Archive

27 January

On 27 January 1945, the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp was liberated by the armies of the Soviet Union. Each year on this day, the victims of National Socialism are commemorated internationally.

Alexandrudar

Alexandrudar and Certovata are two of the many villages in Transnistria where there were concentration camps for “gypsies” deported from Romania.

The Arrow Cross Party

The Arrow Cross Party was created when of group of fascist and antisemitic movements in Hungary joined together under Ferenc Szálasi. The Arrow Cross were vocally pro-German and their ideology was very similar to that of Hitler's national socialism. In October 1944, with the Soviet troops at the door, Miklós Horty’s Hungarian government was overthrown by the German army in Hungary and the Arrow Cross came into power. In the space of a few months Jews were arrested on a very large scale (no fewer than 80,000 in Budapest), and transported to Auschwitz. Tens of thousands of Roma were also prosecuted at the same time. The rule of the Arrow Cross Party effectively came to an end in January 1945, with the Allied victory and the occupation by the Red Army.

Assembly camps

From the early 1940s, the Nazis in Germany and Austria started using large assembly camps for ‘gypsies’ who were to be deported to occupied Poland. In the Netherlands the authorities tried to concentrate caravan dwellers in large camps, both during and after the war. During the war, 27 assembly camps were designated for housing families with itinerant professions or lifestyles. Of the roughly 2,700 families living in wagons found in the Netherlands, nearly 1,200 were forced to move to these assembly camps. Like many other wagon dwellers, Sinti and Roma tried to evade the prohibition on movement and the forced transportation to the assembly camps. Many families left their wagons behind and moved into houses (often condemned houses), particularly in Amsterdam and The Hague. Others went into hiding in forests or on the moors, or escaped to Belgium. So the authorities did not achieve their intended purpose of concentrating all wagon dwellers: by June 1944, the assembly camps contained only one-third of the intended number of wagons.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz was a concentration camp in the south of occupied Poland, near the village of Oświęcim. More than a million people were murdered in this camp. Auschwitz was a collection of three seprate camps: Auschwitz I, known as the Stammlager (in use since 1940), Auschwitz II known as Auschwitz-Birkenau (in use since 1942) and Auschwitz III, known as Auschwitz-Monowitz (in use since 1942). Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of these three camps. It was mainly used as an extermination camp. Approximately one million people were killed here. In most cases they were gassed in one of the four gas chambers. The largest group of victims were Jews, but Sinti and Roma were also murdered. For a short period a section of Auschwitz-Birkenau was also used as a concentration camp for Sinti and Roma. This section was called “Zigeunerlager” Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 1944 the area was evacuated. All the surviving Sinti and Roma were gassed.

Bełżec

In Bełżec, a small village close to the current Polish-Ukrainian border, the Nazis set up two concentration camps during the Second World War: first a camp in which mainly Roma were forced to perform slave labour, then an extermination camp for Jews. The camp for Roma forced labourers in Bełżec existed for less than six months in 1940. The camp contained 2,500 Roma prisoners who were housed in wretched conditions and were forced to dig an anti-tank ditch along the demarcation line which separated the part of Poland conquered by Germany from the part occupied by the Soviet Union. Hundreds of Roma died in the camp of starvation and infectious diseases. The labour camp was closed in late 1940, but a small group of Roma were forced to remain in Bełżec and ultimately died in the extermination camp which became operational in 1942. In this camp, 600,000 Jews were murdered in barely nine months’ time between March and November 1942. It was the first extermination camp in Poland with permanent gas chambers.

Bergen-Belsen

In the final weeks of the war, Bergen-Belsen was the final destination of tens of thousands of prisoners from Auschwitz and other concentration camps, brought there on death marches in March and April 1945. Among them were Sinti and Roma. The inmates of the overcrowded camp were starving and the hygiene situation deteriorated to such an extent that many died after arrival, and even after the camp’s liberation.

Buchenwald

Buchenwald, located near the German town of Weimar, was a large concentration camp that existed for nearly eight years. From July 1937 to April 1945, 250,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned here and forced to perform slave labour. 56,000 of them were murdered or died as a result of exhaustion, disease or hunger. Among the first prisoners were Sinti and Roma from the Austrian province of Burgenland. Generally speaking, Sinti and Roma were forced to perform the hardest labour. During the harsh winter of 1939–1940, two-thirds of them died. Over the entire period, the death rate among Sinti and Roma was 50%, while for the other prisoners it was 20%. During the war, many Sinti and Roma prisoners were shunted back and forth between the camps of Dachau, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück and Buchenwald. According to a count, in August 1944 there were 1,771 Sinti and Roma in Buchenwald. When Buchenwald was quickly evacuated in early April 1945, it signalled the start of the death marches towards Bergen-Belsen, which claimed thousands of victims.

Certovata

Alexandrudar and Certovata are two of the many villages in Transnistria where there were concentration camps for “gypsies” deported from Romania.

Czech Roma

Roma have been living in the Czech lands since the start of the fifteenth century. It is uncertain how many Roma were living in the then Czechoslovakia before the war. A 1938 article from the New York Times states that at that time an estimated 35,000 Roma were living in Bohemia and Moravia, with several times that number in Slovakia. Today, the Czech government believes the number of Roma in pre-war Bohemia and Moravia to have been no higher than 5,500. Traditionally, the Roma are classified according to their region of origin and/or of residence. The largest group in Slovakia are the Slovakian Roma, while a group of Hungarian Roma live in the Hungarian-speaking part of the country. Alongside the Czech Roma in Bohemia and Moravia, there were also small groups of Vlax Roma and Sinti in the areas bordering Germany.

