I was subbing for the 6th-grade US History class today and came across a pamphlet called “Sinti and Roma” put out by the United states Holocaust Museum. Since Romania is home to the second-largest population of Roma (aka “Gypsies”) in the world, I decided to take a quick read through it. (In case you weren’t aware, the Sinti are the particular Gypsy tribe living in western Europe and Roma are those living in the eastern parts of the continent.) With how much we talk about how the Holocaust affected the Jews, I was really shocked to read about the impact on the Gypsies as well.
Let me start things off by quoting in its entirety a translation of Heinrich Himmler’s “Combatting the Gypsy Nuisance” which was first circulated on December 8, 1938:
Experience gained in combatting the Gypsy nuisance, and knowledge derived from race-biological research, have shown that the proper method of attacking the Gypsy problem seems to be to treat it as a matter of race. Experience shows that part-Gypsies play the greatest role in Gypsy criminality. On the other hand, it has been shown that efforts to make the Gypsies settle have been unsuccessful, especially in the case of pure Gypsies, on account of their strong compulsion to wander. It has therefore become necessary to distinguish between pure and part-Gypsies in the final solution of the Gypsy question.
To this end, it is necessary to establish the racial affinity of every Gypsy living in Germany and of every vagrant living a Gyspy-like existence.
I therefore decree that all settled and non-settled Gypsies, and also all vagrants living a Gypsy-like existence, are to be registered with the Reich Crmininal Police Office-Reich Central Office for Combatting the Gypsy Nuisance.
The police authorities will report (via the responsible Criminal Police offices and local offices) to the Reich Criminal Police Office-Reich Central Office for Combatting the Gypsy Nuisance all persons who by virtue of their looks and appearance, customs or habits, are to be regarded as Gypsies or part-Gypsies.
Because a person considered to be a Gypsy or part-Gypsy, or a person living like a Gypsy, as a rule confirms the suspicion that marriage (in accordance with the clause 6 of the first decree on the implementation of the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor… or on the basis of stipulations in the Law on Fitness to Marry) must not be contracted, in all cases the public registry officials must demand a testimony of fitness to marry from those who make such an application.
Treatment of the Gypsy question is part of the National Socialist task for national regeneration. A solution can only be achieved if the philosophical perspectives of National Socialism are observed. Although the principle that the German nation respects the national identity of alien peoples is also assumed in combatting the gypsy nuisance, nonetheless the aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be the physical separation of Gypsydom form the German nation, the prevention of miscegenation, and finally the regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies. The necessary legal foundation can only be created through a Gypsy Law, which prevents further intermingling of blood, and which regulates all the most pressing questions which go together with the existence of Gypsies in the living space of the German nation.
Although the Gypsies suffered greatly under Nazi Germany, this was only the intensification and the actualization of prejudices that were already present throughout Europe. Having first arrived in Europe from northern India in the 1400s, their unfamiliar language and darker skin made the Roma an easy target for racism and exploitation. In fact, according to the pamphlet, this people group had been scorned and persecuted in Europe for centuries. “Zigeuner, the German word for Gypsy, derives from a Greek root meaning ‘untouchable.'” Further, in Moldova and Wallachia, Gypsies had been bought and sold as slaves for monks and landowners for years. In fact, this practice didn’t stop until 1864 when the new nation of Romania declared the Gypsies emancipated.
However, the German aggression towards the estimated 942,000 Roma in pre-war Europe make earlier prejudices seem like nothing. In July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Defects authorized German physicians to forcibly sterilize Gypsies, half-Gypsies, and any Gypsies in mixed marriages. We may never know the number who were “treated” by these doctors. A few months later, the passing of the Law Against Dangerous Habitual Criminals led to the imprisonment of German Gypsies simply for having been born a Gypsy. And this was only the beginning.
As the 30s progressed, the pamphlet describes countless atrocities committed against the Roma and Sinti people. At some points, the racism is veiled through justifications of “cleaning up the city” or “preventing criminal activity,” but in other instances, authorities do not even attempt to cover up the activity with a facade of justice. It sickened me to read of this inhumanity done towards our fellow man, and though we may count up the numbers–a few hundred in Salzburg, a couple thousand at Lackenbach, the 23,000 sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, or the 220,000 to 500,000 killed by the war’s end–there is no way to measure the devastation done to the human race.
Whether it is Dr. Josef Mengele’s infamous and twisted experiments especially directed towards the Gypsies or Himmler’s desire to establish a living laboratory, an internment camp, wherein a few “pure” Gypsies would be kept indefinitely for “scientific” reasons, it is clear that the Roma and Sinti people suffered much at the hands of the Nazis.
I wish that I could say everything ended when the war ended, but racism against these God-created people continues today. From riots in Bulgaria to the curtailing of rights in the United Kingdom, all across Europe the Roma and Sinti continue to face persecution. Some of it is, I am sure, duly earned–just check out the extravagances of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding–but some of it is simply judging what one doesn’t understand.