But patrina kater ruhkendar, avendar kater kodo vesh 
                                      te le purden hi po o kodo baval!

              ROMANI ROOTS

Holocaust Articles

 ©Without Prejudice:

The EAFORD International Review of Racial

Discrimination  1(2):45-67 (1988)

 By Ian Hancock


In Sydney Schiffer’s 1986 play, The Far Side of Enough,1 the representative of a fictitious international Romani organization offers to give a talk on the Romani (Gypsy) holocaust* at an equally fictitious Jewish holocaust memorial center, but is told that while such a talk would be possible, even welcome, the wording would first need to be changed. The rabbi explains that “we believe the Nazis singled us out for extermination in a way that justifies our applying the term ‘The Holocaust’ to us and us alone . . . I would feel honored to have you speak, if you would only agree to substitute the term ‘Genocide’.” The Romani becomes angry, and the discussion after his departure centers on how any trouble he could make might be “neutralized,” since his having “wandered into the precincts of the Jewish establishment.” Someone else says, “let the Gypsy speak. We’ll ask our friends in the media to bury it—so deep no one will notice.” We are left wondering at the end of the play whether the address is ever given.

 In some respects, this fictitious account mirrors rather uncannily the situation as it actually exists. During this writer’s term as special advisor to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council (USHMC) its former director, Richard Krieger, advised that an argument could be made for treating the holocaust as a uniquely Jewish event, although reasons for such an argument were not spelled out.

 After meeting with Krieger in Washington, a review of USHMC correspondence and publications was in order to see whether the word “holocaust” had, in fact, ever been used in connection with Romani victims of Nazism. It had not—not even on the program for the Romani Day of Remembrance, which took place on 16 September 1986, separated by some months from the Jewish Days of Remembrance earlier in the year (Gypsies were left out altogether in the 1987 and 1988 Days of Remembrance.)

The U.S. Government Printing Office lists the booklet, In Memory of the Gypsy Victims of Nazi Genocide, produced following the 1986 Day of Remembrance

*In compliance with common standards of spelling and style, including The Chicago Manual of Style (Thirteenth Edition, 1982) and Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the word “holocaust” is spelled lower case, except when capitalized in direct quotation—ed. under the Library of Congress subject heading “Holocaust: Jewish,”2 and the February 1988 USHMC circular announcing its National Writing Contest on the holocaust referred to “The six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and the millions of others.”

 The Council’s 62-page brochure circulated in May 1988, The Campaign for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, on the first page singles out Jewish victims by saying that only “[one people, the Jewish people, were killed because they were Jews.”3 Of course, only Gypsies were killed because they were Gypsies, too; but this fact remains unstated and, by implication, is not a part of holocaust history. Evidently, requests that this perspective be modified continue to fall on deaf ears. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council had been created in response to pressure from Jewish organizations which had the Jewish tragedy firmly in mind. No one had thought about the Gypsies; no one was ready for them.

 At first, this writer’s reaction was academic; no answer was anywhere to be found as to why the holocaust was being interpreted as only Jewish, but the question seemed to be closely connected with the use of the word “unique,” which appears repeatedly in the Council’s literature. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “holocaust” in English has meant since 1671 the “complete consumation by fire ... of a large number of persons,” and “unique” means “one and only; single, sole, solitary.” A number of personal inquiries have been made over the past year to various individuals on the Council as to the justification for the continued reference to the Jewish experience in the holocaust as “unique,” but so far without success.

 American language specialist William Safire again raised the issue of the “uniqueness of Jewish suffering,” preferring the Hebrew word shoah to “holocaust,” since the latter “has been used to encompass more than the murder of Jews. From the casualties in our Civil War . . . to the wholesale murder of [G]ypsies in World War II.”4 Claude Lanzmann similarly rejected “holocaust” in favor of shoah, arguing that the former suggests “sacrifice” or “burnt offering,” rather than “fearful catastrophe.” For Romanies, the holocaust was the baro porrajmos, or “great devouring” of the people, a fearful catastrophe by whatever name. Then again the editor of Midstream wrote in a letter on 8 February 1988, after reading an earlier draft of this essay, to say he believed that the Jewish tragedy was unique, because the treatment of Gypsies was “merely an afterthought, a social prophylaxis” on the Nazis’ part.

 It then occurred to this writer that perhaps his posing such questions, after all, simply affirmed former USHMC Acting Director Micah Naftalin’s perception of Gypsies as “naive.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council was established in 1980 to honor the memory of the victims of the holocaust, but if the holocaust can be kept, in Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel’s words, as “an essentially Jewish event,” and its Romani victims merely as the targets of genocide (or even just wartime “casualties,” as referred to in the first issue of the Council’s Museum Newsletter),5 then by its self-created definition, the Holocaust Memorial Council was never meant for non-Jewish victims, since non-Jewish victims were not a part of the holocaust specifically, and the memorial museum would be under no obligation to involve, more than as a courtesy, other victims. Elie Wiesel made it clear that, while the Council sought “no omission” of non-Jewish victims, it would countenance “no equation” either.6

 Edward Alexander writes at length of a “worldwide campaign of misrepresentation of the holocaust” by not treating it as a uniquely Jewish event, in an article in Midstream, significantly entitled “Stealing the Holocaust” in the same issue of that magazine.7 Yehuda Bauer refers to “a certain paradoxical envy on the part of non-Jewish groups directed at the Jewish experience of the Holocaust . . . [which] would seem to be an unconscious reflection of anti-Semitic attitudes.”8 From the Romani point of view, of course, such an assumption is unthinkable.


The Struggle for History

 For some time, a growing number of activists have been attempting to bring the situation of the Romani people in Hitler’s Germany to the attention of historians and, in particular, holocaust-related organizations in the United States and Europe. Sadly, activity in this area is causing discomfort in some Jewish quarters. There seems to have been a tightening of the ranks, as though admitting that another population fared as badly somehow diminishes the magnitude or exclusiveness of the fate of the Jewish victims. As already indicated, persistent efforts have been made to find out why, but no plainly spelled-out or morally justifiable responses have so far come forth.

 The persistence of this attitude is cause for deep concern. What constitutes “uniqueness” here? Is it a matter of who was victimized earliest? Or the extent of the agonies endured? Or numbers lost? It seems quite tasteless to engage in a one-upmanship of suffering or, in this case, to quote numbers. After all, Gypsies lost the same, or perhaps an even higher percentage of their overall population; but presenting the facts of the Romani holocaust before the public does not qualify as oneupmanship, nor should it be interpreted as confrontational. These are facts that have been hidden for the past forty years. If they can be disproved, this can only be cause for gladness; if the gloomy details can be shown to be fiction, then it means that the Romani people were mercifully spared the fate endured by their Jewish brothers and sisters. But if they can be shown to be factual, then they must be acknowledged fully, without resentment or rancor.

 Revisionists are to be denounced for obfuscating history, for writing out or denying the episodes they want forgotten. When facts of history are not even given the chance to find their place in our chronicles, when events are minimized or allowed to fall through the cracks and become lost in time, this is as unacceptable as rewriting history. Either way, the record is concealed; no lesson is learned.

 Romani organizations have not had a great deal of success so far in redressing this omission of their history. This is perhaps understandable, just as it is understandable that the holocaust should be seen to be “essentially Jewish”; the world has been hearing about the Jewish tragedy for forty years, and a vast amount of research has been undertaken by Jewish scholars on the shoah. For the Romanies, no such body of scholarship, and only a handful of Romani scholars, exists, and research on the Romani holocaust is in its infancy. When scholars have approached the subject, invariably it has been from the perspective of their own interests; emphasis is necessarily upon the areas of greatest concern to them. When Yehuda Bauer wrote that the Nazi policy against the Gypsies was “more apparent than real,” and that Gypsies were “the victims more of a campaign against so-called ‘asocials’ than against the Gypsy people as such,” and that “not to realize that the Jewish situation was unique, is to mystify history,”9 it is not assumed by this author that he was deliberately diluting the facts. However, it seems that very little effort was spent on his part to research or to understand the Romani situation.

In her book addressing the holocaust and historians, the late Lucy Dawidowicz devoted just two paragraphs to the fate of Romani prisoners, admitting that “Gypsies and their offspring were to be treated as Jews, that is, murdered,” but still goes on to say on the same page that “the fate of the Jews under National Socialism was unique.”10 Gerald L. Posner and John Ware’s Mengele: The Complete Story (1986) does not even list Gypsies in its index, although Romanies, and especially Romani twins, were Joseph Mengele’s obsession. Some descriptions of medical experiments in the book, such as that on page 37, actually describe children that we know to have been Romanies, but they are not identified as such.11

 It is to such books that others go for the “history,” the “complete story” of the holocaust. The California State Board of Education obviously did so when it compiled its Model Curriculum for Human Rights and Genocide for use in the schools in that state. While Jews were listed as an example of the victims of genocide in the holocaust, ‘Gypsies’ were relegated only to a category of “people who have suffered from totalitarian policies.”!12 The same document lists the United Nations’ five criteria defining genocide, the last two of which (sterilization and the permanent removal of children from their families) are still actively in effect against Gypsies in parts of Europe today.13 This California curriculum will ensure that school children statewide will receive only a partial account of what happened in the holocaust. A recently published book by R. Conrad Klein, aimed at the same audience and published by The Children’s Press, similarly glosses over the Romani situation, which receives just two fleeting and uninformative mentions in the entire volume.14

 All this is not to say that these one-sided accounts are deliberate. It is merely that, until now, few historians have given much thought to the Romani case, or have been disposed to pursue it. Very little concern has been expressed at all and, as one French doctor remarked after the war, “everyone despises Gypsies, so why exercise restraint? Who will avenge them? Who will complain? Who will bear witness?”15


The Roots of Discrimination

 Prejudice has much to do with the treatment of Gypsies today and the negligible attention given them in holocaust literature. In December 1986, the Holocaust Memorial Council proposed the formation of a committee on anti-Semitism; but no similar proposal was made to form a group to combat anti-Gypsyism. Because they can usually get away with it, the news media and popular literature exploit the Romani situation. The word “Gypsy” is used generically, so that it has come to mean “confidence trickster.” However, the same reporters and writers are careful to avoid using, for, example, “Mafia” and “Italians” interchangeably. In the past year, the North American public has been exposed to an increasing number of “special reports” on “Gypsy crime,” in which Romanies are treated as a monolithic whole dedicated to bilking the non-Romani public. The point is not made that the conviction rate for theft within the Romani population is no higher than the national average, and for major offenses, such as rape or murder, it is significantly lower. No acknowledgment is given to historical circumstances which have brought those Romanies—just a few generations removed from five hundred years of slavery in eastern Europe, and some refugees from eastern Europe whom the post-holocaust situation still affects forty years later—to their present situation. And too seldom is attention given to the thousands of law-abiding and concerned Romani citizens in skilled and professional occupations, but who are citizens fearful of speaking up, lest they, too, be tarred with the same bigoted media brush.

Although the popular conception holds that the Romanies are a wandering people with mysterious origins, it has been known for over two centuries that their roots are in India, and only a tiny fraction of the world’s twelve million or so Romanies are truly nomadic. Romanies came into Europe at the beginning of the Middle Ages, swept across the Bosphorus from the Byzantine Empire on the crest of the Islamic tide, and were persecuted by the Turks because they were not Muslims. Their ancestors had left India perhaps three centuries earlier, possibly as a result of the Indo-Persian wars. One contemporary theory holds that these first migrants consisted of Rajput horsemen who, with their camp followers, moved further and further into Persia sometime in the ninth or tenth centuries, traveling westward in a succession of Middle Eastern wars. Certainly, the Romani language and the culture, Romanija, point to this period of Indian history.

