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The Romani Pořajmos: The Nazi Genocide of Europe's Gypsies

  • Henry R. Huttenbach (a1)

The Nazi assault on Gypsies as an undesirable group was launched in the first months of the Third Reich. By the end of 1933, the outlines of a policy of total removal and, if possible, extinction were in place. Over the course of the first year of Hitler's rule, Gypsies had been numbered among those destined for mass sterilization. The goal of preventing their propagation had been pronounced on July 14 when the new cabinet issued a statement (with the force of law) proclaiming the concept of Lebensunwertesleben—life unworthy of living—a category of person that, at the time, specifically and indiscriminately included and embraced all Gypsies. Shortly thereafter, exploratory contacts were made with the League of Nations to assess the practicability of allocating one or two Polynesian islands to which the Gypsies could be deported. By September 1933, the Ministry of Interior announced a more realizable preliminary plan to arrest persons with no fixed and permanent addresses (i.e. primarily Gypsies) and to incarcerate them in special detention camps as a means of removing them from the mainstream of society. There the Gypsies would be rendered preemptively criminally harmless, (since they were described as a potential detriment to the general German population), and biologically “futureless” (zukunftloss) by way of mass sterilization.

In retrospect, the central ingredients for a formula of genocide, for the complete extermination of the Gypsies, were all in place: an ideology which deprived them of the basic right to life; a process of law by edict, which subjected them to totalitarian rule; a hypothetical plan to deport them abroad, and a more concrete one to isolate them from the citizenry, by segregating them in prison-like compounds, deprived of all civil rights; and a technology of physical mutilation that would deny them progeny and a link with a biological future, by literally destroying the unconceived next generation. Thus, a skeletal blueprint for the genocide of Gypsies by the racial architects of the Nazi regime had been drawn up by the end of 1933 well before the first Gypsies in Germany were rounded up in January 1934.

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1. Bock, Gisela, “Racism and Sexism in Nazi Germany,” Signs Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 408

2. Shoemaker, Henry W., “Banishment to Polynesia,” Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Third Series, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 158'160.

3. Hancock, Ian, “Gypsy History in Germany and Neighboring Lands: A Chronology Leading to the Holocaust,” an article in this isssue of Nationalities Papers. Henceforth Chronology.

4. Reichsgesetzbuch, 1934/1, No. 531.

5. Tyrnauer, Gabrielle, “Germany and Gypsies,” Genocide and Human Rights, J.N. Porter, editor, (Washington, D.C., 1982), p. 18. Henceforth GHR.

6. Doring, Hans-Joachim, Die Zigeuner im Nationalsozialistischen Staat, (Hamburg, 1964), p. 37.

7. Kenrick, Donald and Puxon, Grattan, The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies, (New York, 1972)

8. Hancock, Ian, Chronology.

9. Hochman, J.S., Geschichte der Zigeunerverfolgung in Deutschland, (Frankfurt, 1981), p. 102.

10. Hancock, Ian, Chronology.

11. Brandis, Emil, Ehegesetze von 1935 erläutert (Berlin, 1936).

12. For example see: Clébert, Jean Paul, The Gypsies (London, 1963), p. 31; and François de Vaux de Foletier, Mille ans d’ histoire des Tsiganes, (Paris, 1970).

13. For example see: Block, Martin, Zigeuner (Leipzig, 1936), p. 54; Kenrick and Puxon, op cit., pp. 28, 44 and 46i, and Vaux de Foletier, op cit., p. 61.

14. Hancock, Ian, Chronology.

15. Grellmann, Heinrich, Die Zigeuner (Leipzig, 1983), p. 7.

16. For example see: Kenrick and Puxon, op cit., pp. 46, 50, 56 and 60.

17. Bock, op cit., p. 401. The concept was introduced by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwertes Lebens, (Leipzig, 1920).

18. Hancock, Ian, Chronology.

19. Fein, Helen, Accounting for Genocide, (New york, 1979), p. 28.

20. Tyrnauer, Gabrielle, The Fate of Gypsies during the Holocaust, (Washington, 1985). p. 19.

21. Hochmann, J.S., Zigeuner und Zigeunerwissenschaft, (Marburg, 1980), p. 201.

22. Tyrnauer, GHR, p. 23.

23. Tyrnauer, GHR, p. 19.

24. Vossen, Rudiger, Zigeuner (Hamburg, 1983), p. 70.

25. Friedman, Philip, “The Extermination of the Gypsies,” GHR, p. 153.

26. Klee, Ernst, Euthenasie im NS-Staat: die Vernichtung lebensunwertes Lebens (Frankfurt, 1983), p. 64; and H. Buchheim, “Die Aktion ‘Arbeitscheu Reich,’ in Gutachten des Instituts für Zeitgerschichte, Munich II, (Stuttgart, 1966), p. 191.

27. Tyrnauer, GHR, p. 19.

28. Hohmann, Zigeuner und Zigeunerwissenschaft, p. 201.

29. Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of European Jews, (New York, 1979). p. 137.