Dachau

One of the first concentration camps, built soon after Hitler came to power in 1933. In the early years, it was primarily political opponents who were subjected to the excesses of the SS there. After that, ever more categories of persecuted groups followed; Jews, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1938 and 1939 there was a major wave of arrests targeting ‘anti-social’ and ‘workshy’ individuals. Many Sinti and Roma were arrested on this pretext. They had already been deprived of their source of income because they were no longer permitted to practise itinerant trading or work as craftsmen and musicians. In Dachau they were forced to perform slave labour, with many dying from exhaustion and disease. In 1944, 44 Sinti men were subjected to harmful and painful medical experiments in the camp. It is not known how many of them survived.

Death marches

When the Allied Armies started their attack on the Third Reich in 1944, the Nazi leadership relocated thousands of forced labourers from concentration camps to the industrial complexes crucial to the German war effort. The camp inmates had to walk hundreds of kilometres without adequate clothing, food or shelter. thousands of starved and exhausted prisoners, unable to keep walking, were shot by the SS guards. In the summer of 1944, over 2,000 Roma and Sinti were transferred from Auschwitz to other concentration camps in the Third Reich such as Ravensbrück and Buchenwald. Both camps were evacuated in several death marches during the last few days of the war in 1945, which again claimed thousands of victims, including Roma and Sinti.

Discriminatory Act from 1927

The Act on Travelling Gypsies (implemented in 1927) required itinerant Roma to register in order to obtain a ‘nomad’s pass’. Those who failed to comply were arrested. There were already plans in place to incarcerate the detainees in labour camps; sites in Lety and Hodonín had been earmarked for this purpose.

Flossenbürg

Flossenbürg, in Oberpfalz in eastern Germany, close to the current border with the Czech Republic, was a forced labour camp that existed from 1938 to 1945. A total of nearly 100,000 people were imprisoned in Flossenbürg; nearly a third of them died or were murdered.

Forced sterilisation

Elina Machalová writes in her autobiography: ‘In August 1944, when I turned 18, I received a notice from the Gestapo. I must prepare myself to be sterilised. It literally said that no more gypsies must be permitted to be born because they were an inferior, workshy race. I had already been working for four years by then. I cried and my future husband, with whom I was already together, cried too. The next day I went to work but I couldn’t work. The director summoned me and said: “Girl, now that the Russian army is advancing, is there any need to let yourself be sterilised? Hide, I will cover for you.” Then my aunt came to our house and took me in the night to her mother in Olomouc. There I hid in the cellar. In the night-time, when it was dark, I could come up to the apartment briefly to warm up. I stayed there for six months. My husband visited me there once. That is how I avoided being sterilised and that is why I wanted to have a lot of children, and why I now have four.’

Fort Csillag in Komárom

Fort Csillag in Komárom also played a central role as a transit camp in the persecution of Hungarian and Slovakian Jews. There were many raids in November and December 1944, and thousands of Hungarian Roma were arrested and taken to Komárom. From there, most of those who were able to work were deported in overcrowded cattle trucks to camps in Germany (especially Dachau, near Munich). It was terribly cold in the fort that winter (1944-1945). The prisoners were imprisoned in underground tunnels and in the corridors of the fort. They received no care and were frequently severely beaten by the guards.

German nationality

On 15 September 1935, at the annual rally of the German National Socialist Party, the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws were promulgated. These created the basis for the racist system of law which would subsequently be implemented by the bureaucratic machine. The Reich Citizenship Law stipulated that only persons of German blood or of related (i.e. Germanic) peoples would be considered citizens of the German Reich. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour forbade marriage and sexual relations between Germans and ‘persons belonging to alien races’. In other words, Germans were no longer permitted to enter into contracts with Jews, Sinti or Roma.

Ghettos

Ghettos were enclosed city districts where Jews were forced to live. Having been around as early as the Middle Ages, Jewish ghettos were abolished throughout Europe in the 19th century. Particularly in occupied Poland, the Nazis established new ghettos (surrounded by barbed wire) to isolate Jews. In the infamous Łódź ghetto, the second-largest Nazi ghetto in occupied Poland during WW II, 5,007 Roma were held prisoner alongside 200,000 Jews. The precise figure is known because the Łódź ghetto was the only one in occupied Poland that kept its own records. Within the ghetto, the Roma were confined to a Zigeunerlager, separated from the rest of the ghetto by barbed wire. Living conditions were even more wretched than in the rest of the ghetto. In late 1941, in a few weeks’ time approximately 700 Roma – mainly children – died in Łódź of an infectious epidemic disease. The 4,300 survivors in the Zigeunerlager were gassed in Chelmno by the Nazis during the week of 5 to 12 January 1942.

‘gypsies’

The first sightings of groups of ‘colourfully dressed, dark-skinned itinerant strangers’ in Western Europe date back to the beginning of the 15th century. These nomadic people stated their country of origin as ‘Little Egypt’ and were well received in Dutch cities. They were known as ‘Egyptians’ in the Netherlands – similar to the English word ‘gypsy’ – as well ‘heathens’, i.e. pagans, those who have not been baptised. In Germany, they were referred to as Zigeuners. It later became clear that they originally hailed from the Byzantine Empire, and possibly even from India originally. Their language – Romani – is similar to languages spoken in Northern India.