 On arrival in the Balkans, the Romanies met a confused social order resulting from the Crusades, which had caused a serious depletion of manpower and had created an urgent demand for weaponry and labor. Romanies, who among other things had been metal workers in Byzantium, filled these needs. By the mid-1300s, so necessary had they become to the Moldavian and Wallachian economy that legislation was adopted to make them the property of the state. This was the beginning of the five hundred years of slavery, not fully abolished until 1864. After emancipation, thousands of the liberated slaves fled from southeastern Europe, many reaching the Americas. Most Romanies in North and South America are descended from this population.

 As legislation concerning the Romanies grew more stringent in the fifteenth century Balkans, large numbers moved north and west into the rest of Europe. Here, however, they were perceived to be part of the Islamic expansion that had occupied Spain, parts of France, and eastern and southern Europe, and they were vigorously repulsed. Even today, in a number of European languages, including Dutch, German and Swedish, words for Romani are “Tatar” and “Heiden” (i.e., heathen). Their strange appearance, language and customs were too alien to the Europeans. Strict laws were brought into effect, first banishing Romanies into neighboring lands, then requiring them to be put to death if caught. Many of these laws are still in effect and have served as precedents for treatment of the Romanies in the American legal system. Romani Americans are the only ethnic minority in the United States today who face laws restricting them as a people, and who are periodically subjected to those laws.

With the European colonial expansion overseas, western European nations found a useful dumping ground for their Romani populations. From the early 1500s, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, England and Scotland all shipped Romanies off to the Americas, and even to West Africa and India, their original homeland, to labor in the colonies. British Romanies were well represented working alongside Africans in the early Virginia and Barbados plantations.

 Centuries of being moved on has perversely led to the literary myth of the “wandering Gypsy.” But the truth is that the Romanies have had little choice. In England today, a number of government reservations have been set up throughout the country which Romanies there may inhabit, but they can be fined or jailed if they stop anywhere in between, traveling from one to another. A consequence of being kept on the move in western Europe (in eastern Europe, Romanies were tied to the land in slavery or serfdom) has been a denial of access to shops and merchants—hence subsistence stealing in order to survive—and a denial of access to churches and schools. Most Romanies today are not literate in any language. This has meant that the literary image has been able to flourish unchecked: no organized rebuttals from the Romani population, no letters to the editor, no literature countering the novelists’ fancies. It has been argued that societies need a population on which to project their fantasies or to serve as scapegoat, and that Romanies have fulfilled this function. It has been argued, also, that societies need a cultural antithesis in order to keep a perspective on their own boundaries. As Kai Erikson said, “one of the surest ways to confirm an identity, for communities as well as for individuals, is to find some way of measuring what one is not.”16 The literary Gypsy challenges the establishment’s perception of honesty, sexual decorum, hygiene, and social responsibility. And while the truth is very different, the ‘Gypsy’ image is perpetuated, nonetheless, for these reasons.


Chronology of Nazi Racism: Romanies and Jews

 The persecution of Romanies by the German people stretches back to the Middle Ages, but the seeds of the persecutions in the twentieth century were sown in the 1800s. In the 1830s, German authorities in Nordhausen tried to bring an end to Romani life by forcibly and permanently removing children from their families—a technique employed in this century from the 1920s to the 1970s in Switzerland.17  There were “open seasons” during which Romanies were hunted down and killed for sport in the forests. In the early 1890s, a conference on the “Gypsy scum” (das Zigeunergeschmeiss) was organized in Swabia; in 1899 an information bureau monitoring the movements of Romanies was established in Munich, later to be called the Central Bureau for Combatting the Gypsy Menace. At a policy conference on Romanies held in 1909, it was suggested that they be permanently branded for purposes of identification. During the 1920s, Romanies were being routinely photographed and fingerprinted by special police. Meanwhile, the Weimar constitution of 1918 had reaffirmed the equality of Jewish citizens with other Germans, and according to one source,

 [they] enjoyed full civil, political and economic rights. Many German Jews were leaders in their communities and prominent in their professions. Few suffered discrimination and anti-Semitism was even less prevalent in Germany than in the United States at the time.18


For Jews, the coming to power of the Nazis meant the implementation of new and terrifying policies against them. But for Romanies, the new regime meant only the intensification of the measures already in effect; they had been victims of this kind of institutionalized persecution in Germany since the end of the previous century. For Romanies, it was nothing new.

Felice Davis noted that, while Jews were “constitutionally equal to other Germans, Gypsies were treated as second class citizens and were being rounded up.”19   Jeremy Noakes expanded on this:

 Long before the Nazis came to power, the Gypsies had been treated as social outcasts. Their foreign appearance, their strange customs and language . . . they were seen as a-social, a source of crime, culturally inferior, a foreign body within the nation. During the 1920s the police, first in Bavaria and then in Prussia, established special offices to keep the Gypsies under constant surveillance. They were photographed and fingerprinted as if they were criminals. With the Nazi takeover, however, a motive was added to the grounds for persecution: their distinct and allegedly inferior racial character.20

 In 1933, the very year in which Hitler came to power, a genocidal policy directed specifically at “a-socials”—a category into which Romanies fell at that time—was drawn up. From 1934 on, they were being sent to camps at Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Mahrzan and Vennhausen for sterilization.

 A law was introduced on May 26th, 1933, to legalize eugenic sterilization . . . beyond this, the cabinet, headed by Hitler, passed a law on July 14th, 1933, against propagation of lebensunwertes Leben (“lives unworthy of life”), now 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 were targets for sterilization.21

 In fact, a recommendation to destroy the Romanies by sinking them in boats at sea was made the year Hitler came to power in 1933, and again in 1937. Also, the sterilization of all Romanies throughout the country had also been recommended, though not implemented, in Norway, in 1933 (at the same time, professor of theology and advisor to the Nazi party Gerhard Kittel had suggested to the Nazis that Jews be given “guest status” in Germany). In 1938, a Nazi party proclamation stated that the Gypsy problem was categorically a matter of race (“mit Bestimmtheit eine Frage der Rasse”)22 and was to be dealt with in that light. In the same year, race hygienist Adolf Wurth wrote that “the Gypsy question that we face today is above all a racial question.”23 Dr. Kurt Ammon declared that the Nazi policy “views the Gypsy problem primarily as a racial one.”24 The following year, Dr. Johannes Behrendt of the Office of Racial Hygiene released a statement asserting that

 all Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick; the only solution is elimination. The aim should, therefore, be the elimination without hesitation (Aussondern ohne Zögern) of this characteristically defective element in the population.25


According to Jewish historian Miriam Novitch, “[t]he decision to resolve the Jewish and the Gypsy questions was made by Hitler in 1939, and Poland became the tomb for both peoples.”26 Müller-Hill indicates that the decision to exterminate both peoples came two years later.

 The racial analysis which Dr. Ritter had made was disconcertingly similar to that which the “race investigators,” such as Günther, had made of the Jews: an oriental racial admixture with an asocial European component.” This explains why Heydrich, who had been encrusted with “the final solution of the Jewish question” on July 31st, 1941, also included the Romanies in his final solution . . . The Einsatzkommandos, who began their work shortly after the assault on the USSR, received the order to kill all Jews, Gypsies and mental patients.27

 In an address before the Holocaust Memorial Council’s February 1987 conference on “other” victims, Dr. Erika Thurner of the Institut fur Neuere Geschichte und Zeitgeschichte at the University of Linz gave her own analysis of the historical sequence: “Heinrich Himmler’s infamous Auschwitz decree of December 16th, 1942 can be seen as the final stage of the final solution of the Gypsy question. The decree served as the basis for complete extermination” (emphasis added).28 Dr. Thurner, in fact, challenged the widespread assumption that “the decision to seek a final solution for the Gypsy question came at a later date than that for the Jewish question,” concluding that “the first steps taken to exterminate the Gypsies were indeed initiated prior to this policy decision and that the first gassing operations against Gypsies as taking place as early as late 1941 or early 1942.” Romani holocaust specialist Rebecca Sherer places it even earlier:

 It is believed that the official decision to exterminate the Gypsies was made in the Spring of 1941 when the Einsatzgruppen were formed . . . Gypsies were subject to three methods of genocide: sterilizations, deportation and homicide. Mass killing was the most common.29

 Under Nazism, only Jews and Romanies (and the few Afro-Europeans) in German society were targeted for annihilation as distinct peoples, on specifically racial grounds. Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon quote Nazi party statements from 1935, such as: “In Europe generally, only Jews and Gypsies are of foreign blood,”30 and “apart from the Jews, only the Gypsies came into consideration in Europe as members of an alien people.”31 Kenrick and Puxon believe that “the Romanies were considered as non-Aryans from the beginning of the Nazi period.”32 Already in 1936, the German anti-Romani campaign became transnational in Europe when Interpol established the International Center for Combatting the Gypsy Menace in Vienna.


Documenting the Numbers

 In assessing the Nazi tragedy, the comparison of numbers has provided a pretext for claims of “uniqueness” of its victims. Selma Steinmetz, for example, relies on this to state the case:

 The Gypsies murdered in concentration camps and in mass executions in Poland, Yugoslavia and the USSR, or killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, remain in the shadow of the Six Million murdered Jews; in the face of such enormous human suffering, numbers decide.33


Actually, the overall percentage of losses for both Jewish and Romani populations is generally considered to have been about the same. Simon Wiesenthal referred to this in a 1984 letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, protesting the omission of Romanies in its program: “The Gypsies had been murdered in a proportion similar to the Jews, about 80% of them in the area of the countries which were occupied by the Nazis.”34 In his 1980 study of the persecution of homosexuals, Heinz Heger poses the rhetorical question: “How many people in Britain and America today are aware that the Gypsies of Europe were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to their death in almost similar proportions to the Jews?”35 Margot Strom and William Parsons also conclude: “The Nazis killed between a fourth and a third of the Gypsies living in Europe, and as many as 70 percent in those areas where Nazi control had been established longest.”36 Wolf in der Maur puts it higher still, citing a 70 percent death rate within Nazi-controlled territories and 50 percent elsewhere in Europe.37 The same figure of 70 percent is also found in a study by G. Von Soest.38

More recent research is beginning to demonstrate that even these estimates may be too low. A study undertaken at the Frankfurt Fachhochschule by Professor Stephen Castles indicates that Romani losses may be as high as one and a half million, nearly three times the next highest estimate;39 a report by Sylvia Puggiole on the persecution of Romanies in contemporary Italy states that “[c]enturies of prejudice culminated in the genocide of more than a million Gypsies in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.”40 Sylvia Sobeck writes of the disposal of “about one million Gypsies in the concentration camps.”41 Wolf in der Maur makes it clear that all current estimates of Romani deaths “... are vague, the real number of victims probably being much higher ... at least one million Gypsies were murdered.”42  He makes the point in the same volume that many of those killed who were listed in the category of “suspicious persons” were very likely, in fact, to have been Romanies.

