Gypsy Victims of the Nazi Terror by Myriam Novitch
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 race".
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 Auschwitz.
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 armed adversaries.
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.