The Roma Genocide

What is the Roma Genocide?

According to the United Nations, the term genocide refers to “a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups“, aiming at complete extermination of such groups. The term Roma Genocide, then, refers to the mass extermination of Roma and Sinti throughout Europe which took place under the Nazi regime during World War II.

The term „Holocaust“ refers to acts of genocide which took place during World War II – and today many scholars agree that it refers to the genocide of the Jews (known as Shoah) and the Roma (sometimes referred to as Porrajmos or Samudaripen) as both of them were targeted based on racial grounds with the objective of their complete extermination. The regime also targeted all LGBT, people with disabilities and political resistants who did not fit into the “Arian superior” archetype.

Victims of the Roma Genocide

It is difficult to give a specific number of Roma victims as many were murdered by mobile SS groups, on sight, or reached the gas chambers without ever being registered officially. Today most scholars agree that an estimated of at least 500.000 Roma were victims of the genocide, amounting to perhaps as much as 70-80% of the total Roma population in Europe at the time.

Why the Roma?

Given the Nazi ideology for “racial purity”, the Roma were among their first victims. As of the late 1800´s and with the elaboration of the pseudo-scientific doctrine of “biological determinism”, a number of anti-Roma laws were passed and different institutions were destined to fight with the “Gypsy menace”. With the rise of Hitler to power in 1933 and following the Nazi ideology of “racial purity”, the anti-Roma laws proliferated. On July 14, 1933 the Nazi Department of Racial Hygiene and Population Biology began to experiment on Roma to reach criteria for their racial classification, and it was determined that most Roma posed a danger to German racial purity and should be eliminated. The Nuremberg Laws, which passed in 1935 and targeted the Jews directly, were extended to include “Gypsies, Negroes and their bastard offspring” in late 1935. As of 1936, the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit was established under the supervision of Dr. Robert Ritter. Soon after the first Roma ghettos and deportation to labour camps begun.

“The Gypsy question is for us today primarily a racial question. Thus, the national socialist state will basically have to settle the Gypsy question just as it has solved the Jewish question. We have already begun…” Adolph Würth, Racial Hygiene Research Unit at the Nazi Department of Health

Solution of the “Gypsy question”

Initially there was disagreement about “the solution of the Gypsy Question” but the debate ended in 1942 when Himmler signed the order marking the beginning of the mass deportations to Auschwitz. For the Romani people of Europe, this order was equivalent to the January 20 decision of that same year, made at the Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi bureaucrats decided on the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem”. Himmler then ordered, on November 15, 1943, that Roma and “part-Roma” were to be put “on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps”. In Auschwitz the arriving Roma were not subjected to selection, instead they were put into the newly built “Gypsy family camp”, so called because entire families stayed there together.

The Nazi persecution of Roma varied from country to country and region to region. In the Balkan states and the Soviet Union, mobile killing squads travelled from village to village massacring the inhabitants and typically leaving few or no records of the number of victims. Roma were also victims of the puppet regimes that cooperated with the Third Reich during the war, especially the Ustasa regime in Croatia. In Jasenovac concentration camp tens of thousands of Roma were killed. Yad Vashem estimates that the Roma Genocide was most intense in Yugoslavia, where around 90,000 Roma were killed. The Romanian regime did not systematically annihilate the Roma population in its territory, but deported 26.000 Roma to Transnistria, where thousands died from disease, starvation and brutal treatment.