Many Gypsies are pleased that their suffering
during World War II is receiving belated recognition, but they are displeased
how their losses at the hands of the Nazis are being recognized, says a
leader of the American Gypsy community.
"We have consistently been put into the 'others' category, along with
Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles and Catholics, as if we weren't
part of the Final Solution," says Ian Hancock.
Roma and Sinti are the proper names for the descendants of the non-Aryan
groups from northern India who migrated to southeastern Europe in the 13th
century and became itinerant craftsmen; Europeans thought the newcomers
came from Egypt, hence the name Gypsies.
"Roma ... were the only other population besides the Jews who were targeted
for extermination on racial grounds in the Final Solution, " Hancock writes
in the Encyclopedia of Genocide ...
His words echo those of many Gypsy spokesmen. Jews and Gypsies shared
an unenviable status as the Nazis' primary victims. In the Nazis' racial
hierarchy, Gypsies, who threatened the biological purity of the "superior"
Aryan race, ranked between "subhuman" Slavs and "antihuman" Jews.
The "legal" measures that marginalized the Gypsy
community in Greater Germany, the roundups of wandering Gypsies elsewhere
in occupied Europe and their deaths at the hands of Einsatzgruppen
mobile killing squads appear eerily similar to the Nazis' anti-Jewish campaign.
One difference, the Gypsies' survival rate during the Holocaust was higher.
About two-thirds of Europe's prewar Jewish population perished during
the Holocaust. Of the estimated 2.5 million Gypsies who lived in Europe
in 1939, from 250,000 to 1.5 million died under the Third Reich, depending
on historians' estimates, most say the accurate figure is somewhere in
the middle, meaning that about a quarter of Europe's Gypsies were Hitler's
Whatever the number, the death rate was certainly highest among Gypsies
in Germany itself, while the community throughout the continent was "completely
decimated, completely shattered," Hancock says. "The psychological effects
are still being felt" by Europe's 2 million to 4.5 million Gypsies.
"Determining the percentage or numbers of Roma who died in the Holocaust
(called the Porrajmos, 'paw-RYE-mos,' in Romani, a word that means
'the Devouring') is not easy," according to Hancock's encyclopedia article.
"Much of the Nazi documentation still remains to be analyzed, and many
murders were not recorded, since they took place in the fields and forests
where Roma were apprehended."
"It is possible that the Nazis were more intent on eliminating the Jews
and that once the Jewish population of Europe was annihilated, the Gypsies
would be the next primary target," husband and wife James and Brenda Davis
Lutz of Indiana University wrote in the Winter 1995 issue of Holocaust
and Genocide Studies. "The Gypsies as a people survived the campaigns
directed against them in large measure because they were located in areas
under the control of governments allied with Germany. These governments
generally refused to participate in the extermination of the Gypsies (just
as some did not participate in the destruction of the European Jews)."
The anti-Gypsy campaign in Germany, which was based
on popular prejudices and discriminatory laws that predated the short-lived
Weimar Republic, began shortly after Hitler assumed power in January 1933.
Gypsies were castrated and sterilized, shipped to early concentration camps
and barred from marrying Germans. A Central Office to "Combat the Gypsy
Nuisance" opened in Munich in June 1936.
Many Gypsies were rounded up in Germany the week of June 12-18, 1938,
"Gypsy Clean-Up Week," a precursor to Kristallnacht five months
In December of that year, the first known reference to "The Final Solution
of the Gypsy Question" appeared in a document signed by SS Chief Heinrich
Himmler. In January 1940, 250 Gypsy children were murdered in Buchenwald,
used as guinea pigs in a test of Zyklon-B crystals.
Unlike Jews in Germany and other European countries, Gypsy victims of
the Nazis and their families have received no reparation payments, Hancock
says. He says attorneys are working to retrieve Gypsy assets totaling "several
million dollars" that were deposited in Swiss banks before the war and
never returned to their rightful owners. "We've got the documentation,"
With no special date or ceremonies to commemorate
their community' s wartime losses, representatives of Gypsy organizations
participate in the annual Yom HaShoah activities of the U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington.
A wooden statue honoring Gypsies killed during the war was dedicated
in 1991 in a southwestern Hungarian town; it is believed to be the first
such memorial in Eastern Europe. Gypsy groups in Germany have protested
plans by the Berlin Senate to erect a national Holocaust monument that
omits victims of their community. Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central
Council of Jews in Germany, has joined their appeal.
Gypsy "survivors ... who were systematically persecuted for racial reasons
are not interested in competing for victim status," Toby Sonneman, editor
of The Romani-Jewish Alliance Newsletter, wrote in the May 1994
edition. "They only want their voices to be heard and their suffering to