The authorities changed their attitude from the beginning of the 16th century, increasingly regarding the combination of beggary and a nomadic life as parasitical and antisocial. The letters of recommendation from the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund the ‘heathens’ produced were declared invalid, and placards appeared calling for gypsies to leave the country. Their punishment ranged from physical beatings to imprisonment. Gypsies were banished wherever they went,and after 1700 the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel were actually the scene of ‘pagan hunts’. There are no historical records of gypsies in the Netherlands after, roughly, 1730, as they had all been murdered, expelled or gone into hiding.

During the second half of the 19th century new reports emerged on itinerant groups of strangers in the Netherlands. These people were known as ‘Hungarian tinkers’ and would soon be referred to as zigeuners, as in Germany. Many of them actually originated from Romania, where slavery of these Romani-speaking ‘gypsies’ had recently been abolished. Some of them had decided to emigrate to Western Europe or – preferably– the United States. While the local Dutch authorities initially left them alone because they were such skilled craftsmen, the central government continued to regard them as unwanted strangers and sought to deport them. Some groups became trapped at the Dutch borders because neighbouring countries also refused to admit them.

The itinerant Roma and Sinti of the early 20th century were not usually identified or treated as ‘gypsies’. From 1900 to 1930, Romani-speaking horse dealers were a common sight at Dutch cattle markets. Since they had French or German passports, they were not really regarded as ‘gypsies’. Similarly, the ancestors of many Dutch Sinti who travelled through Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium were viewed as performers of various stripes and musicians. In 1928, the Dutch Border Police discovered that many of them had Dutch citizenship, which meant they could not be deported as unwanted strangers.

In Germany, meanwhile, there had been a public debate on the ‘fight against the gypsy plague’ since 1905. The Dutch authorities’ main objection was to the actual caravans in which the ‘gypsies’ lived, and from 1903 Dutch government policy began to target the entire population of caravan dwellers, of which Sinti and Roma made up only a minority. It seemed as though they could be safely assimilated into this group and fly under the radar, but the Second World War brought all that to an end.

The Hungarian Roma

The Roma are the largest minority in Hungary. In a population of more than 10 million people, more than three per cent (some estimates even exceed five per cent) are considered Roma. Most of them live in the northeast and southwest of the country. An estimated 28,000 Hungarian Roma were murdered during the Second World War. In comparison with other countries, the real persecution of the Roma started at a relatively late stage. Raids on the Roma population were held on a large scale, particularly during the last six months of the war, many were taken to Nazi camps in Germany, Austria and Poland.

Independent State of Croatia

The Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed immediately after the Ustasha movement took power in 1941, with the support of Hitler (Germany) and Mussolini (Italy). It was intended to be the first step towards a "Greater Croatia".

Ion Antonescu

Ion Antonescu (Pitesti 1882–Bucharest 1946) was a Romanian soldier and fascist politician. Following his successful military career he was rewarded with the rank of marshal in 1941. He was the minister of defense from 1937-1938 and the prime minister of Romania, and actually a dictator, from 1940-1944. Antonescu was also one of the persons responsible for the infamous bloodbath of Odessa. King Michael arrested him in person on 23 August 1944. After the war he was tried and executed by the new communist regime.

Iron Guard

The Iron Guard was a Romanian fascist organization founded in 1927. In 1937 it participated in the parliamentary elections and gained 16% of the votes. In the same election another 9% went to the National Christian Party, a strongly anti-Semitic party. The country was in danger of falling into chaos and the king intervened. The upper echelons of the Iron Guard, including the leader himself, were arrested and shot. The Iron Guard continued as an underground movement. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Bukovina to the Soviet Union. Hitler had promised this to Stalin and bluntly informed King Carol II that he had no choice but to accept it. A public rebellion and general dissatisfaction led to the king fleeing and the installation of a new government. Marshal Ion Antonescu became the military governor, but shared power with the Iron Guard.

Jasenovac

The Jasenovac camp complex consisted of five large detention facilities that were established after August 1941 by the authorities of the newly formed Independent State of Croatia. In May 1942 almost all Roma residing in the Independent State of Croatia were deported to ‘gypsie camp’ Uštica in Jasenovac in a matter of weeks. Differently than with Serbs and Jews, the names of Roma in the camp were not registered. Only the number of the train carriage they arrived in was registered. Presumably the authorities did not think the ‘gypsies’ were worth the trouble of being registered in the camp administration. Newspapers wrote that the Ustasha authories had "started solving the 'Gypsie Question'" at last by sending them to the Jasenovac camp where they would finally learn how to be hardworking and useful to the state instead of "parasites and idlers“. The current estimates are that the regime murdered between 77,000 and 99,000 people in Jasenovac between 1941 and 1945. Most were Serb residents from Croatia. Apart from many Jews and opponents of the regime, between 10,000 to 30,000 Roma were murdered in Jasenovac.

Kingdom of Romania

The Kingdom of Romania was founded in March 1881 when Carol I was proclaimed king. It ceased to exist in 1947. King Michael I was forced to abdicate by the communist regime, which proclaimed the Romanian People’s Republic.

Kingdom of Yugoslavia

Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was established in 1918 after the First World War when the former Habsburg territories of Slovenia and Croatia merged with the Kingdom of Serbia, the Kingdom of Montenegro and Macedonia. This Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formally renamed the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" in 1929. It lasted until Nazi Germany conquered the entire area in 1941.