30. Arad, Yitzhak, Belzec Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Bloomington, 1987), p. 151.

31. Hausner, Gideon, Justice in Jerusalem (New York, 1966), p. 59.

32. Hausner, op cit., p. 66.

33. Arad, op cit., p. 151.

34. Hilberg, op cit., p. 143.

35. Gilbert, Martin, The Holocaust, (New York, 1985), p. 244; and Friedman, GHR, p. 154.

36. Fein, op cit., p. 140.

37. Kenrick and Puxon, op cit., p. 88.

38. Gilbert, op Cit., pp. 251 and 256.

39. Ficowski, Jerzy, “The Fate of Polish Gypsies,” in GHR, p. 166.

40. Czerniakow, Adam, The Warsaw Diary, Raul Hilberg et al., editors, (New York, 1979), pp. 346-7, 351, 364-8, and 375.

41. Doring, op cit., p. 152.

42. Yad Vashem Studies, No. 7, pp. 177'178.

43. Wiemick, Jakob, A Yor in Treblinka (New York, 1944), p. 35.

44. Sereni, Gitta, Into the Darkness, (London, 1974), p. 212.

45. Freiberg, Dov, Testimony in Yad Vashem Archives, A-361.

46. Arad, op cit., p. 153.

47. Ibid.

48. Conot, Robert E., Justice at Nuremberg (New York, 1983), p. 375.

49. Friedman, GHR, p. 154.

50. Lifton, Robert J., The Nazi Doctors (New York, 1986), p. 323; Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution, 2nd Edition (London, n.d.), pp. 215'218.

51. Tyrnauer, GHR, p. 28.

52. Ferencz, Benjamin B., Less than Slaves, (Cambridge, 1979), p. 18; and Conot, op cit., p. 375.

53. Hoess, Rudolf Franz, Commandant of Auschwitz (New York, 1959), pp. 139'140; and Conot, op cit., p. 375. For details see Anita Geiges and Bernhard Wette Zigeuner Heute (Bornheim, 1979), pp. 254-258. There has been an uncorroborated report by an Auschwitz survivor that during the Zigeunernacht, Gypsies were not gassed but burned alive in the crematoria. (I owe this information to Professor Ian Hancock in a letter dated February 26, 1989.)

54. Yates, Dora E., “Hitler and the Gypsies,” in GHR, p. 164.

55. Hoess, op cit.

56. Yates, GHR, pp. 163'164.

57. Lifton, op cit., pp. 348'349.

58. Lifton, op cit., p. 185.

59. Lifton, op cit., p. 460.

60. Lifton, op cit., pp. 348'349, 353, 357, and 361-362.

61. Ficowski, GHR, p. 166.

62. Klee, op cit., p. 367.

63. Hilberg, op cit., p. 241, note 82.

64. Ibidem.

65. Yates, GHR, p. 160.

66. Friedman, GHR, p. 156.

67. Ibidem.

68. Hilberg, op cit., pp. 437'438.

69. Friedman, GHR, p. 154.

70. International Military Tribunal, (Nuremberg Documents); NOKW802. Henceforth IMT.

71. IMT: NOKW-1486.

72. Fein, op cit., pp. 102'103; and Klee, op cit., p. 358.

73. Yates, op cit., pp. 62'63; Kenrick and Puxon estimate 500 survivors: op cit., p. 183.

74. Vrissakis, Joannis, “Nazis and the Greek Roma: A Personal Testimonial,” as told to Ian Hancock (five typed pages, no date).

75. Hilberg, op cit., pp. 137'138.

76. Kenrick and Puxon, op cit., p. 89.

77. Kueppers, H., “Die Beschäftigung von Zigeunern,” Reichsarbeitsblatt, V (March 25, 1942), p. 177.

78. IMT: NG-558.

79. IMT: PS-682; Vol. 33 (Red), p. 496.

80. Klee, op cit., pp. 358'359.

81. Hilberg, op cit., p. 295; and Klee, op cit., pp. 358'359.

82. Klee, op cit., p. 358.

83. Kenrick and Puxon, op cit., p. 183.

84. Klee, op cit., p. 361.

85. Thurner, Erika, Kurzgeschichte der nationalsozialistischen Zigeunerlagers in Lackenbach, 1940–1945, (Eisenstadt, 1984).

86. Tillon, Germaine, Ravensbruck, (New York, 1975), p. 31.

87. Ibid., p. 27, note.

89. Ibid., p. 31.

90. Ibid., p. 32.

91. Ibid., p. 105.

92. Ibid., p. 240.

93. Ibid., pp. 129 and 240.

94. Ibid., p. 241.

95. Yates, GHR, p. 160.

96. Friedman, GHR, p. 156.

97. Ibidem.

98. Ibidem.

99. Gilbert, op cit., p. 824.

101. Friedman, GHR, p. 156.

100. Friedman, GHR, p. 152.

101. Letter (17 November 1989) by William A. Duna to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, p. 2.

102. Puggiole, Sylvia, “Swiss Government Apologies to Gypsies, “ documentary broadcast by National Public Radio, 5 December, 1987; and Sylvia Sobeck Menschen zwischen Macht und Ohnmacht cited by Ian Hancock, “Uniqueness of the Victims: Gypsles, Jews and the Holocaust, “ Without Prejudice, Vol. I, No. 2, p. 55, note 41.

103. Ibid., p. 55.

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

105. Letter (14 December 1984) by Simon Wiesenthal to Holocaust Memorial Council, cited by Ian Hancock, “Uniqueness,” p. 55.

106. Margot Strom and William Parson, Facing History and Ourselves, (Brookline, MA, 1978), p. 22; Wolf in der Maur, Die Zigeuner (Vienna, 1969), p. 168; and G. von Soest, Aspekte zur Sozialarbeit (Weinheim, 1979).

107. Hausner, op cit., pp. 300'301.

108. Ibid., p. 397.

109. Ibid., p. 424.

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