Dr. Tilman Zülch of the Göttingen-based Gesellschaft für Bedrohte Völker, who has written widely on the Romani holocaust, cites (though also queries) research by one Dr. Mark Munzel of the Frankfurt Ethnologischesmuseum, which suggests that the Romani death toll may actually have been as high as four million.43 In his 1939 report on the Romanies, however, Johannes Behrendt indicated that the total population was only half that: “There are two million throughout Europe and in North America, and in Germany itself 6,000 pure Gypsies living together with 12,000 part Gypsies.”44 If even the one-and-a-half million assessment is accurate, then the total percentage of Romani lives lost far exceeds that of any other targeted group. Today, the Romani population worldwide numbers between six and twelve million (and is commonly estimated at ten million), perhaps six or seven million of whom are in Europe. Whatever those figures were, the point has been made by British holocaust historian Donald Kenrick that “had the war continued, 100% of the Jews and the Gypsies would have been killed, and the holocaust would have extended to the Slavs.”45

The reason for our lack of precise documentation lies in the fact that almost all research on Hitler’s racial policies has focused upon their Jewish, rather than their Romani victims. In addition, while it was primarily the Schutzstaffel that dealt with the disposal of the Jewish prisoners, Romanies were dealt with together with the Jews and others by the Gestapo, whose records have not yet been fully scrutinized. From even a cursory examination of the documents that are now being collected by various holocaust scholars, it is becoming clear that all previous estimates of the number of Romanies murdered are underrepresentations. The Holocaust Memorial Council has made arrangements to obtain copies of Gestapo-related and other documentation from German and Polish sources; and, from an examination of these, more details of the Romani genocide will surely emerge. It has been learned, for instance, that a special camp for the murder of both Romanies and non-Romanies existed at La Risiera di San Sabba, near Udine in northern Italy, and from 1940 began processing transports of Romani victims.46 Erika Thurner of the University of Linz has published a study of the Lackenbach concentration camp in Austria, where thousands of Romanies were sent to die.47 Neither of these camps has received adequate attention in the holocaust literature to date.

In terms of actual materials—paperwork, racist posters and the like, much more was produced, and has survived, which refers to Jews than to Romanies in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Germans did not fear Romanies as they did the Jews. Romanies were more easily identifiable than Jews and, as in modern America, were in some sense “non-people,” characters whose real identity had been distorted by writers of sentimental fiction and thus removed from reality. Eradicating Jews from the fabric of German society meant purging from within; with Romanies, it was often only a matter of locating them throughout the countryside and dispatching them on the spot, methodically and without the fanaticism we associate with the annihilation of the Jews. It is a cruel irony that the German Zigeunerromantik, or preoccupation with the romantic Gypsy image, persisted throughout those years of bitter persecution at the hands of the same people.48

It is this method of murdering of Romanies where they were found that makes it impossible to estimate the numbers lost. Holocaust historian Bernard Streck wrote that:

 Attempts to express Romani casualties in terms of numbers cannot do justice to the physical and psychological damage endured by those who survived . . . any numbers we have cannot be verified by means of lists, or card-indexes, or camp files; most of the Gypsies died in eastern and southern Europe, shot by execution troops or fascist gang members. The numbers of those who actually died in the camps have only partially been handed down to us; almost all the files were destroyed when those camps were evacuated.49


Racial Classification

 It has been argued that the genocide of the Romanies was socially, not racially motivated. In his 1980 article, Yehuda Bauer states plainly that “[t]he Gypsies were not murdered for racial reasons, but as so-called asocials . . . [nor] was their destruction complete,” repeating his 1978 remark (cited above). This is a commonly raised point; but Romanies were being categorized by race from the very same year that Jews began to be so classified. In any case, as Gisela Bock has made abundantly clear,

 “Asociality” had been an important criterion in the sterilization courts . . . race hygiene theory had established the hereditary character of the disease, “asociality” with such efficiency that it had become a central category of racism (emphasis added).51

 Former Holocaust Memorial Council director Seymour Siegel, echoing Yehuda Bauer’s sentiments, questioned whether Gypsies really did constitute a distinct racial or ethnic population,52 a particularly insensitive comment, since it was because of their “racial” identity that Romanies were targeted for genocide. That the Romani people do not constitute a “racial” group has, in fact, been used as an argument by the German governments to withhold reparations payments, capitalizing on the fact that Romanies as a people were in no condition after the war to be able to challenge this ruling. Grattan Puxon drew attention to the German position in an article which appeared in 1977:

 A circular issued by the Württemberg Ministry of the Interior, early in 1950, said judges hearing restitution claims should bear in mind that “Gypsies had been persecuted under the National Socialist regime not for any racial reason, but because of an asocial and criminal record.” This preposterous ruling excluded from compensation almost the entire Romani population.53

 But the Romanies were a race as far as Hitler was concerned, and most recently have been determined to be such by a team of geneticists whose report appeared in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet:

 Analysis of blood groups, haptoglobin phenotypes, and HLA types, establish the Gypsies as a distinct racial group with origins in the Punjab region of India. Also supporting this is the worldwide Gypsy language Romani, which is quite similar to Hindi.54

 Writing on the testimonies of Einsatzgruppen commanders, Glenn Infield recounts:

 At the U.S. Government War Crimes Tribunal, [SS general Otto] Ohlendorf . . . told [presiding judge Michael A.] Musmanno that he did his duty as best he could at all times. Asked if he killed others than Jews, Ohlendorf admitted he did: gypsies.

“On what basis did you kill gypsies?”

“It is the same as for Jews,” he replied.

“Racial? Blood?”

. . .Ohlendorf shrugged his shoulders. “There was no difference between gypsies and Jews.”55


Logistics of Extermination

 Arguments have been made that the Romani situation was less extreme than the Jewish one because some Romanies were to be spared for anthropologists to study later, because Romani families were not broken up in the camps, and because their destruction was (mercifully) not complete. Likewise, the last of these conditions can apply equally to the other victims. Without Romani and Jewish survivors, we would know far less about the Nazi horror than we do. The six thousand or so Karaim (Karaite) Jews, scattered throughout eastern Europe from the Crimea to the Baltic, were able to convince the Nazis to exempt them as targets of genocide, and have survived.56   Jewish families were not broken up either, in some cases, including those transported to Auschwitz from Theresienstadt in September 1943, for example. Miriam Novitch further documents the case of some Jews in Holland who were married to Aryan women, who could escape death on condition that they submit to sterilization.57 Foreign Jews were spared from deportation, but foreign Romanies weren’t.58 As Miriam Novitch emphasizes, even those being kept alive for future study had eventually gone to the ovens, too. In any case, the suggestion to keep some Romanies alive was seen as a whim on Himmler’s part; and under pressure from Goebbels and others, he was persuaded to abandon it in 1943, when his decree went out to have all Romanies throughout Germany, without exception, sent to Auschwitz for liquidation.

The Nuremberg Law for the Protection of Blood and Honor was instituted on 15 September 1935, forbidding intermarriage or sexual intercourse between Aryan and non-Aryan peoples. It affected both Romanies and Jews, though not equally: criteria for identification as a Romani were exactly twice as strict as those applied to Jews. If two of a person’s eight great-grandparents were even part-Romani, that person had too much Romani ancestry later to be allowed to live. The Nuremberg decree, on the other hand, defined a Jew as being minimally a person having one Jewish grandparent; i.e., someone who was of one-quarter Jewish descent.59 If criteria for classifying who was Jewish had also applied to Romanies, some eighteen thousand would have escaped being murdered.

It is manipulative to take arguments out of context, without regard to the time period involved or the changing policies in Nazi Germany. A recent example of this appears in the U.S. Department of Defense pamphlet Guide for Days of Remembrance Observances, which disqualifies Romanies as victims of the holocaust in the statement, “Gypsies, too, were killed throughout Europe, but Gypsies who lived in the same place for two years or more were exempt [from Hitler’s genocidal policies].61 This statement must be interpreted in context; in the spring of 1943, such a recommendation was indeed made by one field commander in a small part of the Nazi-occupied U.S.S.R.;62 Himmler’s ruling, however, which was the one which was instituted, stated that “Nomadic Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be placed on the same level as Jews, and put into concentration camps,”63 while settled Romanies were to be used as slave labor. This was, in any case, applicable only in Russia and the Baltic territories, where Romani lives lost reached nearly 100 percent by the end of the war, some Baltic Romani peoples, such as the Layenge, having been exterminated completely.


 The Aftermath: Dismissing the Romani Case

 The Allied victory over the Nazi military in 1945 did not mark the end of the days of suffering for the Romani people. There were Romanies who had left the concentration camps afraid to show themselves publicly until as late as 1947 because prewar anti-Gypsy legislation was still in effect, and those unable to provide documentation of German citizenship were being incarcerated in labor camps. Jews were subject only to Nazi laws, which were abandoned with the fall of the Third Reich. Romanies were subject to Nazi as well as pre-Nazi laws, and the latter remained in effect until well into the 1950s. The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, an advocacy organization for the defense of Romani rights, has evidence that documents compiled by Interpol in the 1930s are still being used against their people in Europe today. In 1985, it came to light that German Romanies are finding it to their advantage to give themselves “Jewish” surnames, in order to find employment, so selective is the compassion for the victims.64 A Time Magazine report made the point:

 The downfall of the Third Reich did not halt the devaluation of Gypsy lives. Though West Germany paid nearly $715 million to Israel and various Jewish organizations, Gypsies as a group received nothing . . . West German officials have rejected the efforts of several thousand Gypsy survivors of the war to establish citizenship in the Federal Republic, even though their families have lived in Germany for generations.65

 And Kevin Costelloe reported further that:

 Seven companies have paid more than 58 million marks ($29 million) to Jewish forced laborers and their families. Oscar Rose [of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, in Heidelberg said that] . . . absolutely none of the Gypsies had been paid so far ... Rose said 700 German Gypsies have notified him of claims for slave labor, but added that the number could rise to 1,000.66


As recently as the 1970s, West German government spokesman Gerold Tandler called Romani demands for war crimes reparations “unreasonable” and “slander[ous],67 while in 1985, Mayor of the City of Darmstadt Günther Metzger told the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma that they had “insulted the honor” of the memory of the holocaust by wishing to be associated with it.68 According to a 1986 account in The Boston Globe, the German Finance Ministry issued a report in that year concluding that “all victims of Nazism have received adequate compensation and that no new legislation is required to extend the circle of beneficiaries,”69 while in late January 1988, the East German government announced that it would begin the reparation process for Jewish, but not Romani, survivors.70

A fact sheet distributed by the Los Angeles Simon Wiesenthal Center, entitled, “Thirty-six Questions Often Asked about the Holocaust,” includes the statement: “The Jews were the only group singled out for total systematic annihilation by the Nazis.” Elie Wiesel defended this claim in an interview by stating that the holocaust was only a “Jewish tragedy” on the grounds that “a decision was made by the German High Command in January 1942 to exterminate the Jews to the last man. The entire Jewish people were condemned to death. No such decision was made to kill any other group in this way, although the Gypsies come closest of all to the Jewish tragedy.”71

In the brochure accompanying the Auschwitz: A Crime Against Mankind exhibition, Yitzchak Mais, director of the museums at Yad Vashem (Jerusalem), wrote:

 Denial of the right to live is what singles out the fate of the Jews from all other victims—Gypsies, Poles, Russian prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses—of the Nazi system. The brutal policies carried out against chose and other so-called “enemies” of the Third Reich were clearly inhuman, but nonetheless their fate was different from the fate of the Jews.72


The program for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council’s February 1987 conference, entitled “The Other Victims,” made it clear that, while acknowledgment was being made that many groups were murdered by the Nazis, it has done so “without diminishing the uniqueness of the Jewish tragedy.”73 That word again. Incidentally, no Romanies were invited to participate in the organization of that conference, which included a session on Romani victims. The word “others” is dehumanizing in any case, and it categorizes all victims in terms of being “plus or minus Jewish.”