Labelled as ‘gypsies’

In Westerbork, the Germans separated the ‘gypsies’ from travellers and other itinerants. Of the 578 people arrested, 299 were designated as ‘true gypsies’. However, 54 of them turned out to have passports issued by neutral countries or allies of Germany (including Guatemala, Italy and Switzerland). Almost all of these individuals were released. Both during the round up of 16 May 1944 and during the selection process in Westerbork in the days which followed, the distinction made between ‘gypsies’ and ‘non-gypsies’ was very arbitrary. In some cases, the only criterion was a dark skin colour, in others the decision was based on the itinerant lifestyles of individual families. Many Sinti families, in particular, were labelled ‘gypsies’; of the 246 people sent to Auschwitz from Westerbork, 85% belonged to this group.

Lackenbach

Lackenbach was the largest camp for Roma and Sinti in the Third Reich. The imprisoned Roma and Sinti were forced to live under the most primitive conditions in the barns and stables of this former manorial farm. They were used as slave labourers, hired out to local farms or forced to work on public road-building projects. Together with 3,000 other Austrian Roma, 2,000 Lackenbach prisoners were sent to the ghetto in Łódź, Poland. In 1942, the appalling living conditions led to an epidemic that killed many of the camp’s inmates. In 1943, a large number of Roma and Sinti were deported from Lackenbach to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Between 1940 and 1945, a total of 237 people lost their lives at the Lackenbach camp. Only a few hundred of the prisoners lived to see their liberation by Soviet troops in April 1945. In the 1970s, the buildings of the Lackenbach camp were completely demolished. In 1984, a memorial for the Roma and Sinti killed or imprisoned at or deported from the Lackenbach concentration camp was erected near the former site of the camp. It was not until 1988 that the Austrian government would pay the Lackenbach survivors the same amount in compensation as the survivors of other concentration camps. A commemorative service is held for the victims each November.

Laws and measures

The laws and measures against ‘gypsies’ enforced in Czechoslovakia during the war were similar to those implemented in Nazi Germany. In March 1942, a ‘Preventive Police Campaign against Crime’ was enacted in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. This made it possible to take into custody people who ‘represented a danger to the public due to their behaviour’. Not only offenders, but also itinerant people and even Roma settled in houses could be sent to concentration camps.

Lety en Hodonín

During the Second World War there were two Nazi internment camps on Czech territory which were primarily used for confining Roma. Lety, in Bohemia, and Hodonín, in Moravia, were notorious camps. After August 1942 Roma women and children were also locked up in Lety; before that time, only male Roma prisoners were put to work there. The camp overseers were cruel and the living conditions in the camps were appalling. Infectious diseases claimed many victims. Of the 30 Roma children born in Lety, not one was still alive after the war. The vast majority of prisoners were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. Of the 5,500 Czech Roma, only 500 survived the war.

Lovara

The Lovara are a subgroup of the Vlax Roma, who speak a special form of Romany strongly influenced by Romanian. Like the majority of Romanian Roma, they had for centuries lived in virtual slavery as serfs under feudal landlords. The gradual liberation of these feudal serfs in the second half of the 19th century prompted a second migration of Eastern European Roma groups to Western Europe. The Lovara, the majority of whom were moderately well-to-do horse dealers and traders, settled in Austria, Germany and France during this period, while an increasing number also began trading at Dutch horse markets. Most of them travelled along established routes from country fair to country fair during the summer months and then returned to their winter bases, which were increasingly likely to be houses.

Łódź ghetto

On 1 October 1941 Himmler ordered the deportation of 5,000 mostly Austrian Sinti and Roma to the ghetto at Lodz Łódź in Poland. In five train transports, 2,000 Roma and Sinti were deported from Lackenbach and 3,000 from the Austrian provinces of Burgenland, Carinthia and Styria. Persons to be deported were selected based on their ability to work. Those who did not live on benefits were allowed to stay. More than half of the Roma and Sinti deported to Łódź were children. In Łódź the Roma and Sinti were handed over to the Jewish Council, which was responsible for day-to-day administration. The Council refused to take on these 5,000 ‘gypsies’ when it already had to look after 200,000 Jews. The Roma and Sinti were left for days without food, water and adequate shelter, while being crammed into five small apartment buildings. More than 600 died during the first weeks; they were buried in mass graves at the Jewish cemetery in Łódź. When, in December 1941, typhoid threatened to spread from the ghetto to the town, all the surviving Roma and Sinti were transferred to the extermination camp at Chelmno and subsequently gassed or shot.

Mass executions

Mass executions of Jews and Roma took place in numerous Central and Eastern European countries during the Second World War. They claimed millions of victims. In the former Soviet Union, in particular, SS murder squads, known as Einzatsgruppen, combed the territory behind the front to track down and kill Jews and Roma. But the German army itself also took part in these massacres on a large scale. Entire villages and districts of towns and cities were wiped out. The victims were buried in mass graves, many of these graves were not discovered after the end of the war. For this reason, no-one knows the exact number of victims to this day.

Mauthausen

Mauthausen was a large concentration camp close to Linz. In total, more than 200,000 people were imprisoned here between 1938 and 1945; two-thirds of them died from forced labour, disease, malnutrition and executions. Shortly before the end of the war, on 9 March 1945, a transport from Ravensbrück arrived at Mauthausen carrying 450 Sinti and Roma women and children. They were all murdered.

