The extermination of the Gypsies was part of the
programme of the Nazi party. However, official discrimination against Gypsies
as a group can be traced back at least as far as 1899, when the Bavarian
police created a special Gypsy Affairs Section which received copies of
verdicts delivered by the courts concerning offences committed by Gypsies.
In 1929 this Section became a National Centre, with headquarters in Munich,
and from then on Gypsies were not allowed to move from one place to another
without permission from the police. Gypsies aged over sixteen who could
not prove that they had a job faced a sentence of two years' labour in
a reformatory institution.
After 1933, the year in which Hitler came to power, these measures became
even more severe. Gypsies who could not prove that they were of German
nationality were deported; others were interned as "asocial" persons. Interest
in their racial characteristics began to grow. In 1936 Dr. Hans Globke,
one of the drafters of the Nuremberg Laws, declared that "Gypsies are of
alien blood" (Artfremdes Blut). Unable to deny that they were of Aryan
origin, Professor Hans F. Guenther categorized them as Rassengemische,
an indeterminate mixture of races.
The study of the racial characteristics of Gypsies came to be admitted
as a subject for doctoral theses. Eva Justin, the assistant of Dr. Ritter
of the Health Ministry's Race Research Division, declared when submitting
her thesis that Gypsy blood was "very dangerous for the purity of the German
The situation of Gypsies was worsened by a decree of 14 December 1937
which declared them to be "inveterate criminals". In late 1937 and in 1938
there were widespread arrests, and a special section was created for Gypsies
in Buchenwald concentration camp. Gypsy names appear in the death lists
of many camps including Mauthausen, Gusen, Dautmergen, Natzweiler and Flossenburg.
Many Gypsy women were the victims of experiments by SS doctors at Ravensbruck.
A certain Dr. Portschy submitted a memorandum to the Fuhrer proposing "forced
labour and mass sterilization of the Gypsies because they are endangering
the blood purity of the German peasantry".
In 1938 Himmler intervened personally, ordering
the transfer of the Gypsy Affairs Centre from Munich to Berlin. In the
same year 300 sedentary Gypsies, the owners of fields and vineyards, where
arrested in the village of Mannworth.
Himmler stipulated that Gypsies should be classified as follows: pure
Gypsies (Z); mixed race Gypsies of predominantly Gypsy blood (ZM+); mixed
race Gypsies of predominantly Aryan blood (ZM-); and mixed-race Gypsies
with half-Gypsy, half-Aryan blood (ZM).
In his study "L'Allemagne et le genocide" the historian Joseph Billig
identified three methods of committing genocide: the suppression of fertility,
deportation, and homicide.
Gypsy women married to non-Gypsies were sterilized in the hospital at
Dusseldorf-Lierenfeld. Some died as a result of being sterilized while
pregnant. In Ravensbruck camp 120 Gypsy girls were sterilized by SS doctors.
The deportation of 5,000 Gypsies from Germany to the ghetto at Lodz
in Poland was an example of genocide by deportation. The living conditions
in the ghetto were so inhuman that no community could have survived.
But the Nazis' chosen method of genocide was mass killing.
The decision to exterminate the Gypsies is believed
to have been taken in the Spring of 1941, when the Einsatzgruppen or execution
squads were formed. First of all the Gypsies had to be rounded up. Since
Himmler's decree of 8 December 1938 the addresses of all Gypsies were known
to the police. A decree of 17 November 1939 forbade Gypsies, on pain of
internment in a concentration camp, to leave their place of residence.
Thirty thousand Gypsies deported to Poland were destined to perish in
the death camps of Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor and Majdanek. Thousands of
others were deported from Belgium, The Netherlands, and France, and died
In his memoirs, Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, revealed that the
deportees, included people nearly a hundred years old, pregnant women,
and large numbers of children. Some of the survivors of Auschwitz, such
as Kulka and Kraus in their book The Death Factory, describe a terrible
massacre of Gypsies which took place on the night of 31 July 1944.
In Poland and in the Soviet Union Gypsies were
killed both in death camps and in the open countryside. War between Germany
and the USSR broke out on 22 June 1941. On the heels of the armies of Von
Leer, Von Bock, Rundstedt and other generals marched the death squads of
the SS. The Baltic States, the Ukraine and the Crimea were pitted with
mass graves. At Simviropol 800 men, women and children were shot on the
night of 24 December 1941. Wherever the Nazis passed, Gypsies were arrested,
deported, or murdered. In Yugoslavia, executions of Jews and Gypsies began
in October 1941 in the forests, where peasants still remember the cries
of children being driven in trucks to the places of their execution.
It is difficult to estimate either the number of
Gypsies who were living in Europe before the Second World War or the number
of those who survived. One historian, Raoul Hilberg, has estimated that
there were 34,000 Gypsies in Germany, but the number of survivors is unknown.
According to reports made by the Einsatzgruppen responsible for the killings
in the Soviet Socialist Republics of Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimea,
there were 300,000 victims in those territories. According to the Yugoslav
authorities, 28,000 Gypsies were put to death in Serbia alone. The number
of victims in Poland is hard to establish. The historian Joseph Tenenbaum
asserts that the Gypsies lost at least 500,000 people.
An ancient people, prolific and full of vitality, the Gypsies tried
to resist death but the cruelty and might of their enemies prevailed. Sometimes
their love of music brought them consolation in their martyrdom. Starving
and verminous, they gathered in front of the vile huts of Auschwitz to
make music and encourage the children to dance. Some of the younger Gypsies
tried to escape. In the camp diary kept by Danuta Czech can be read the
names and dates of execution at the Wall of Death of those who were recaptured.
Eyewitnesses have described the courage displayed by the Gypsy partisans
who fought in the Nieswiez region of Poland. According to some accounts,
they carried only knives as they flung themselves against their heavily
Forty years have passed since the genocide of the
Gypsies. These lines are no more than a reminder of the terrible crime
committed against this group of human beings.