While there are parties who refuse adamantly even to consider the Romani situation (a number of participants in the Seventh Annual Conference on the Holocaust, held at Millersville University, in April 1988, refused to attend this writer’s presentation), there are others whose excesses lie in the other direction. One hears from a growing number of individual Jews who declare staunchly that, of course, Romanies must not be left out—and nor should homosexuals, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the physically disabled or the political dissidents either.

It is in the Romani reaction to this that we come closest to understanding the Jewish position. For us, these groups were not the same, though their liquidation and the justifications for their fate are clearly no less reprehensible. But they were not targeted for genocide on racial grounds, nor did they lose 70 percent or more of their total number.  They weren’t singled out for what they were born.

One fear shared by both Jewish and Romani victims of the holocaust is that including other groups will “generalize” it. The holocaust cannot and must not be generalized. But we must be cautious that too self-centered an interpretation does not turn on itself and provide antagonists with fuel for their hatred. One hears such arguments as “if the holocaust was only directed at the Jews, then the rest of us don’t need to worry for our own safety,” and “if it was only the Jews, maybe they really were being divinely punished for something.” We can dismiss this kind of rhetoric as naive and bigoted.

But what of the argument that insistence on the “uniqueness” of the Jewish tragedy has taught the world that the racial persecution of the Jews was a crime against humanity? Has the world really learned that racial hatred against all humanity is equally destructive and vile? Is society really sensitized to the dangers of its happening again, but to another (or even the same) people next time? One might ask that, if the holocaust were a crime against all mankind, which this writer believes it was, how does that equate with “uniqueness?”

In presenting the above argument, this writer does not intend to be “alarmist,” as a spokeswoman for one holocaust memorial center has charged; the message of the Romani holocaust is no cause for alarm. However, what is alarming is that efforts to trivialize the past have been particularly effective in the Romani case. But there is also hope. This writer addresses Jewish congregations in synagogues and holocaust survivors’ children at Hillel centers, and corresponds with a great many concerned Jewish friends in the United States and abroad; and it can be stated that, on an individual basis, Jewish understanding of the Romani situation is sincere and often passionate. The facts cited above are based on Jewish research—Jewish scholars have in the main been the only ones even to bother about the Romani holocaust. The main issue is not a Jewish-versus-Romani one, and God forbid that it ever should be.

What, then, causes this situation to exist? Why is the word “holocaust” being redefined to exclude non-Jews? It is possible that the consistent, exclusive use of the word “unique” may have a theological basis; the “unique destiny” of the Jewish people is referred to in the Aleinu prayer, for instance, a position discussed in depth by Emil Fackenheim.74 This is the principal argument made in a circular dated 13 May 1988, distributed to Council members by Rabbi Rav A. Soloff of the Beth Sholom Congregation in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In it, he forcefully cautioned that the holocaust, and by implication the Holocaust Memorial Council, be kept Jewish as they were “intended to be,” and not to allow other human tragedies, “justified and unjustified,” to be equated with the shoah: “Please keep the Holocaust Memorial just that, a memorial to the unique Shoah which consumed six million Jews.” If any leeway were given, he warned, “the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council will be lobbied by Gypsies and Armenians, Native Americans and Palestinians, ad infinitum. Surely that is not what we want.” Yet, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council was established as a secular, federal body and not as a religious or ethnic one, and has the express function of honoring the memory of those who perished in Hitler’s Germany. This exclusivist Jewish position seems, in any case, to conflict with the concept of the separation of church and state as provided by the United States Constitution.

In her address to the Holocaust Memorial Council in March 1987, Erika Thumer observed further that:

 Gypsies have generally been forgotten, or been reserved for the footnotes of historical investigation . . . this very position as a fringe social group with negligible social status, is responsible for the fact that, after 1945, the Gypsy holocaust was not acknowledged for so many years, and continues to be neglected to a certain degree to this very day. Ignorance as to the fate of the Sinti and Roma in the Third Reich has made historical reconstruction especially difficult. It has led to further discrimination against Gypsies, and to the refusal to recognize their right to restitution of both a material and an ideal nature.75



 It took until May 1987 to get just one Romani American appointed to the Holocaust Memorial Council; The Washington Post reported in 1983 that the composition of the Council made some people “uncomfortable, for it included non-Jews among the victims of the holocaust,”76 though no Romanies were a part of it when that was written. There were African Americans and Armenians, but no Romani American. In 1984, the director of the USHMC at that time, Seymour Siegel, was quoted as saying that Romani efforts to obtain representation on it were “cockamamie,”77 while former acting director Micah Naftalin called the Romanies “naive” in their dealings with the Council.78

The question must be raised why it took over seven years to get even one Romani representative appointed to the Council, when the percentage of Romani losses was the same as, or perhaps even higher than that of the Jews. Why have the Romanies not been invited to participate in the annual Days of Remembrance? And why was the Jewish tragedy unique, when Romani victims experienced exactly the same fate, for exactly the same reasons, and the Romani people are still paying Hitler’s price? If Jews were “ignored” and “abandoned”—themes common in holocaust-related book titles—how much more do such terms apply to the Romani case? There is just one argument which would be morally justifiable, and that would be if it could be proved that statements about the Romani holocaust were false, that it did not happen. There are those, of course, who make this claim about the holocaust in its entirety.

The only argument remaining—and, sadly, it is one we do sometimes hear one way or another—is that Romanies were not as valuable in terms of human worth as other victims, and should, therefore, not be accorded the same acknowledgment. This attitude differs little from that which led to the official devaluation of the Romanies’ human worth in Hitler’s Germany, and to the eventual establishment of racial policies leading ultimately to attempted total extermination.

North American Jews have no privy knowledge of the Romani people; they are subject to the same media biases and have the same prejudices.79 Outlook ended its May 1987 editorial, “Gypsies and Jews in the Nazi Holocaust,” with the words: “American Jews need not fear the false Gypsy image any longer. Gypsies, like Jews, have endured a long history of defamation, deportation and destruction. They should stand together and demand equality.”80 But for some, that fear remains. In 1987, the U.S. Romani Anti-Defamation League was threatened with legal action by the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, if they continued to employ that same phrase in naming themselves. The phrase, “Anti-Defamation League,” is copyrighted. One fears that the same claim would be made for the word “holocaust” if it could. This writer has even been told that Romanies want merely to “get onto the Jewish bandwagon,” to “get in on the act” (two of the things which have actually been told him); but in the light of history, these accusations are callous and unjustified. Jews and Romanies are not opponents, but victims of the same circumstances. Why is it so difficult for them to stand side by side? What the Romanies want least of all is to hitch a ride on Jewish coattails; they must stand independently and be judged by their own history. But they do ask for Jewish moral support. Who else can even come close to understanding what the Romanies are trying to tell the world?

In 1980, the Polish government forcibly deported groups of Romanies by boat, after having confiscated any documents which would have allowed their re-entry into that country.81 At this time, the Czechoslovakian government is maintaining a program of compulsory sterilization of Romani women and taking away their children;82 and in 1984, a city councilor for the City of Bradford, England called for the extermination of Romanies.83  Deportation, sterilization and recommended extermination, not forty years ago, but all within the past decade. For Romanies, the war is far from over.




 1. Sydney Schiffer. The Far Side of Enough (New York: Unpublished manuscript, privately printed           and distributed by playwright [P. 0. Box 1883, New York, NY 10009], 1986).

 2. U.S. GPO List of Publications, 24-NLB, Part 2 (Washington: Goverment Printing Office, October 1987), p. 235.

 3. United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The Campaign for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington: USHMC,  May 1988), 1.

 4. William Safire. “On Language: Long Time No See,” The New York Times Magazine, 20 September 1983.

5. Museum Newsletter (Washington), December 1986, p. 2.

6. The Washington Post, 13 April 1983.

7. Edward Alexander. “Stealing the Holocaust,” Midstream Vol. 26, No. 9 (November 1980), pp. 46-50.

 8. Yehuda Bauer. “Whose holocaust?”  Midstream Vol. 26, No. 9 (November 19th): pp. 42-46.

9. Yehuda Bauer. The Holocaust in Historical Perspective (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978), p. 36.

 10. Lucy Dawidowicz. The Holocaust and the Historians (Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 11.

 11. Gerald L. Posner and John Ware. Mengele: The Complete Story (New York: Dell, 1986), p. 37.

 12. [California] State Board of Education, Francis Laufenberg, President. Model Curriculum for Human Rights and Genocide. Sacramento: State Board of Education, 1998).  p. 5.

 13. Ibid. This very practice prompted a petition by eleven members of the U.S. Congress to be sent to the Czechoslovak government through the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

 14. R. Conrad Klein. World at War: The Holocaust (Chicago: The Children’s Press, 1986).

15. Christian Bernadec. L’Holocaust Oublié (Editions France-Empire, 1979),  p. 34.

 16. Quoted in Ronald Takaki. Iron Cages: Race and Culture in Nineteenth Century America (New  York: Alfred Knopf, 1979), p. 26.

 17. Rieto Pieth. “Switzerland’s secret crusade against the Gypsies,” In These Times, January 1988; also in Ian Hancock.  The Pariah Syndrome (Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma Publishers, 1987), p. 104.

 18. The Holocaust: Genocide against the Jews (Hartford, CT: State of Connecticut Department of Education, 1987), p. 3.

 19. Felice Davis. “Gypsies and Jews in the Holocaust,” Outlook: Canada’s Progressive Jewish Magazine (May 1987), p. 15.

 20. Jeremy Noakes. “Life in the Third Reich,” History Today Vol. 35 (1985), pp. 15-19.

 21. Gisela Bock. “Racism and Sexism in Nazi Germany,” Signs Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 400-21; quoted from  pp. 408, 412.

 22. Published in the Nazionalsozialistischer Rechtsspiegel 21-11 (1939).

 23. Quoted in Joachim S. Hohmann, Zigeuner und Zigeunerwissensschaft (Marburg: Lahn, Guttandin and Hoppe, 1980), p. 201.

 24. Ibid., p. 234.

 25. Johannes Behrendt. “Die Wahrheit über die Zigeuner,” NS Partei Korrespondenz Vol. 10, p.  iii.

 26. Miriam Novitch. Le Génocide des Tziganes sous le Régime Nazi, AMIF Publication No. 164 (Paris: La Comité pour 1’Erection du Monument des Tziganes Assassinés à Auschwitz, 1968), p. 11 [of the English translation by Ian Hancock].

 27. Benno Müller-Hill. Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies and Others (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 56.

 28. Erika Thurner. “Nazi Policy against the Gypsies,” a presentation to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council conference, “The Other Victims,” Washington, 22-25 February 1987.

 29. Rebecca Sherer. “Gypsies in the Holocaust,” Facing History and Ourselves (Summer 1987),  p. 5.

 30. Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon. The Destiny of Europe’s Gypsies (London: Sussex University Press, 1972), Chapter 4, p. 60.