Mengele

Dr Josef Mengele (1911-1979), camp doctor in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was notorious in the camp because he selected prisoners for the gas chambers and conducted gruesome experiments on prisoners while they were still alive. In the Auschwitz-Birkenau Zigeunerlager, where he was head of the medical staff, he carried out these tests on twins and other children, usually with fatal result. After the war he was hunted as a war criminal but managed to escape to South America, where he died in 1979.

Mittelbau-Dora

Mittelbau-Dora was a large camp complex a little to the south of the German Harz Mountains containing more than forty sub-camps. Prisoners were put to work here in the armaments industry. Of the total of 60,000 prisoners held in Mittelbau-Dora, over one-third did not survive.

Muzeum romské kultury

The museum devoted to the history and culture of the Roma in Brno (the capital of Moravia) officially opened in 1991. After some delays and financial setbacks, the museum was permanently housed in Bratislavska Street in the heart of Brno’s Roma community. In December 2005 a permanent exhibition was launched, spread across six large rooms and focusing in particular on the life of the Roma in Czechoslovakia from 1945 to 1989 (the Communist era). The museum also houses a large library and organises lectures, debates, performances and lessons in Romany (the ‘gypsy’ language). During the afternoon, the museum is open to local Roma children.

Nazi occupation

After Slovakian nationalists had declared the ‘independent’ state of Slovakia at Hitler’s urging on 13 March 1939, German armies occupied the western part of what was then Czechoslovakia, including its capital, Prague. On 16 March 1939, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was proclaimed, a vassal state of Nazi Germany. German-speaking citizens in the border areas became German nationals; Czechs became second-class citizens in their own country.

New communist state

Elections were held in Romania in 1946 while Soviet troops were stationed in the country. The communists managed to gain 68% of the votes with a great deal of electoral frauds and violence. King Michael was forced to abdicate by the new rulers. He left the country and it was promptly proclaimed a socialist people’s republic.

Odessa

Odessa, a port on the Black Sea in Ukraine. It was occupied by German and Romanian troops in October 1941 after a siege lasting many months. After it was taken, mass murders of the Jewish population took place systematically. The Romanian occupying forces were responsible for this infamous "Odessa Massacre”. The Odessa Massacre not only refers to the estimated 25,000 to 34,000 Jewish citizens who were murdered in the city between 22 and 24 October 1941, but also to the more than 100,000 Ukrainian Jews from the area around Odessa who were deported to concentration camps in Transnistria where they were murdered.

Partisans

The Yugoslav Partisans, or National Liberation Army, led by Josip Broz Tito, was a very effective resistance movement, which operated throughout Yugoslavia. Their objective was to fight the occupying Nazi forces and their domestic allies, and to establish a federal, multi-ethnic, communist state in Yugoslavia after their victory. At the end of the war, in April 1945, Marshall Tito’s army numbered almost 800,000 men, women and children.

Polish Roma

In Poland, Roma are a recognised national minority. Roughly two groups can be distinguished: the Bergitka Roma, who generally live in settlements in the mountainous parts of Poland, and itinerant artisans and traders, such as the Lovara, the Kalderash and the Polska Roma. Today, there are some 25,000-30,000 Roma living in Poland, which has a population of nearly 40 million.

Prohibition on movement

In Germany and annexed Austria, Sinti and Roma were prohibited to leave their whereabouts from 19 October 1939. This prohibition on movement also became effective in the Netherlands on 1 July 1943, ordered by Hanns Rauter, chief of the German Police in the Netherlands. The prohibition on movement was a first and important step in the persecution of Sinti and Roma. Not being able anymore to travel around with their wagons, Sinti and Roma could be caught and deported more easily. The Auschwitz Degree, ordered by Heinrich Himmler (chief of the German Police) on 16 December 1942, was subsequently the final step in their deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Ravensbrück

Ravensbrück was a concentration camp for women and young children. In late June 1939, the first group of Roma mothers and their children were sent to Ravensbrück from Burgenland (Austria). According to an eye-witness, in 1940 there were approximately 600 Sinti and Roma crammed into a separate ‘gypsy barracks’. As elsewhere, the women in this concentration camp were subjected to harsh forced labour, often being worked to death. Only a few young Roma and Sinti women required to perform less punishing work in workshops managed to survive. The elderly, the sick and most of the children died in Ravensbrück itself, in Auschwitz-Birkenau following deportation, or during the infamous death marches from Ravensbrück to Mauthausen and Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Many Roma women were subjected to very painful sterilisation experiments in Ravensbrück in that final year of the war (1945), often resulting in their deaths.

Recognition

For many years after the end of World War II the surviving Roma and Sinti could get no compensation payments for their years of imprisonment, for their forced labour or for their confiscated and stolen property. Meanwhile, many of the murderers and persecutors were able to resume their professional careers after the war. In many cases, after World War II the same administrators who during the Third Reich had been responsible for the registration, persecution and deportation of the Roma and Sinti were now responsible for deciding whether their claims for compensation from the surviving Roma and Sinti were justified or not. Only following a hunger strike by German Sinti activists and camp survivors at the site of the former concentration camp of Dachau in 1980 did the German government recognise Sinti and Roma as victims of racist persecution and implemented a system of compensation payments, which nevertheless came far too late for most of the survivors. A permanent exhibition documenting the National Socialist genocide of Sinti and Roma was opened in Heidelberg in 1997 and another in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 2011. During the assembly of the German Parliament on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January 2011, Dutch Sinto Zoni Weisz became the first representative of his people to deliver the commemorative speech there.

