University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Gypsies: A Persecuted Race

"Nazi" Tactics 100 Years Before Hitler

In the late 19th centuries in England numerous Gypsy families were herded into forest compounds in the New Forest area of England. These people were forced to live in the worst of conditions. It is hard to believe that the civilized Britons would herd innocent people into compounds because of their race just as the Nazi Germans would a century later. And, even harder to believe, that such practices have been so little publicized.

At a conference in Hungary in 1909 concerning the Gypsy problem, there were equally astonishing statements, that today in the light of history sound familiar. Once speaker said, "Every Gypsy should be branded so as to assist in identification." (Kenrick 1972:56). This statement was made by a Hungarian long before the Nazi period. Was this not, however, the same methods used by the Nazis to identify their victims?

In Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) it was permissable to cut off the left ear of all Gypsy women; in Bohemia it was the right ear. No crime or reason was needed to justify this cruel branding.

At one time, marriage between Gypsies was outlawed in Spain. In 1830 German authorities tried to take away by force all the children of Gypsy families in the area of Nordhausen and place them in an institution. Norway initiated a similar action in the early 1900's, using the argument that it was unhealthy for children to live in tents and wagons. in a series of articles published in 1930, a writer from Oslo, Norway demanded that Gypsies throughout Norway be sterilized. (Kenrick 1972:56). This parallels the propaganda Hitler would spread just a few years later.

The persecution of the Gypsies was well on its way before the Nazi party came into power in 1933. The facts this paper points out are these: that the persecution commenced with the Eirst migrations of the Gypsies and was continuous up through the time of the Nazi era. Thu Nazis merely inherited the anti¥Gypsy laws already in operation through-out Europe. The difference is that they chose to re¥enact these laws that were already in the mind and hearts of Englishmen, Norwegians, Swedes, Hungarians, Spaniards, Poles, Danes, Romanians, Czechoslovakians, Austrians, Frenchmen, Italians, etc.

Gypsy Survival

It is a false assumption that Hitler's Germany initiated genocide of Gypsies. The fact is it began with the Christian Church and spread throughout Europe and continues to this very day,* inheriting with modern times new names (assimilation, proletarianization) to describe the same human destruction.

As Dr. Jan Kochanowski sums up,

We must tell the story of the horrors Gypsies see that today they have their last chance. They are faced with extermination or assimilation--two facets of the same fate.(in Kenrick 1972:206).

* As I'm writing this I hear from my relatives that an old and blind Gypsy man has had both of his arms broken by a police officer. This is 1985 in an American city.


"Gypsies in Nazi Germany"
Chapter IX
Land of Pain: Five Centuries Oh' Gypsy Slavery
By Ian Hancock

©1985 Ian Hancock, Buda, TX
Reprinted with permission

Gypsies in Nazi Germany

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, his Nazi administration inherited anti-Gypsy laws which had already been in force in Germany since the middle Ages. There were not at that time any anti-Jewish laws. Overseeing anti-Gypsy action was the Munich-based "Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Nuisance," which had been in existence since 1899. During the first months of Nazi rule, an 5S study group proposed that all Gypsies then in Germany should be killed by-drowning them in ships taken out into mid ocean and sunk. Instead, the authorities began a lengthy process of codifying persons of Romani origin.  Criteria for inclusion were much stricter than those applied to Jews: it was sufficient to have just one grandparent who himself or herself had a Gypsy or part-Gypsy grandparent among his ancestors to be classified as a "rassenverfolgter Zigeuner" (racially-persecuted Gypsy), and later to qualify for the death-ovens.

Stated another way, if two of a person's sixteen greatgrandparents were even part Gypsy, that person had too much Gypsy ancestry to be allowed to live. The Nuremberg Decree of 1935, on the other hand, defined a Jew as a person having one Jewish grandparent, i.e., someone who was one quarter Jewish. Some 18,000 individuals in Germany were classified as part-Gypsy in this way, and would have escaped being murdered had the same rules been applied to them as were applied to part-Jews.

Eva Justin, one of those concerned with compiling data of this sort was, after the war, employed as a social worker and never prosecuted. In her treatise on Gypsies she expressed the hope that her research would prevent any further flow of such 'unworthy primitive elements' into the German nation. Her companion during the war, Dr. Hermann Arnold, remains today a respected 'Gypsy expert,' and until recently was a consultant with the Ministry of Family Affairs in Bonn.