 31. Ibid. Racist categorization of Gypsies persisted even before the advent of Nazi ideology despite the conservatively Aryan affiliation of the Romani language. Some scholars, starting with Richard Pischel in the nineteenth century, have argued for a Dravidian, rather than Indo-Aryan origin for the Gypsy population. See, for instance, Richard Pischel. “The Home of the Gypsies” (English trans.), Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society Vol. 2, Part 4 (1909), pp. 292-320. See also Ian Hancock. “The development of Romani linguistics,” in A. Jazyery and W. Winter, eds. Studies in Honor of Edgar C.Polomé (The Hague: Mouton, 1988).

 32. Kenrick and Puxon, op. cit., p. 60.

 33. Selma Steinmetz. Oesterreichs Zigeuner im NS-Staat,  Monographien zur Zeitgeschichte. (Frankfurt: Europa Verlag, 1966).

 34. Letter dated 14 December 1984.

 35. Heinz Heger. The Men with the Pink Triangle (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1980),  p. 9.

 36. Margot Strom and William Parsons. Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior (Brookline, MA: Facing History and Ourselves, 1978),  p. 22.

 37. Wolf in der Maur. Die Zigeuner: Wanderer zwischen zwei Welten (Vienna, Munich and Zurich: Verlag Fritz Molden, 1969), p. 168.

 38. G. von Soest. Aspekte zur Sozialarbeit mit Zigeunern (Weinheim: Beltz, 1979).

 39. Stephen Castles. Here for Good: Western Europe’s New Ethnic Minorities (London: Pluto Press, 1984), p. 197.

 40. Sylvia Puggiole. “Swiss Government Apologizes to Gypsies,” a documentary on Gypsies in Europe broadcast on (U.S.) National Public Radio, KUT-FM, Austin TX, 5 December 1987.

 41. Sylvia Sobeck. Menschen zwischen Macht und Ohnmacht.

 42. Wolf in der Maur, op. cit.

 43. Tilrnan Zülch. Referred to in unpublished document, 12 December 1980.

 44. Behrendt, op. cit.

 45. Donald Kenrick. In personal communication dated 10 May 1988.

 46. A thesis dealing with San Sabba and other Italian camps is currently in progress under the direction of Jane Zatta.

 47. Kurzgeschichte des nazionalsozialistischen Zigeunerlagers in Lackenbach, 1940 bis 1945 (Eisenstadt: Rotzer Druck, 1984).

 48. This will be dealt with in detail by Gabrielle Tymauer in her excellent study, the first book-length work on the Romani holocaust to be published in the United States: The Fate of the Gypsies during the Holocaust (New York: Basic Books, to appear).

 49. Bernard Streck, in G. A. Rakelmann, ed. Loseblattsammlung für Unterricht und Bild-ungsarbeit (Freiburg [im Breisgau], 1979).

 50. Yehuda Bauer (1980), op. cit.

 51. Gisela Bock, op. cit., p. 418.

 52. Lloyd Grove. “Lament of the Gypsies: Forty Years after Auschwitz, petitioning for a place,” The Washington Post, 21 July 1984, p. C4.

 53. Grattan Puxon. “The Forgotten Victims,” Patterns of Prejudice Vol. 11, Part 2 (1977), pp. 23-28; quoted from p. 24.

 54. J. D. Thomas, and others. “Disease, lifestyle and consanguinity in 58 American Gypsies,” The Lancet 8555 (15 August 1977), pp. 377-79.

 55. Glenn Infield. Secrets of the SS (New York: Stein and Day, 1982), p. 61.

 56. Gabrielle Tymauer, op. cit., p. 10.



 (Yehuda Bauer continued with his

misinterpretation of the details of the

Porrajmos . . .  )

 HAARETZ 29 November 2005

Interpretation of the Porrajmos by Yehuda Bauer

Here lies the difference

By Yehuda Bauer 

The genocide of the Gypsies at the hands of Nazi Germany is not only a historic subject. It is a current events issue, because murders also have taken place in our own era - in Rwanda in 1994 and in Darfur in Sudan even now. In the context of the recent UN resolution to mark the Holocaust as the paradigmatic genocide from which the world should learn and which should be commemorated, I was recently asked provocatively to cite the differences between the Holocaust and the murder of the Gypsies. This is my answer.


            It is estimated that about one million Gypsies lived in those parts of Europe that were occupied by Germany, including 44,000 (or five percent) in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. The other 95 percent lived mainly in the Balkans, Poland and the Soviet Union, with smaller groups in the West. To the Nazis, the Gypsies were a marginal nuisance that they did not know how to handle, since the Gypsies were actually the only Aryans in Europe, as their ancestors are from northwest India.

The Gypsies in Germany were persecuted, discriminated against, accused of various crimes and offenses. And to the extent that they still lived a nomadic lifestyle in the 20th century, local authorities sought to get rid of them at any price. Himmler was afraid of Gypsy blood being mixed with German blood. The Nazis developed a theory that Gypsies who had mixed with Germans - and they were the majority - posed a danger to German blood, whereas the "pure" Gypsies belonged to the Aryan race and should not be harmed.

 In a letter to Bormann dated December 6, 1942, Himmler concluded that the "mixed-blood Gypsies" had to be eliminated - through sterilization or murder - while purebred Gypsies should be allowed to live a nomadic life outside of Germany. The "pure" Gypsies were saved (at the end of the war, approximately 14,000 Gypsies were alive in Germany), the "mixed-blood Gypsies" were murdered - precisely the opposite of the Jewish population, in which mixed-race individuals had a chance to survive while "pure" Jews were sentenced to death for the crime of being born. As for the other 95 percent of Gypsies, there was no uniform policy until 1942. There were Wehrmacht units in the Soviet Union that murdered Gypsies and others that disregarded them.


On April 2, 1942 (Hitler's birthday), Himmler met with the Fuehrer, and then with Heydrich, the head of the SD police (which included the Gestapo). After the meeting, he wrote in his diary: "Gypsies not to be liquidated." On August 13, 1942, a police commander in occupied Poland issued an order to deal with the nomadic Gypsies as if they were Jews (that is, they should be murdered), whereas those living in settlements should be treated the same as the local populace. From the summer of 1942 onward, the Germans distinguished, not always consistently, between nomadic and non-nomadic Gypsies. In Hungary, they did not persecute the Gypsies until the spring of 1945, and in Romania, which was home to hundreds of thousands of Gypsies, they deported between 26,000 and 28,000 to Transylvania, together with the Jews; some 6,000-8,000 of them perished.


We see, then, that there never was a Nazi policy of total annihilation of the Gypsies. They were not Jews, every one of whom had to be murdered, and herein lies the fundamental, decisive difference. As far as we can tell, Hitler referred to the Gypsies on only two occasions. At dinner conversations he once said the Hungarians were really Gypsies, and another time he said they should be removed from the ranks of the German army. The Gypsy problem was entirely unimportant, while the matter of the Jews stood at the center of Nazi ideology. It can most certainly be stated that Nazi anti-Semitism was responsible in no small degree for the deaths not only of close to six million Jews, but also of 29 million non-Jews who died as a result of the spread of Nazism.


There is no doubt that the murder of the Gypsies, primarily the nomads among them, was genocide, according to the Genocide Convention of 1948. According to various estimates, between 90,000 and 150,000 Gypsies were murdered. As opposed to the Jews, the Gypsies were never significantly compensated, are persecuted in many European states, and are treated like lepers. They were not victims of the Holocaust; they were victims of the genocide of a different people, with different motivations and different outcomes. However, their tragedy is worthy of being commemorated and worthy of identification with their fate, because they are human beings like us and like the black peasants in Sudan, whom the fanatic Islamic regime is trying to murder in their masses. I have noted the difference above; here I note the shared human fate.




Expanded from We Are the Romani People, Chapter 4



               “It was the wish of the all-powerful Reichsfhhrer Adolf Hitler to have the Gypsies disappear from the face of the earth”

(SS Officer Percy Broad, Auschwitz Political Division)1

 “The motives invoked to justify the death of the Gypsies were the same as those ordering the murder of the Jews, and the methods employed for the one were identical with those employed for the other”

(Miriam Novitch, Ghetto Fighters’ House, Israel)2             

 “The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial mania, with the same premeditation, with the same wish for the systematic and total extermination as the genocide of the Jews.  Complete families from the very young to the very old were systematically murdered within the entire sphere of influence of the National Socialists”

(Roman Herzog, Federal President of Germany, 16 March 1997)

 Miriam Novitch refers above to the motives put forth to justify the murder of the Romanies, or “Gypsies,” in the Holocaust, though in her small but groundbreaking book she is only partly right: both Jews and Romanies did indeed share the common status—along with the handicapped—of being targeted for elimination because of the threat they were perceived to pose to the pristine gene-pool of the German Herrenvolk or “Master Race;” but while the Jews were considered a threat on a number of other grounds as well, political, philosophical and economic, the Romanies were only ever a “racial” threat.  

Earlier writings on the Holocaust, however, either did not recognise this at all, or else failed to understand that the “criminality” associated with our people was attributed by the Nazis to a genetically transmitted and incurable disease, and was therefore ideologically racial; instead, writers focused only on the “antisocial” label resulting from it and failed to acknowledge the genetic connection made by the Nazi race scientists themselves.  In 1950 the Württemburg Ministry of the Interior issued a statement to the judges hearing war crimes restitution claims that they should keep in mind that “the Gypsies were persecuted under the National Socialist regime not for any racial reason, but because of their criminal and antisocial record,” and twenty-one years later the Bonn Convention took advantage of this as justification for not paying reparations to Romanies, claiming that the reasons for their victimization during the Nazi period were for reasons  of  security  only. Not one person spoke out to challenge that position, the consequences of which have hurt the survivors and their descendants beyond measure, though at that time the French genealogist Montandon did observe, however, that “everyone despises Gypsies, so why exercise restraint?  Who will avenge them? Who will complain? Who will bear witness?”3 .


The past two or three decades have seen a tremendous increase in Holocaust-focused activities, in the establishment of museums and memorials, and in the creation of educational programs for the schools.  Hand in hand with this has emerged an increasingly strident debate over how the Holocaust is to be defined, and who does or does not qualify for inclusion in it.  The Anti-Defamation League’s website defines Holocaust as “the systematic persecution and annihilation of more than six million Jews as a central act of state by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945.” The program for the 33rd Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches defines it as “the Nazi attempt to annihilate European Jewry,” and makes no mention in its pages of Romanies.  In February 1987, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum organized a conference entitled Other Victims which included a panel on Romanies, but it included no Romanies either in its organization or among its presenters; at this time (Summer 2003) there is no Romani representation on the Holocaust Council at all.  An international conference entitled The Roma, a Minority in Europe: Historical, Social and Cultural Perspectives held at Tel Aviv University in December, 2002 similarly had no Romanies among its organizers or speakers.  Yet it would be unthinkable to have a conference on the fate of Jews in the Holocaust that had no Jewish involvement.  We cannot be treated any differently.

