University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Jewish Responses to the Porrajmos

7) Kenrick and Puxon discuss certain classes of exemptions which applied to Gypsies (Mais, 1988).

Kenrick & Puxon do deal with these on page 78 of their book where they also include the statement that "[t]hese exemptions compare with similar arrangements for Jews." If such an argument is to be used to characterize the treatment of Roma and Sinti, then It must likewise be used to characterize the treatment of Jews. And since it does apply to both populations, it cannot be used to support the harsher treatment of the latter.

8) it has been claimed, including by the German government itself as a means of avoiding the payment of war crime reparations,  that Roma and Sinti were not targeted for racial, but for social reasons.

Yehuda Bauer has supported this argument also, stating that "[t]he Gypsies were not murdered for racial reasons, but as so-called asocials … nor was their destruction complete" (Bauer, 1980:45). But this was a deliberate and despicable move on the part of the German government to take advantage of the shattered condition of the surviving Romani population which was in no condition to contest it, and one for which the Romani population is still suffering today. The racial identity of the Gypsy people, and the genetically-based rationale for their extermination, are abundantly documented and referenced (see e.g. Hancock, Chronology, In Crowe & Kolsti, 1991). "In his report on the matter, the Bonn Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, 9:1:56, points out that the Supreme Court's decision is at direct variance with the known facts of Nazi policies for concentrating and later exterminating the gypsies'" (Anon., 1956).

10) Gypsies received kinder treatment because parents, and children were allowed to stay together in special family camps, unlike other prisoners.

König (1989:129-133) makes it very clear that the "family camps" were not created out of any humanitarian motive, but because the Gypsies became completely unmanageable when separated from family members. It was simply more expedient, and caused the guards less problems, to leave families together for processing. He writes of their sometimes having to smash the hands and feet of the Gypsies in order to render them docile as they were being herded to the ovens.  König's book is a monument to Romani heroism and resistance to the camps, and should be required reading for any student of the Porrajmos. Those Jewish famillies transported to Auschwitz from Therensientadt in September, 1943, incidentally, were allowed to remain together in a family camp.

11) "The denial of the right to live is what singles out the fate of the Jews from all other victims -- Gypsies, Poies, Russian prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses. . . their fate was different from the fate of the Jews." (Yitzhak Mais, in the brochure published by the Museums at Yad Vashem).

Michael Berenbaum, in a better position than most to know the details of the Romani Holocaust, repeats these arguments in his book (Roth & Berenbaum. p.33), where he says "Gypsies shared much, but not all of the horrors assigned to Jews. Romani were killed in some countries but not others...Even though the Romani were subject to gassing and other forms of extermination, the number of Gypsies was not as vast… In contrast, all Jews lived under an imminent death sentence of death (sic)." Jews were killed in some countries but not others too, and the number of Gypsies was "not as vast" because there were nine times as many Jews as Gypsies to start with at the outbreak of The Second World War; obviously the numbers are greater, but when we discuss genocide we must do so in the context of the destruction of entire peoples, and in terms of overall percentage, the losses of the Roma and Sinti almost certainty exceeded those of any other group; their percentage was "vaster."

The question of the numbers of Roma and Sinti murdered is a vexed one, and given the circumstances of their dispatch, one which can never be answered. I dealt with this in some detail in Hancock (1988b), but rely on König's statement that

. . . the court of half a million Sinti and Roma murdered between 1939 and 1945 is too low to be tenable; for example in the Soviet Union many of the Romani dead were listed under non-specific labels such as 'Liquidierungaubriken' [remainder to be dispatched], 'hangers-on' and 'partisans'… The final number of the dead Sinti and Roma may never be determined. We do not know precisely how many were brought into the concentration camps; not every concentration camp produced statistical material; moreover, Sinti and Roma are often listed under the heading of "remainder to be dispatched" and do not appear in the statistics for Gypsies (König. 1989:87-89).

