsy menace, and would not be understood atall by the population or the lower-level party leaders. Also the Führer would not agree to give one section of the Gypsies their old freedom. The facts have been unknown to me up to now, and seem also to be untenable. I would like to be informed about this
On December 16th, 1942, Himmler issued a decree ordering all Gypsies to be sent to Auschwitz. The local police received regulation orders by express letter of January the 29th, 1943 and simple orders followed, concerning Gypsies in occupied territories. The property of the deportees was to be confiscated. The Auschwitz decree still provided for the exemptions preferred by hemlock of the special regulations were worthless in practice. The decisions about exemptions were made by the local police officers together with the local MSG AP leaders who either one that were unable to apply the complicated racial classification or just did not want to do so. So each authority made its own interpretation. Gypsies who had been serving in the Denmark could be exempted from being deported, if they agreed to sterilization. It happened that after sterilization they were deported anyway. Many preferred to go to the camps in order not to leave their families, or because they had heard of high casualties after sterilizations. The exempted Gypsies were to be encouraged to consent to sterilization, but in case they refused it would be carried out by force. In fact the Roma who were first brought to Auschwitz were those who were "socially most highly adapted" simply because they were the most easily caught. The SS officer of the political department at Auschwitz Perry Broad, recorded in his memoirs:
Persons were arrested who could not possibly be regarded as belonging to the category intended to be interned. Many men were arrested while on leave from the front despite their high decorations and several wounds, simply because their father or mother or grandfather had been a Gypsy or part- Gypsy . . .girls having worked as typists in offices of the army, pupils of conservatories and others in established positions who had worked regularly their whole lives, all of a sudden saw themselves as prisoners of a concentration camp, with their heads shaved, a tattooed number, and in blue and white clothes.
According to Broad, the camp authorities received orders from Berlin to treat the Roma the same as the Jews. There were, however, differences. The Gypsies were kept in a special section of Birkenau, the families remaining together. There was no selection and gassing of those unfit for forced labor upon arrival. On the other hand the conditions in the Gypsy camp were no less cruel and hard than in other parts of Auschwitz; in fact the death rate was even higher. The Gypsy camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau is well documented by reports by Hermann Langbein, Lucie Adelsberger, Tadeusz Joachimowsky, the rapport-writer of the Gypsy camp, and evidence given by witnesses. There are also the original lists of the camp, and a calendar has been compiled from various documents telling the chronological history of the action. The registration books found after the war list 20,967 names of men, women and children there from several European countries. 1,700 were gassed shortly after arrival, without registration. About 2,000 were deported to other camps. Even newborn babies were marked with a Z. In April, 1944, about 9,000 were still left; Mengele had used men, women and children as guinea pigs for medical experiments, which usually led to their death. Sterilizations were also done on a large scale,. It was finally ordered that the Gypsies should be gassed. The reports of the final liquidation of the camp show differences with regard to the figures, and there are also other discrepancies. The eyewitness Thadeusz Joachimowsky related that the liquidation had already been envisaged for April, 1944, but had been called off because the Roma, having got notice of the action resisted the transport to the gas chambers. A few days later, 884 men were deported to Buchenwald, and 473 women to Ravensbrück. At the end of May, another 2,200 were brought to Auschwitz. By the end of July, almost 4,000 Roma were left; they too were destined to be gassed. On the first of August, 1944, 1,408 of them were put on a train and brought to other camps in Central Germany. That evening the liquidation began, and the next morning 2,897 GypsiesCmostly children, women, old and sick peopleChad been exterminated. The Gypsy camp no longer existed. The last decree concerning the Gypsies dealt with the property left behind by the deportees. It was to be confiscated because "the intentions of the Gypsy people deported to the concentration camps by order of the Reichsführer-SS had been dangerous to the German people and state." The fate of the Roma in other camps is much more difficult to document, because they were often brought in small groups and no trouble was taken to register them. From the testimonies of witnesses and other fragmentary sources, it is quite clear however that there were only a few camps were Gypsies had not been present. In the Nazi-occupied countries of western Europe, Roma were collected in camps and later transported to camps in Germany or Poland for extermination. The authorities of the other European countries also added their share to the maltreatment and extermination of the Roma. The vast majority of the European Roma, however, was exterminated in Eastern Europe by immediate execution, whenever they were found in the forests are mountains by police forces, Einsatzgruppen and collaborating militia or army. It is significant that the question of making distinctions between different Romani peoples only applied to those in Germany and Austria. In other countries no attempt was made to exempt certain Roma. Ficowski, the Polish expert on the Roma, explains that one reason for the immediate execution on the spot was that Gypsies normally tried to escape or resisted when caught. They also knew better than others how to survive in free nature, since they were well acquainted with the territory. Exact statistics for the total number of Roma murdered in Eastern Europe are difficult to establish, because they were not registered as precisely as in Germany. The extermination of the Roma in the East had already begun by 1942, was intensified in 1943 and completed in 1944. The treatment and practical realization of the genocide of the Romani people was no less cruel or radical than that of the Jews, even though the Nazi policy towards them might in comparison seem less consistent and ideologically less well prepared. It was a genocide, whether viewed as a single sustained action or one undertaken gradually, if we take into consideration the mass sterilizations. Either way the Romani cultural elite had been destroyed at the end of the war; for a people with a mainly nonwritten tradition it meant that the system of norms and values, family traditions and the language could not be preserved and passed on in the old way.