Guenther Lewy4 has attempted to argue that not only were our people not a part of the Holocaust, but that our fate at the hands of the Nazis did not even qualify as an attempted genocidal action; a similar position has been taken more recently by Margalit5.  Already during the question and answer session at a talk I gave in 20016, a member of the audience called out—following my statement that the Romanies were only ever a racial threat—“and nothing more!”  It is this competitive—and I must say meanly motivated and defensive—attitude which I want to question and challenge.  It is unscholarly and unprofessional in the context of the Holocaust especially, and it serves no purpose to diminish the fate of the Romanies; instead it must only reflect badly upon those who attempt to do so.  If the Holocaust is to teach us anything, it is concern for the treatment of human beings at the hands of other human beings, and the wicked senselessness of hating others for being different.  The present-day relevance of this is clear from a recent editorial in The Economist which stated that the Romanies in Europe were “at the bottom of every socio-economic indicator: the poorest, the most unemployed, the least educated, the shortest-lived, the most welfare dependent, the most imprisoned and the most segregated”7.  More energy is expended on making their case by those seeking to distance Romanies from the Holocaust than on examining the relevance of the Holocaust to the Romanies’ present-day condition.

In an article published in 1996 I listed several of the arguments that have been made for diminishing the Porrajmos, or Romani Holocaust8, addressing each one in turn.  In practically every case, statements were made which were simply wrong—the result of assuming a situation to have existed or not existed without bothering to check the historical record.  Several writers have written that there was no Final Solution of the Gypsy Question, for example Breitman (1991:20) who wrote “whatever its weaknesses, ‘Final Solution’ at least applies to a single, specific group defined by descent.  The Nazis are not known to have spoken of the Final Solution of the Polish problem or of the gypsy problem.”  Nevertheless the earliest Nazi document referring to “the introduction of the total solution to the Gypsy problem on either a national or an international level” was drafted under the direction of State Secretary Hans Pfundtner of the Reichs Ministry of the Interior in March, 1936, and the first specific reference to “the final solution of the Gypsy question” was made by Adolf Würth of the Racial Hygiene Research Unit in September, 1937.  The first official Party statement to refer to the endgültige Lösung der Zigeunerfrage was issued in March, 19389, signed by Himmler.

Without getting into what has been cynically called the “Suffering Olympics,” since my more subjective feelings on the matter have already appeared elsewhere10, I will instead try to provide an overview of the details and sequence of Nazi action against Romanies for those for whom this information is new.   I have paid a price for my outspokenness and have lost friends and support from some quarters, while certainly gaining it anew in others.  I put it to those who have turned away from me to look deep into their own hearts and ask themselves why—really why—they have done so, when nothing I have written has been fabricated or ever written with malicious intent. 

While it is true that all of the ‘minimizing’ rhetoric originates with some Jewish authors, I must hasten to add that most of the arguments in support of the Romani case originate with Jewish scholars too; indeed, almost the entire body of research on the Romani Holocaust is the result of Jewish scholarship.  Despite the naysayers, the Jews are practically the only friends we have, and we recognize that.

The reasons for antigypsyism are complex, and are the result of several different factors coming together over time.  I have discussed these in more detail in another essay11, but briefly these are (a) that because the first Romanies to arrive in Europe did so at the same time as, and because of, the Ottoman Turkish takeover of the Christian Byzantine Empire they were therefore perceived to be equally a threat; (b) the fact that Romanies were a non-white, non-Christian, alien population (c) the fact that Romanies have never had claim to a geographical territory or have had an economy, militia or government, and (d) the fact that culture itself maintains a strict social boundary between Romanies and the non-Romani world.  These resulted in excessively barbaric methods of control from the very time of arrival in Europe at the end of the 13th century, which included murder and torture, transportation and enslavement. The greatest tragedy to befall the European Romani population, however, even greater than the five and a half centuries of slavery in Romania, was the attempt to eradicate it as part of the Nazis’ plan to have a ‘Gypsy-free’ land.  Although it wasn’t the first governmental resolution to exterminate Romanies (German Emperor Karl VI had previously issued such an order in 1721), it was by far the most devastating, ultimately destroying over half of the Romani population in Nazi-occupied Europe.  Romanies were the only other population besides the Jews who were targeted for extermination on racial/ethnic grounds following the directives of a Final Solution.

                        When the Nazis came to power in 1933, German laws against Romanies had already been in effect for hundreds of years.  The persecution of the Romani people began almost as soon as they first arrived in German-speaking lands because as outsiders, they were, without knowing it, breaking the Hanseatic laws which made it a punishable offence not to have a permanent home or job, and not to be on the taxpayers’ register.  They were also accused of being spies for the Muslims, whom few Germans had ever met, but about whom they had heard many frightening stories; it was not illegal to murder a Romani and there were sometimes ‘Gypsy hunts’ in which Romanies were tracked down and killed like wild animals.  Forests were set on fire, to drive out any Romanies who might have been hiding there.

            By the nineteenth century, scholars in Germany and elsewhere in Europe were writing about Romanies and Jews as being inferior beings and “the excrement of humanity”12; even Darwin, writing in 1871, singled out our two populations as not being “culturally advanced” like other “territorially settled” peoples13.  This crystallized into specifically racist attitudes in the writing of Dohm, Hundt-Radowsky, Knox, Tetzner, Gobineau, Ploetz, Schallmeyer and others14.  By the 1880s, Chancellor von Bismarck reinforced some of the discriminatory laws, stating that Romanies were to be dealt with “especially severely” if apprehended. 


                        In or around 1890, a conference on ‘The Gypsy Scum’ (Das Zigeunergeschmei8) was held in Swabia, at which the military was given full authority to keep Romanies on the move.  In 1899 the Englishman Houston Chamberlain, who was the composer Richard Wagner’s son-in-law, wrote a book called The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, in which he argued for the building of a “newly shaped . . . and . . . especially deserving Aryan race”15.  It was used to justify the promotion of ideas about German racial superiority and for any oppressive action taken against members of ‘inferior’ populations.   In that same year, the ‘Gypsy Information Agency’ was set up in Munich under the direction of Alfred Dillmann, which began cataloguing data on all Romanies throughout the German lands.  The results of this were published in 1905 in Dillmann’s Zigeuner-Buch16, which laid the foundations for what was to happen to our people in the Holocaust thirty-five years later.

                        The Zigeuner-Buch is nearly 350 pages long, and consists of three parts:

first, an introduction stating that Romanies were a “plague” and a “menace” against which the German population had to defend itself using “ruthless punishments”, and which warned of the dangers of mixing the Romani and German gene pools.  The second part was a register of all known Romanies, giving genealogical details and criminal record if any, and the third part was a collection of photographs of those same people. Dillmann’s ideas about ‘race mixing’ later became a central part of the Nuremberg Law in Nazi Germany. 

            In  1920, a psychiatrist, Karl Binding and a magistrate, Alfred Hoche, published a jointly-authored book called The Eradication of Lives Undeserving of Life17, using a phrase first coined by Richard Liebich with specific reference to Romanies nearly sixty years earlier18, and used shortly after him, again specifically referring to Romanies, by Rudolf Kulemann19.  Among the three groups that they said were “unworthy of life” were the “incurably mentally ill”, and it was to this group that Romanies were considered to belong. Euthanasia, and particularly non-propagation through sterilization, were topics receiving a good deal of attention at that time in the United States; Nazi programs were to an extent based upon American research20. A law incorporating the phrase lives undeserving of life was put into effect just four months after Hitler became Chancellor of the Third Reich.

                        Perceived Romani ‘criminality’ was seen as a transmitted genetic disease, though no account was taken of the centuries of exclusion of the Romanies from German society, which made subsistence theft a necessity for survival.  The “crimes” listed in the Zigeunerbuch are almost exclusively trespassing and the theft of food.

                        During the 1920s, the legal oppression of Romanies in Germany intensified considerably, despite the official statutes of the Weimar Republic that said that all its citizens were equal. In 1920 they were forbidden to enter parks and public baths; in 1925 a conference on  ‘The Gypsy Question’ was held which resulted in the

creation of laws requiring unemployed Romanies to be sent to work camps “for reasons of public security”, and for all Romanies to be registered with the police.  After 1927 everyone, even Romani children, had to carry identification cards bearing their fingerprints and photographs.  In 1929, The Central Office for the Fight Against the Gypsies in Germany was established in Munich, and in 1933, just ten days before the Nazis came to power, government officials in Burgenland, Austria, called for the withdrawal of all civil rights from the Romani people.

                        In September 1935, Romanies became subject to the restrictions of the Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour, which forbade intermarriage between Germans and ‘non-Aryans’, specifically Jews, Romanies and people of African descent.  In 1937, the National Citizenship Law relegated Romanies and Jews to the status of second-class citizens, depriving them of their civil rights.  Also in 1937, Heinrich Himmler issued a decree entitled “The Struggle Against the Gypsy Plague” which reiterated that Romanies of mixed blood were the most likely to engage in criminal activity, and which required that all information on Romanies be sent from the regional police departments to the Reich Central Office.  In their book published in 1943, the Danish sociologists Erik Bartels and Gudrun Brun echoed this position, evidently unaware that the sterilization of Romanies had already been in effect for a decade:

The pure Gypsies present no great problem, if only we realise that their mentality does not allow of their admittance to the well-ordered general society . . . the mixed Gypsies cause considerably greater difficulties (. . . nothing good has) come from a crossing between a Gipsy and a white person . . . Germany is at present contemplating the introduction of provisions of sterilization in the case of such families21 .

             Calling a population vermin, or a disease, rather than recognising them as being part of the human family is a technique used to dehumanize it and to distance it from society.  Such terms were constantly used to refer to Jews and Romanies in the Third Reich in an effort to desensitize the general population to the increasingly harsh treatment being meted out against them; after all, vermin and diseases need to be eradicated.  Disturbingly, this language is still with us—in 1992 the Badische Zeitung carried the headline “A pure disease, these Gypsies!”22

           Between June 13-18 1938 ‘Gypsy Clean-Up Week’(Zigeunerauf-räumungswoche, also called Aktion Arbeitschau Reich and Bettlerwoche in the documentation) took place throughout Germany which, like Kristallnacht for the Jewish people that same year, marked the beginning of the end; for both populations it sent a clear message to the general public: there would be no penalty for their mistreating Jews and Romanies, since the very institution meant to safeguard German society—the police—was itself openly doing so. 

                        Also in 1938, the first party-issued reference to “The Final Solution of the Gypsy Question” (die endgültige Lösung der Zigeunerfrage) appeared in print in a document dated March 24, and was repeated in an order issued by Himmler on December 8 that year and announced publicly in the NS Rechtsspiegel the following February 21st.  Thus in the Auschwitz Memorial Book we find “The final resolution, as formulated by Himmler in his ‘Decree for Basic Regulations to Resolve the Gypsy Question as Required by the Nature of Race’ of December 8th, 1938, meant that preparations were to begin for the complete extermination of the Sinti and Roma”23.  Also in 1938, Himmler issued his criteria for biological and racial evaluation which determined that each Romani’s family background was to be investigated going back for three generations; the Nazis’ racial motive for exterminating Romanies is clear from the fact that they even targeted Romani-like people, taking no chances lest the German population be contaminated with Romani blood. Kenrick writes:


In general, a person with one Jewish grandparent was not affected in the Nazi anti-Jewish legislation, whereas one-eighth ‘gypsy blood’ was considered strong enough to outweigh seven-eighths of German blood—so dangerous were the Gypsies considered24.

    These was twice as strict as the criteria determining who was Jewish; had the same also applied to Romanies, nearly 20,000 would have escaped death.  On 16 December 1941 Himmler issued the order to have Romanies throughout western Europe deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination.