Some Gypsies were sterilized as early as 1933, though no Jews yet were; beginning in the same year, camps were being established by the Nazis to contain Gypsies at Vennhausen, Dieseistrasse, Mahrzan and Dachau, although at so early a date Jewish victims were not being sent en masse to any camps. It is a matter of singular disgrace that in 1936 the anti-Gypsy campaign became globalized, through the establishment of the international Centre for the Fight against the Gypsy Menace by Interpol in Vienna. Again, this did not happen for the Jews. In effect, the Nazi Party sought, and was given, the cooperation of other Euopean governments in its campaign to locate and identify Gypsies throughout Europe for its later plans for extermination.

In 1936, a Nazi Party proclamation stated that the Gypsy problem was categorically a matter of race and should be dealt with in that light; a year later Johannes Behrendt, speaking for the Party, declared that "elimination without hesitation" of the entire Gypsy population had to be instigated immediately. Among the many categories of victims in Hitler's Germany, only the Gypsies and the Jews were singled out for anihillation on racial grounds.

There is a cloak of ignorance shielding the truth about the Romani Holocaust, the baro xaimos or "great devouring" of life, as it is sometimes called in the Gypsy language; those who have been given even some of the details are shocked not only by what they have learned, but by the fact that the media has made no acknowledgement of these details.

It is because of this ignorance that the Romani situation has been consistently overlooked in matters related to the Holocaust; the reasons for this are to be sought in history. The ancestors of the Jewish victims, so cruelly persecuted throughout their history in Europe as well, were forced into ghettos and were thus able to remain together as sometimes quite large communities, and establish schools where literacy and community history were instilled into the young. The Judaic faith served further as a precious bond, and since the war, Jewish scholars and professional people have been able to muster their forces and make known their terrible history. Gypsies fared differently in Europe; the population was not allowed to settle; harsh laws kept Gypsies on the move and in small, scattered groups. Schooling was not permitted nearly everywhere; the faithful were not allowed into houses of worship but had to risk punishment by listening to religious services through church windows. Even today, acquiring a permanent home, or schooling for the children, or even the right to vote is out of the reach of hundreds of thousands of European Rom. In the United States, Gypsies remain the only ethnic group against which laws are still in effect; a blatantly unconstitutional state of affairs. Lacking the tools of literacy and formal education, and unable to interact in the professional world as a result, Gypsies have not in the past had the wherewithal to make their situation known. Victims of media-created stereotypes against which, for the same reasons, they have until recently been powerless to protest, Gypsies are also prey to the whims of journalists--many of whom, unfortunately, find more appeal in the literary, non-existent Gypsy than in the day-to-day problems of the real population.

Elie wiesel claimed in his Report for the Holocaust Memorial Commission to the President of the United States that Jaws were "certainly the first" victims of the Holocaust (p. 3), and that the Holocaust was an "essentially Jewish event," and further that "the Jewish people ...alone were destined to be totally anihillated, they alone were totally alone-although Jews were the first to be killed, they were not the only ones; others followed. The murder of one group inevitably provokes more murder" (p.34). But it was in fact the Gypsies, not dealt with in that Report, who were first victimized in an act of genocide which led to the fuss of over a half a million Romani lives.

The history of the enslavement and persecution of the European Gypsy population dealt with in these pages is factual. It is also a fact that even in the best of times, Gypsy populations have to deal with discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis.

Much of this discrimination originates from the media. It requires very little effort on the part of those writing for the popular press to consult the existing literature and come up with feature articles of their own, without ever approaching Gypsy agencies themselves for their information. Almost all of the thousands of works relating to Gypsies have been written by non-Gypsies, and it is probably true that most of those have based their own creations on the works of other non-Gypsies without ever checking their facts at first hand. Despite the enormous responsibility that journalists have in transmitting information to the public, with very few exceptions the media continue to grossly misrepresent Gypsies and to perpetuate negative and often defamatory stereotypes. It has become so commonplace for the press to define Gypsies--an ethnic people-solely by social criteria, that Gypsies themselves will frequently deny their identity:

A Houston builder and Gypsy doesn't tell anyone he's a Gypsy because he says it would ruin his business. "I'm not ashamed of it," he says, "but you've got to understand the effect it could have" (Linthicum, 1985:8G)

It is also true that, because of the widespread enforcement of laws over the past centuries which have forbidden Gypsies to stop anywhere, or to attend school, Romani cultures have developed as non-literate cultures. Even in countries with long-settled Gypsy populations -- and today the majority of Gypsies throughout the world are not nomadic -- a way of life which does not include literacy as a primary skill continues to be perpetuated. As a result, the kinds of organized approaches made to television stations, congressmen, newspaper editors and the like which other minorities have used to bring their Point of view before the public, have simply not been possible