The Red Army

The Red Army invaded Hungary In September 1944 and the Battle of Budapest, one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the Second World War, started at the end of October of that year. The Red Army tried to encircle the capital of Hungary and conquer the German and Hungarian troops with no fewer than 1,000,000 soldiers. Almost 40,000 citizens of Budapest died during the violence. The conquest of Budapest by the Red Army in February 1945 was an important strategic victory.

Research Institute for Racial Hygiene

Eva Justin was the closest assistant of physician Dr. Robert Ritter, the director of the Rassenbiologische Forschungsstelle (Research Institute for Racial Hygiene) in Berlin. From 1936, Ritter and his staff registered and selected the Sinti and Roma in Austria based on ‘racial characteristics’, working closely with the SS and the police apparatus headed by Heinrich Himmler. By issuing ‘racial declarations’, the institute laid the groundwork for the genocide of the Sinti and Roma. Being classified as a ‘gypsy’ or ‘half-gypsy’ led to individuals being excluded from employment, possibly sterilised and ultimately deported to Auschwitz. By March 1943, the institute had already issued 21,498 of these ‘racial declarations’; the last known is dated 15 November 1944.

Role of the Catholic Church

After the war, it became known that the leadership of the German Catholic Church had been fully aware of the deportation of the Sinti children from the Catholic children’s homes to the extermination camps. Nothing was done to stop it. Even an appeal from the Bishop of Hildesheim to the Cardinal to resist the deportation, and a desperate request from distraught Sinti parents went unheeded. The Catholic Church remained silent throughout.

Roma

The first sightings of groups of ‘colourfully dressed, dark-skinned itinerant strangers’ in Western Europe date back to the beginning of the 15th century. These nomadic people stated their country of origin as ‘Little Egypt’ and were well received in Dutch cities. They were known as ‘Egyptians’ in the Netherlands – similar to the English word ‘gypsy’ – as well ‘heathens’, i.e. pagans, those who have not been baptised. In Germany, they were referred to as Zigeuners. It later became clear that they originally hailed from the Byzantine Empire, and possibly even from India originally. Their language – Romani – is similar to languages spoken in Northern India.

The authorities changed their attitude from the beginning of the 16th century, increasingly regarding the combination of beggary and a nomadic life as parasitical and antisocial. The letters of recommendation from the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund the ‘heathens’ produced were declared invalid, and placards appeared calling for gypsies to leave the country. Their punishment ranged from physical beatings to imprisonment. Gypsies were banished wherever they went,and after 1700 the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel were actually the scene of ‘pagan hunts’. There are no historical records of gypsies in the Netherlands after, roughly, 1730, as they had all been murdered, expelled or gone into hiding.

During the second half of the 19th century new reports emerged on itinerant groups of strangers in the Netherlands. These people were known as ‘Hungarian tinkers’ and would soon be referred to as zigeuners, as in Germany. Many of them actually originated from Romania, where slavery of these Romani-speaking ‘gypsies’ had recently been abolished. Some of them had decided to emigrate to Western Europe or – preferably– the United States. While the local Dutch authorities initially left them alone because they were such skilled craftsmen, the central government continued to regard them as unwanted strangers and sought to deport them. Some groups became trapped at the Dutch borders because neighbouring countries also refused to admit them.

The itinerant Roma and Sinti of the early 20th century were not usually identified or treated as ‘gypsies’. From 1900 to 1930, Romani-speaking horse dealers were a common sight at Dutch cattle markets. Since they had French or German passports, they were not really regarded as ‘gypsies’. Similarly, the ancestors of many Dutch Sinti who travelled through Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium were viewed as performers of various stripes and musicians. In 1928, the Dutch Border Police discovered that many of them had Dutch citizenship, which meant they could not be deported as unwanted strangers.

In Germany, meanwhile, there had been a public debate on the ‘fight against the gypsy plague’ since 1905. The Dutch authorities’ main objection was to the actual caravans in which the ‘gypsies’ lived, and from 1903 Dutch government policy began to target the entire population of caravan dwellers, of which Sinti and Roma made up only a minority. It seemed as though they could be safely assimilated into this group and fly under the radar, but the Second World War brought all that to an end.

Romanian People’s Republic

The Red Army reached Romanian territory in August 1944 and the On 23 August 1944 King Michael and some of his loyal generals and party leaders successfully staged a coup d’état, arrested Antonescu, and announced the capitulation of Romania. Marshal Ion Antonescu was tried and executed on 1 June 1946. In 1947 the communist party forced King Michael to abdicate and he sought asylum in Switzerland. The Romanian People’s Republic was proclaimed in December 1947 under the supervision of the Soviet Union.

Romanian revolution

The Romanian revolution of December 1989 put an end to the communist regime. The last communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was executed together with his wife Elena, after a short show trial.

Round up of 16 May 1944

The round up of 16 May 1944 was ordered by the head of the German Sicherheitspolizei and Sicherheitsdienst. That day, in 18 Dutch cities and towns, 578 ‘zigeuner-type persons’ were arrested and taken away. The German order, which had been sent by telegram, stated that all ‘gypsies’ and ‘persons travelling around like gypsies’ must be present in Westerbork by 8 p.m. on that day. In some cities and towns, this order was largely ignored; elsewhere, it was regarded as an opportunity to get rid of local wagon dwellers. However, some cases have been documented where the police warned people about the round up beforehand or deliberately overlooked them and left them alone on that 16th of May.