                        In 1939 Johannes Behrendt of the Office of Racial Hygiene issued a brief stating that “[a]ll Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick; the only solution is elimination.  The aim should therefore be the elimination without hesitation of this defective element in the population”25.  In January 1940 the first mass genocidal action of the Holocaust took place when 250 Romani children from Brno were murdered in Buchenwald, where they were used as guinea-pigs to test the efficacy of the Zyklon-B cyanide gas crystals that were later used in the gas chambers26.  In June 1941 Hitler ordered the extermination of all Jews, Romanies and communist political functionaries in the entire Soviet Union.  Reinhard Heydrich, who was Head of the Reich Main Security Office and the leading organizational architect of the Nazi Final Solution, ordered the Einsaztkommandos to kill all Jews, Romanies and mental patients, although not all of the documentation regarding its complete details, relating to both Jews and Romanies, has so far been found.  Müller-Hill writes:

 Heydrich, who had been entrusted with the ‘final solution of the Jewish question’ on 31st July 1941, shortly after the German invasion of the USSR, also included the Gypsies in his ‘final solution’. . . The senior SS officer and Chief of Police for the East, Dr. Landgraf, in Riga, informed Rosenberg’s Reich Commissioner for the East, Lohse, of the inclusion of the Gypsies in the ‘final solution’.  Thereupon, Lohse gave the order, on 24th December 1941, that the Gypsies should be given the same treatment as the Jews27.

 Burleigh & Wippermann write further that:

 A conference on racial policy organised by Heydrich took place in Berlin on 21st September 1939, which may have decided upon a ‘Final Solution’ of the ‘Gypsy Question’.  According to the scant minutes which have survived, four issues were decided: the concentration of Jews in towns; their relocation to Poland; the removal of 30,000 Gypsies to Poland, and the systematic deportation of Jews to German incorporated territories using goods trains.  An express letter sent by the Reich Main Security Office on 17th October 1939 to its local agents mentioned that the ‘Gypsy Question will shortly be regulated throughout the territory of the Reich’. . . . At about this time, Adolf Eichmann made the recommendation that the ‘Gypsy Question’ be solved simultaneously with the ‘Jewish Question’ . . . Himmler signed the order dispatching Germany’s Sinti and Roma to Auschwitz on 16th December 1942.  The ‘Final Solution’ of the ‘Gypsy Question’ had begun28.

 Himmler’s order stated that “all Gypsies are to be deported to the Zigeunerlager at Auschwitz concentration camp, with no regard to their degree of racial impurity”.  The Memorial Book for the Romanies who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau also says:


The Himmler decree of December 16th 1942 (Auschwitz-Erlaß), according to which the Gypsies should be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, had the same meaning for the Gypsies that the conference at Wannsee on January 20th 1942, had for the Jews.  This decree, and the bulletin that followed on January 29th 1943, can thus be regarded as a logical consequence of the decision taken at Wannsee.  After it had been decided that the fate of the Jews was to end in mass extermination, it was natural for the other group of racially persecuted people, the Gypsies, to become victims of the same policy, which finally even included soldiers in the Wehrmacht29.

 In a paper delivered in Washington in 1987, at a conference on the fate of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust sponsored by the U S Holocaust Memorial Council, Dr Erika Thurner of the Institut für Neuere Geschichte und Zeitgeschichte at the University of Linz stated that:

 Heinrich Himmler’s infamous Auschwitz decree of December 16th, 1942, can be seen as the final stage of the final solution of the Gypsy Question.  The decree served as the basis for complete extermination.  According to the implementation instructions of 1943, all Gypsies, irrespective of their racial mix, were to be assigned to concentration camps.  The concentration camp for Gypsy families at Auschwitz-Birkenau was foreseen as their final destination . . . opposed to the fact that the decision to seek a final solution for the Gypsy Question came at a later date than that of the Jewish Question, the first steps taken to exterminate the Gypsies were initiated prior to this policy decision.

 This order appears to have been the result of a direct decision from Hitler himself30.  Breitman reproduced the statement issued by Security Police Commander Bruno Streckenbach following a policy meeting with Hitler and Heydrich held in Pretsch in June, 1941, viz. that “[t]he Führer has ordered the liquidation of all Jews, Gypsies and communist political functionaries in the entire area of the Soviet Union”31.  SS Officer Percy Broad, who worked in the political division at Auschwitz and who participated directly in the murders of several thousand prisoners there, wrote in his memoirs twenty-five years later that “. . . it was the will of the all-powerful Reichsführer Adolf Hitler to have the Gypsies disappear from the face of the earth”32 . At a party meeting on 14 September 1942 with Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister of Justice Otto Thierack announced that “with respect to the extermination of antisocial forms of life, Dr Goebbels is of the opinion that Jews and Gypsies should simply be exterminated”.   Former SS General Otto Ohlendorf said at the postwar military tribunal at Nuremberg that in the killing campaigns, “there was no difference between Gypsies and Jews.”

On 4 August 1944, some 2,900 Romanies were gassed and cremated in a single action at Auschwitz-Birkenau, during what is remembered as Zigeunernacht33.

               Determining the percentage or number of Romanies who died in the Holocaust has not been easy.  Bernard Streck noted that “any attempts to express Romani casualties in terms of numbers . . . cannot be verified by means of lists or card-indexes or camp files; most of the Gypsies died in eastern or southern Europe, shot by execution troops or fascist gang members”34. Much of the Nazi documentation still remains to be analyzed and, as Streck intimates, many murders were not recorded since they took place in the fields and forests where Romanies were arrested.  There are no accurate figures either for the pre-war Romani population in Europe, though the Nazi Party’s official census of 1939 estimated it to be about two million, certainly an under-representation.  Regarding numbers, König says:


The 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 Liquidierungsübrigen [remainder to be liquidated], ‘hangers-on’ and ‘partisans’. . .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; moreover, Sinti and Roma are often listed under the heading of remainder to be liquidated, and do not appear in the statistics for Gypsies35.

 In the eastern territories, in Russia especially, Romani deaths were sometimes counted into the records under the heading of Jewish deaths.  The Memorial Book also discusses the means of killing Romanies:

 Unlike the Jews, the overwhelming majority of whom were murdered in the gas chambers at Birkenau, Belzec, Treblinka and all the other mass extermination camps, the Gypsies outside the Reich were massacred at many places, sometimes only a few at a time, and sometimes by the hundreds.  In the Generalgouvernement [the eastern territories] alone, 150 sites of Gypsy massacres are known.  Research on the Jewish Holocaust can rely on comparison of pre- and post-war census data to help determine the numbers of victims in the countries concerned.  However, this is not possible for the Gypsies, as it was only rarely that they were included in national census data.  Therefore it is an impossible task to find the actual number of Gypsy victims in Poland, Yugoslavia, White Ruthenia and the Ukraine, the lands that probably had the greatest numbers of victims36.

 The 1997 figure reported by Dr Sybil Milton, the then senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Research Institute in Washington put the number of Romani lives lost by 1945 at “between a half and one and a half million”37.  Significantly, the same figure appeared again in a November 2001 report issued by the International Organization for Migration (the IOM), a body designated to locate and compensate surviving Romani Holocaust victims.  The brief states that “[r]ecent research indicates that up to 1.5 million Roma perished during the Nazi era”38 .  It is certainly a fact that interviews in the past four years by trained Romani personnel who have obtained testimonials at first-hand from claimants throughout central and eastern Europe have already shed startling new light on this issue: the number of Romani survivors is far in excess of anything previously estimated.  By extrapolation, and from the same eyewitness accounts documented in recent years, the numbers of Romanies who perished at the hands of the Nazis has also been grossly underestimated.  Eventually, these revised figures will find their way into the public record.

                        Since the end of the Second World War, Germany’s record regarding the Romani people has been less than exemplary.  Nobody was called to testify in behalf of the Romani victims at the Nuremberg Trials, and no war crimes reparations have ever been paid to Romanies as a people. Today, neo-Nazi activity in many parts of central and Eastern Europe makes the Romanies its prime target of racial violence.  Kenrick summarized the situation after 1945 very well:


In the first years following the end of the Nazi domination of Europe, the Gypsy community was in disarray.  The small [Romani] educational and cultural organizations that had existed before 1939 had been destroyed.  The family structure was broken with the death of the older people—the guardians of the traditions.  While in the camps, the Gypsies had been unable to keep up their customs—the Romanía—concerning the preparation of food and the washing of clothes.  They solved the psychological problems by not speaking about the time in the camps.  Only a small number of Gypsies could read or write, so they could not tell their own story.  But also they were unwilling to tell their own stories to others, and few others were interested anyway.  In the many books written describing the Nazi period and the persecution of the Jews, Gypsies usually appear as a footnote or small section39.

 Martin Clayton has made similar observations:

 Unlike the Jews whose Holocaust experience gave birth to a renewed political militancy and a flurry of angry creativity, the Gypsies were silenced as the war came to a close.  Their circumspection was in no small measure due to the efficiency of the Nazi death machine.  The clearest and most articulate young writers, orators, performers and dreamers that the pre-war Roma produced were buried in mass graves across central and eastern Europe.  By the end of the war the European Roma were a decapitated people searching for someone to help explain to them what had just happened.  Instead they were greeted with a wall of silence and blank stares from the authorities.  No reparations, no apologies, no films or plays about their plight, no new land to settle and defend40.

 We still have a long way to go both with our understanding of the Porrajmos and with achieving its proper acknowledgment in the classroom; including a section on the Porrajmos must be viewed as essential to any Romani Studies—and Holocaust Studies—curriculum. One such workbook, the Facing History and Ourselves organization’s Holocaust Resource Book41 lists just five pages in the index for “Sinti and Roma,” but eighteen under “Armenians”— who weren’t victims of the Holocaust, while the question following the section on the Romanies, which consists solely of a quote from Ina Friedman’s Other Victims42, asks what the “striking differences” were between the treatment of Romanies and the treatment of Jews.  Our history must be presented in its own context, and not as a corollary to that of another people.

                        An argument which is sometimes made is that the Romanies simply didn’t preoccupy the Nazis; we have been called an “afterthought” in Nazi policy, even merely a “minor irritant,” as Yehuda Bauer has called us43.  This is neither fair nor true, and statements have been made in print about Romanies which, had they been made about Jews, would have been immediately condemned as anti-Semitic.  Some of them can probably be accounted for by the fact that our people were far fewer in number, were much more easily identified and disposed of, and had already been the target of discriminatory policy even before Hitler came to power.  It required no massive effort on the part of the Nazis to locate and destroy a population that had no one to take its part.  Haberer adds to this:

 [Regarding] the persecution of Gypsies, it should be noted that their plight equaled that of the Jews.  Their liquidation was part and parcel of the Nazis’ agenda to eradicate ‘worthless life’.  Wrapped up in the Holocaust per se, the genocide of the Roma in the East is still very much an untold story.  In some ways, their victimization was practiced even more ruthlessly because they held no ‘economic value’ and were traditionally considered a particular asocial and criminally inclined people [and] more alien in appearance, culture and language44.

 To this, and returning to the issue of race-based motives for eradication, we can add the conclusion of Austrian Holocaust historian Erika Thurner, who wrote

 Jews and Gypsies were equally affected by the racial theories and measures of the Nazi rulers.  The persecution of the two groups was carried out with the same radical intensity and cruelty.  The Jewish genocide received top priority in planning and execution—this because of the different social status of the Jews and also their larger numbers.  Due to their smaller numbers, the Roma and Sinti were for the Nazis a ‘secondary’ problem45.