In the eastern territories, in Russia especially, Gypsy deaths were sometimes counted into the records as Jewish deaths. The Memorial Book for the Gypsies who perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau also discusses the means of killing Roma:

Unlike the Jews, the overwhelming majority of whom were murdered in the gas chambers at Birkenau, Belzec, Treblinka and all the other mass extermination camps, the Gypsies outside the Reich were massacred at many places, sometimes only a few at a time, and sometimes by the hundreds.  In the General government alone, 150 sites of Gypsy massacres are known.  Research on the Jewish Holocaust can rely on comparison of pre- and post-war census data to help determine the numbers of victims in the countries concerned.  However, this is not possible for the Gypsies, as it was only rarely that they were included in national census data.  Therefore it is an impossible task to find the actual number of Gypsy victims in Poland, Yugoslavia, Whits Ruthenia and the Ukraine, the lands that probably had the greatest numbers of victims (State Museum: 1993:15 [emphasis added).

We should nevertheless rejoice in the numbers of the living, not glorify those of the dead in some horrible body-count; but if we are obliged to argue with numbers and quantity in this peculiarly American way, then let us look at the situation from the other side, and count the Romani survivors of the Holocaust, only five thousand of whom are listed in the official register of the Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma in Heidelberg, and only four of whom have been located in the United States, where over eighty thousand Jewish survivors live today. My respected colleague Donald Kenrick, co-author of The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies, the first full-length treatment of the Porrajmos, claimed with some pride at a recnt conference we both attended in London that his own research points to the lowest figures for Romani deaths by 1945; surely this is the kind of dialogue we should be striving for, not a competition over whose losses were greater.

12) The "uniqueness" of the Jewish case should be defended at all costs because it justifies the existence of the Jewish homeland, Israel.

On the main mail of the campus at my university, stands a structure some feet high erected by the Jewish Students Association which is a monument to Israel.  It is covered with photographs and newspaper articles, and in the very middle of it is a yellow placard bearing the words "Israel: The Six Million: Never Forget." This is not a new argument, indeed it has been suggested to me by more than one well-disposed USHMC member. But it is a specious argument. Israel, a Jewish state, should exist under any circumstances: speaking as a member of a people without a country, I can feel very deeply the emotion associated with the possession of a homeland. Acknowledging that Gypsies received the same treatment as Jews, as Miriam Novich said "for the same reasons using the same methods," cannot take anything away from the enormity of the Jewish tragedy, or diminish the strength of the right to Israel. I am reminded of Dermot Mulrory's words In Where the Day Takes You (1993): "What's mine is mine, and if I share it with you, it becomes less minel." I cannot imagine that the rest of the world would interpret the Romani claim in this way.

13) No other group was viewed with such disgust and contempt:, or so relentlessly and methodically persecuted, or was selected for total eradication from the face of the earth.

Gypsies don't match this, it has been said, because Gypsies weren't mentioned in Mein Kampf, or at the Wannsee Conference, and because some Gypsies were exempt from the death machine, and because a much higher number of Jews had died by 1945.

Gypsies were not mentioned specifically at the Wannsee Conference because
by that time (January 20th, 1944), policies against Jews, subsequent to the directive of December 24th issued four weeks earlier, automatically included Gypsies. And no argument was necessary in Mein Kampf  because there was no need on Hitler's part to make any case for anti-Gypsism.  There were no need to convince anybody of the subhuman status of , against whom laws were already firmly entrenched to Germany, despite the guarantees of the national Constitution of the Weimar Republic. No public conscience ever provoked a defense of the Romani case, a fact Fraser comments upon in his new book The Gypsies:

From about 1937 onwards, [Nazi] pressures . . on Gypsies built up swiftly and remorselessly, with no hostile public reaction, abroad or at home, of the kind which had made the Nazis a little more circumspect in their dealings with the Jews, at least in the early days, because of respect for world opinion (Fraser, 1993:261-262).