Sinti

The first sightings of groups of ‘colourfully dressed, dark-skinned itinerant strangers’ in Western Europe date back to the beginning of the 15th century. These nomadic people stated their country of origin as ‘Little Egypt’ and were well received in Dutch cities. They were known as ‘Egyptians’ in the Netherlands – similar to the English word ‘gypsy’ – as well ‘heathens’, i.e. pagans, those who have not been baptised. In Germany, they were referred to as Zigeuners. It later became clear that they originally hailed from the Byzantine Empire, and possibly even from India originally. Their language – Romani – is similar to languages spoken in Northern India.

The authorities changed their attitude from the beginning of the 16th century, increasingly regarding the combination of beggary and a nomadic life as parasitical and antisocial. The letters of recommendation from the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund the ‘heathens’ produced were declared invalid, and placards appeared calling for gypsies to leave the country. Their punishment ranged from physical beatings to imprisonment. Gypsies were banished wherever they went,and after 1700 the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel were actually the scene of ‘pagan hunts’. There are no historical records of gypsies in the Netherlands after, roughly, 1730, as they had all been murdered, expelled or gone into hiding.

During the second half of the 19th century new reports emerged on itinerant groups of strangers in the Netherlands. These people were known as ‘Hungarian tinkers’ and would soon be referred to as zigeuners, as in Germany. Many of them actually originated from Romania, where slavery of these Romani-speaking ‘gypsies’ had recently been abolished. Some of them had decided to emigrate to Western Europe or – preferably– the United States. While the local Dutch authorities initially left them alone because they were such skilled craftsmen, the central government continued to regard them as unwanted strangers and sought to deport them. Some groups became trapped at the Dutch borders because neighbouring countries also refused to admit them.

The itinerant Roma and Sinti of the early 20th century were not usually identified or treated as ‘gypsies’. From 1900 to 1930, Romani-speaking horse dealers were a common sight at Dutch cattle markets. Since they had French or German passports, they were not really regarded as ‘gypsies’. Similarly, the ancestors of many Dutch Sinti who travelled through Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium were viewed as performers of various stripes and musicians. In 1928, the Dutch Border Police discovered that many of them had Dutch citizenship, which meant they could not be deported as unwanted strangers.

In Germany, meanwhile, there had been a public debate on the ‘fight against the gypsy plague’ since 1905. The Dutch authorities’ main objection was to the actual caravans in which the ‘gypsies’ lived, and from 1903 Dutch government policy began to target the entire population of caravan dwellers, of which Sinti and Roma made up only a minority. It seemed as though they could be safely assimilated into this group and fly under the radar, but the Second World War brought all that to an end.

Sinti and Roma symbol

The photo of Settela Steinbach, ‘the girl with the headscarf ‘is world-famous and may be found at nearly all the important WWII commemorative sites. Yet for 50 years it was thought she was an anonymous Jewish girl. It took a persistent Dutch journalist, Aad Wagenaar, to establish her true identity. For a very long time after the war, no attention was paid to the relatively small number of Dutch Sinti and Roma victims. The Victims of Persecution Compensation Act largely ignored them. Only very late did the realisation dawn – and with it the acknowledgement – that they too had been the victims of genocide. In 1978 they received their own war monument on Amsterdam’s Museumplein. Only in the late 1990s did the first claims for restitution payments from Sinti and Roma get underway, primarily thanks to the efforts of the National Sinti Organisation. For most first-generation victims, however, that was too late. In March 2000, the surviving Sinti and Roma relatives, like other categories of wartime victims, received a one-off amount in financial compensation for the cold reception given to survivors and the ignorant attitudes of those post-war years. On National Remembrance Day on Amsterdam’s Dam Square in 2000, the Sinti and Roma victims were officially commemorated for the first time.

Sinto

Sinto (plural Sinti). Name given to a subgroup of the Roma, the designation for all the groups who speak a form of Romany (‘gypsy language’). In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were several hundred Sinti travelling around the Netherlands. The majority of them earned a living as musicians and circus artists. Among the Sinti families who travelled through the Netherlands and neighbouring countries were many highly skilled builders and repairers of violins. But Sinti families also made a living from trading – particularly horses –, mending chairs and selling all kinds of wares.

Szczurowa remembrance service

The commemoration of the murder of the Roma of Szczurowa has been incorporated into a pilgrimage, an initiative by the local Roma of the neighbouring town of Tarnów. Each year, a commemorative tour is held with horses and carts along places where Roma were killed during the Second World War. The tour takes in Żabno, where 49 murdered Roma were buried in a single grave, Borzęcin Dolny (28 victims) and Bielcza (also 28 victims), and ends in Szczurowa.

Transnistria

Before the Second World War this was part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, between the Dniester and Bug rivers. After it was occupied by German and Romanian troops, the region fell under Romanian rule and the area was designated by Antonescu for the concentration camps where Jews and “gypsies” deported from Romania were imprisoned.

Treblinka

Following Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka (800,000 victims) was the largest of the Nazis’ extermination camps. Roma were murdered here too. The exact number of Roma who died in Treblinka is unknown, but it is likely to be around 1,000. The fact that Roma were also killed in Treblinka is little known, both among Polish Roma and in the wider Polish society.