               The United Nations too, did nothing to assist Romanies during or following the Holocaust nor, sadly, were Romanies mentioned anywhere in the documentation of the U. S. War Refugee Board.   This is all the more puzzling since the situation was known to the War Crimes Tribunal in Washington as early as 1946, whose files contain the text of the meeting between Justice Minister Otto Thierack and Josef Goebbels on 14 September 1942, which stated plainly that

 With regard to the destruction of asocial life, Dr. Goebbels is of the opinion that the following groups should be exterminated: Jews and Gypsies unconditionally, Poles who have served 3 to 4 years of penal servitude, and Czechs and Germans who are sentenced to death . . . The idea of exterminating them by labor is best46.

               Nevertheless, the situation is gradually improving.  In Germany itself, the handbook and CD Rom on Holocaust education prepared for teachers and which was issued by the Press and Information Office of the Federal government in 2000 makes clear that recent historical research in the United States and Germany does not support the conventional argument that the Jews were the only victims of Nazi genocide.  True, the murder of Jews by the Nazis differed from the Nazis’ killing of political prisoners and foreign opponents because it was based on the genetic origin of the victims and not on their behaviour.  The Nazi regime applied a consistent and inclusive policy of extermination based on heredity only against three groups of human beings: the handicapped, Jews, and Sinti and Roma (“Gypsies”).  The Nazis killed multitudes, including political and religious opponents, members of the resistance, elites of conquered nations, and homosexuals, but always based these murders on the belief, actions and status of those victims.  Different criteria applied only to the murder of the handicapped, Jews, and “Gypsies”.  Members of these groups could not escape their fate by changing their behavior or belief.  They were selected because they existed47.      



 1 Percy Broad.  “KZ Auschwitz: Erinnerungen eines SS Mannes”. Hefte von Auschwitz, 9:7-48 (1966), p. 41.

2 Miriam Novitch, Le Genocide des Tziganes Sous le RJgime Nazi.  Paris: AMIF and the Ghetto Fighters’ House, Israel (1968:3).

3 Christian Bernadec, 1979.  L’Holocauste Oubié.  Paris: Editions France-Empire, p. 44.

4 Guenther Lewy, 2000.  The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies.  Cambridge: The University Press.

5 Gilad Margalit, 2002.  Germany’s Gypsies.  Cambridge: The University Press. This “competitive” aspect is particularly explicit in an earlier monograph by Gilad Margalit, where he 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 (1996: 26).”

6 At West Chester University. 

7 Jonathan Ledgard, “Europe’s spectral nation”, The Economist, May 12th (2001:29-31).

8 Ian Hancock, “Responses to the Porrajmos (the Romani Holocaust),” in Alan S. Rosenbaum & Israel Charney, eds., Is the Holocaust Unique?  New York: Westview Press (1996), pp. 39-72 [reproduced on this website].  Some of the arguments I’ve received include: the respective overall numbers of losses cannot be compared; some Romanies were spared death; there were family camps for Romanies; the Holocaust was a divine punishment specifically intended for Jews; ‘generalizing’ the Holocaust diminishes its gravity; ‘generalizing’ the Holocaust weakens justification for Israel’s existence; Nazi methods of dealing with Romanies were more humane; Romanies were responsible for their own mistreatment. In the Romani language, the Holocaust is referred to as the Baro Porrajmos, or ‘great devouring’ of human life.

9 Reichsfuhrer-SS-Dokument S-Kr. 1 Nr. 557/38.  The words “the final solution of the Gypsy question” actually first appeared on page one of the very first issue of The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in 1888, that question being what are the origins of the Romani people, and its resolution the intended aim of that new organization.

 10 “Gypsies, Jews and the Holocaust,” Shmate: A Journal of Progressive Jewish Thought, 17:6-15:(1987);”Uniqueness of the victims: Gypsies, Jews and the Holocaust,” Without Prejudice: International Review of Racial Discrimination, 1(2):45-67 (1988); “Gypsy history in Germany and neighboring lands: a chronology,” in David Crowe & John Kolsti, eds., The Gypsies of Eastern Europe.  Armonk: E.C. Sharpe (1989:11-30); “The roots of antigypsyism: to the Holocaust and after,” in Jan Colijn & Marcia Sachs Littell, eds., Confronting the Holocaust: A Mandate for the 21st Century.  Lanham: University Press of America (1997:19-49), “Downplaying the Porrajmos: the trend to minimize the Romani Holocaust,” Journal of Genocide Research, 3(1):56-63 (2000) and op. cit. (note 8).

11 In “The roots of antigypsyism: to the Holocaust and after,” in Jan Colijn & Marcia Sachs Littell, eds., Confronting the Holocaust: A Mandate for the 21st Century.  Lanham: University Press of America (1997:19-49).

12 This phrase, used by Tetzner, is documented in Rainer Hehemann, Die “Bekämpfung des Zigeunerunwesens” im Wilhelminischen Deutschland und in der Weimarer Republik, 1871-1922. Frankfurt: Haag & Herschen (1987: 99,116,127), and in Wolfgang Wippermann, Das Leben in Frankfurt zur NS-Zeit: Die Nationalsozialistische Zigeunerfervolgung.  Frankfurt: Kramer (1986: 57-8).  Note that in Germany the traditional Romani population calls itself Sinti, and that the word Zigeuner is the German equivalent of ‘Gypsy’ and should be avoided.

13 n his Die Abstammung des Menschen und die Geschlichtliche Zuchwahl.  Stuttgart: Scheitzerbartsche Verlag (1871: 63).

14 Christian Wilhelm Dohm, On the Civic Improvement of the Jews.  Stuttgart (1781); Hartwig von Hundt-Radowsky, Der Judenspiegel. Munich (1819); Robert Knox, The Races of Men.  London (1850); Arthur Gobineau, L’Inégalité des Races Humaines.  Paris (1855).  Alfred Ploetz, Grundlinie einer Rassenhygiene: Die Thchtigkeit unsrerRasse und der Schutz der Schwachen.  Berlin (1895). Wilhelm Schallmeyer, in his “Einfhhrungen in die Rassenhygiene,” in Wilhelm Weichardt, ed., Ergebnisse der Hygiene, Berlin (1917), argued for the regulated pairing of German men and women of  “suitable genetic quality” and the euthanizing of those of inferior heredity (vol. 2, p. 455).

15 Houston S. Chamberlain.  Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.  Leipzig (1899).

16 Alfred Dillmann.  Zigeuner-Buch.  Munich: Wildsche (1905).

17 Karl Binding & Alfred Hoche.  Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens.  Leipzig: Felix Meiner (1920).

18 Richard Liebich, Die Zigeuner in ihrem Wesen und ihre Sprache.  Leipzig: Brockhaus (1863).

19 Rudolf Kulemann, “Die Zigeuner”, Unserer Zeit, 5(1):843-871 (1869).

20 An excellent overview of this is found in Daniel Stone’s Breeding Superman: Nietsche, Race and Eugenics in Interwar Britain.  Liverpool: The University Press (2002).

21 Erik Bartels & Gudrun Brun.  The Gipsies in Denmark.  Copenhagen:  Munksgaard (1943:5).

22 Issue for August 28th.

23 SMAB (State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau). Memorial Book: the Gypsies at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Munich: K.G. Saur. (1993:xiv, emphasis added).

24 Donald Kenrick.  Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies).  Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. (1998:74-5).

25 Johannes Behrendt, “Die Wahrheit über die Zigeuner”, NS-Partei  Korrespondenz, 10 (1939), No. 3.

26 Proester, Emil, Vraždňí čs. Cikánů v Buchenwaldu.  Document No. ÚV ČSPB-K-135 of the Archives of the Fighters Against Fascism, Prague (1940).

27 Benno Müller-Hill.  Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies and Others, 1933-1945.  Oxford: The University Press (1988:58-9).

28Michael Burleigh & Wolfgang Wippermann.  The Racial State: Germany, 1933-Cambridge: The University Press. (1991:121-25)

29 State Museum, op. cit. (note 23), p. 3.

30 Sybil Milton, “Nazi policies towards Roma and Sinti 1933-1945”, Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, 5th series, 2(1):1-18. (1992:10).

31 Richard Breitman, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution.  Hanover and London: University Press of New England. (1991:164)

32 Broad, loc. cit., note 2.

33Danuta Czech & Walter Laqueur, Auschwitz Chronicle, 1939-1945.  New York: Holt (1979).  A Jewish Auschwitz survivor now living in Los Angeles Remembered Zigeunernacht, and revealed recently that the Nazis told the Romani men that if they would agree to fight for Germany on the Russian front their lives, and the lives of their families, would be spared.  The men agreed and were separated from the women and children, and shot.  Nearly all of those who were subsequently gassed were Romani women and children.  The purpose in doing this was that, as Ulrich König makes clear in his Sinti und Roma unter dem Nationalsozialismus, Bochum: Brockmeyer Verlag (1989:129-133), Romani families being eradicated together became completely unmanageable for the guards.  See also Hancock 1996:50 (at note 8 above) for further discussion.

 34 Quoted in G.A. Rakelmann, ed, Loseblattsammlung für Unterrich und Bildungsarbeit.  Freiburg im Breisgau (1979).

35 Ulrich König, op. cit., note 33, pp. 87-9.

 36 State Museum, op. cit., p. 2

37 Latham, Judith, First US Conference on Gypsies in the Holocaust.  Current Affairs Bulletin No. 3-23928.  Washington: Voice of America (1995).

38Marie-Agnes Heine, Roma Victims of the Nazi Regime May Be Entitled to Compensation.  Geneva: International Organization for Migration, Office of Public Information (2001:1). 

39Donald Kenrick, Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies).  Lanham: The Scarecrow Press (1998:4).

40 Martyn Clayton, Roma: A People on the Edge.  Braiswick: Felixstowe 2002, p. 110.

41Resource Book: Holocaust and Human Behavior.  The Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, Brookline, 1994.

42 Ina Friedman, The Other Victims: First-Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1990.

43Yehuda Bauer, “Gypsies”, in Israel Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, eds.  Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press (1994:441-455).

44Eric Haberer, “The second sweep: Gendarmerie killings of Jews and Gypsies on January 29th, 1942”, Journal of Genocide Research, 3(2):207-18, p. 212.

45Erika Thurner, National Socialism and Gypsies in Austria.  Chicago: The University Press (1998), p. xvi.

46Emphasis added. USGPO, War Crimes Tribunal File No. 682-PS, Volume 3: Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Washington, The U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 496 (emphasis added). The Tribunal’s then Chief Prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz, founder of Pace University’s Peace Center in New York, did not recommend that the U.S. War Refugee Board include Romanies in their compensation payments to survivors, which amounted to several hundred million dollars.  “Gypsies” are not mentioned anywhere in their documentation, and to date Mr. Ferencz has not replied to several requests for clarification.

47Uwe-Karsten Heye, Joachim Sartorius and Ulrich Bopp, eds, Learning from History: The Nazi Era and the Holocaust in German Education.  Berlin: Press and Information Office of the Federal Government. (2000:14).


Dr. Ian F. Hancock, Director

Nowlin Regents’ Professor of Liberal Arts

The Romani Archives and Documentation Center

http://www/radoc.net, [email protected]

Calhoun Hall, The University of Texas, Austin TX 78712 USA

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