When the question of this indifference was raised following the war, one French physician commented, rhetorically, that "everyone despises Gypsies, so why exercise restraint? Who will avenge them? Who will bear witness?"  (Bernadec, 1979:34). The excuse that the rest of the world was ignorant of what was happening cannot be maintained in the Romani case:

Whatever the real state of knowledge or ignorance among the German civilian population during the Second World War about the transport and the murder of millions  of German and non-German Jews in Europe, the initial internment of the Roma was kept from no one. Concentration camps were built on the outskirts of the capital city, and the internment of the Sinti and Roma was not only covered by a number of Berlin newspapers, but was even joked about in their columns. Psychologists engaged in racial research paid official visits to Marzahn to study and take extensive film footage of the Romani children at play there. A major trainline ran right past that camp, and its few survivors  recall that train passengers who pitied their situation, and who knew or suspected that the interned Roma were surviving on only minimal rations, occasionally threw packages of food down into the camp enclosure as their train passed by (Trumpener, 1992:844).

While German anti-Semitism, like anti-Gypsyism over the centuries, has bordered upon the pathological (see especially Wilson, 1982), there was no one to argue in support of the Gypsies, unlike those who defended the Jewish position. As Burleigh & Wippermann make clear (op. cit., p. 36), anti-Semitism was not an undisputed part of the early (German) racial hygiene movement. Ploetz and a number of other racial hygienists, such as Wilheim Schallmayer, fiercely denounced anti-Semitism, and in his 1895 treatise, Ploetz classified Jews as a part of the superior 'white race.'" (Proctor, 1977:144n.). On the contrary, In the early 1890s the Swabian Parliament organized a conference on the "Gipsy scum" (Das Zigeunergeschmetß),  and in 1899 Alfred Dillmann established the Gypsy Information Agency (Nachrichtendienst In Bezug auf die Zigeuner) which began to collect data in the form of genealogical information, fingerprints and photographs of Gypsies throughout the territory. This led to the publication in 1905 of Dillmann's Zigeuner-Buch, which laid the groundwork for what was to come a quarter of a century later.  It consisted of a lengthy argument for controlling Gypsies, stressing their inherent criminality, and calling them "a plague against which society must unflaggingly defend itself."  The bulk of the volume consisted of a register of over 5,000 individuals, which gave date and place of birth, genealogy, criminal record if any, and so on.  The third part of the book consisted of photographs of Gypsies taken from police flies throughout the German states.  On February 17th, 1906, the Prussian Minister of the Interior issued a directive to "Combat the Gypsy Nuisance"  (Die Bekampfung des Zigeunerunwesens), and established bilateral, anti-Gypsy agreements with all neighboring countries. Licenses were required by all Romani people wanting to live and work in Prussia. In 1909 the Swiss Department of Justice began a national register of Gypsies, while in Hungary it was recommended at a "Gypsy Policy Conference" that all Romani people be branded on their bodies for easy identification. In 1912 France introduced the Carnet Anthropométrique, a document containing personal data (including photograph and fingerprints) which all Gypsies were henceforth required to carry.

In 1920, the Minister of Public Welfare in Düsseldorf forbade Gypsies from entering any public washing, or recreational facility, such as swimming pools, public baths, spas or parks; this restriction also came to be applied to Jews after 1933 [Burleigh & Wipperrnann, 1991:77]); "the anti-Jewish law was promulgated in 1933," (Burleigh & Wippermann, op. cit., p. 4), at a time when scores of anti-Gypsy laws had already been in effect in Germany for centuries. More ominously in that same year, 1920, Binding & Hoche published their treatise on "Lives undeserving of life" (Lebensunwertesleben), which argued for the killing of those who were seen to be "dead weight' (Ballastexistenz) within humanity, including Gypsies.  This notion of "unworthy life" was incorporated into Nazi law on July 14th, 1933, less than six months after Hitler came to power, in his Law for the prevention of hereditarily diseased offspring." In 1936, In preparation for the Olympic Games, and for fear of negative world opinion, "anti-Semitic posters and placards were temporarily removed" from the streets of Berlin by the Nazis (Burleigh & Wippermann, op. cit, p. 84), at the same time that Gypsies were being cleared from those streets as an eyesore, just as 18 they were at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. More significantly, we have now learned that Nazi propaganda encouraging public support for the incarceration of Gypsies was widely distributed at those Begin gams to 1936.

In January or February, 1940, 250 Gypsy children from Brno in the concentration camp at Buchenwald are used as guinea pigs for testing the Zyklon B gas crystals, later used for mass murders at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This was the first mass genocidal action of the Holocaust (Proester, 1968).