Ustasha

The Ustasha movement, founded by Ante Pavelić in 1929, was an ultra-nationalist Croatian political movement. Apart from its nationalism, its ideology was a mixture of Roman Catholicism and fascism. The Ustasha movement aimed at an independent Greater Croatia that would include territories inhabited by Bosniaks, Serbs and Slovenes. In their view the entire territory should be “cleansed” of Jews, Roma and Serbs. A couple of weeks after the Ustasha took power they implemented racial laws that deprived Jews and Roma of their civil rights which made them victim to violent persecutions. The next step was a census of all Roma in the new state that took place in the summer of 1941. This census was part of the preparation of the persecution of the entire Roma population that took place in May 1942. The Roma were deported to Jasenovac.

Wagon dwellers

It was not just the Roma and Sinti who started using wagons from the late 19th and early 20th centuries: the same was true for Irish, British and Dutch ’travellers’ In the late 1930s, there were around ten thousand people living in three thousand wagons in the Netherlands. Sinti and Roma made up only a small minority of them. Most wagon dwellers were people who had originally lived in houses but had ended up in wagons. From the end of the nineteenth century they did so due to poverty or the itinerant nature of their work. During the same period, others started living in old river barges out of necessity. The authorities regarded residents of wagons and houseboats as a single category: poor people living on the margins of society.

Westerbork

Westerbork in Drenthe province was the largest and most important concentration camp in the occupied Netherlands. It was primarily a transit camp for Jewish prisoners. Between June 1942 and September 1944, over 107,000 Jewish prisoners were deported from Westerbork to occupied Poland. The primary destinations were the Auschwitz and Sobibor extermination camps. Only 5,000 Jews returned after the war. On 16 May 1944, a special barrack was cleared for the arrested Sinti and Roma. In Westerbork the decision was made who were to be labelled as ‘gypsies” and thus transported to Auschwitz. In contrast to the female Jewish prisoners, Sinti and Roma women in Westerbork had their heads shaved. On 19 May, the ‘gypsy transport’ left for the special Zigeunerlager at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Zigeunerlager Auschwitz-Birkenau

From February 1943 to August 1944, a section of the large concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was reserved for ‘gypsies’. Of the 23,000 Sinti and Roma who were deported to this part of Auschwitz, 21,000 were murdered. The Zigeunerlager was set up on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS (16 December 1942). In contrast to other parts of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the Zigeunerlager men and women were not separated from each other. Upon arrival at the camp, Sinti and Roma had the letter ‘Z’ (of ‘Zigeuner’) plus a number tattooed on their forearms. The majority of prisoners came from Germany and Austria, but Sinti and Roma were also deported to Auschwitz from other countries in Europe. Thousands of Sinti and Roma prisoners died in Auschwitz of infectious diseases, starvation and abuse.

Zigeuners

The first sightings of groups of ‘colourfully dressed, dark-skinned itinerant strangers’ in Western Europe date back to the beginning of the 15th century. These nomadic people stated their country of origin as ‘Little Egypt’ and were well received in Dutch cities. They were known as ‘Egyptians’ in the Netherlands – similar to the English word ‘gypsy’ – as well ‘heathens’, i.e. pagans, those who have not been baptised. In Germany, they were referred to as Zigeuners. It later became clear that they originally hailed from the Byzantine Empire, and possibly even from India originally. Their language – Romani – is similar to languages spoken in Northern India.

The authorities changed their attitude from the beginning of the 16th century, increasingly regarding the combination of beggary and a nomadic life as parasitical and antisocial. The letters of recommendation from the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund the ‘heathens’ produced were declared invalid, and placards appeared calling for gypsies to leave the country. Their punishment ranged from physical beatings to imprisonment. Gypsies were banished wherever they went,and after 1700 the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel were actually the scene of ‘pagan hunts’. There are no historical records of gypsies in the Netherlands after, roughly, 1730, as they had all been murdered, expelled or gone into hiding.

During the second half of the 19th century new reports emerged on itinerant groups of strangers in the Netherlands. These people were known as ‘Hungarian tinkers’ and would soon be referred to as zigeuners, as in Germany. Many of them actually originated from Romania, where slavery of these Romani-speaking ‘gypsies’ had recently been abolished. Some of them had decided to emigrate to Western Europe or – preferably– the United States. While the local Dutch authorities initially left them alone because they were such skilled craftsmen, the central government continued to regard them as unwanted strangers and sought to deport them. Some groups became trapped at the Dutch borders because neighbouring countries also refused to admit them.

The itinerant Roma and Sinti of the early 20th century were not usually identified or treated as ‘gypsies’. From 1900 to 1930, Romani-speaking horse dealers were a common sight at Dutch cattle markets. Since they had French or German passports, they were not really regarded as ‘gypsies’. Similarly, the ancestors of many Dutch Sinti who travelled through Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium were viewed as performers of various stripes and musicians. In 1928, the Dutch Border Police discovered that many of them had Dutch citizenship, which meant they could not be deported as unwanted strangers.

In Germany, meanwhile, there had been a public debate on the ‘fight against the gypsy plague’ since 1905. The Dutch authorities’ main objection was to the actual caravans in which the ‘gypsies’ lived, and from 1903 Dutch government policy began to target the entire population of caravan dwellers, of which Sinti and Roma made up only a minority. It seemed as though they could be safely assimilated into this group and fly under the radar, but the Second World War brought all that to an end.