First Deportations and Internments in Internment Camps

The "Anschluss" brought about an increasing radicalisation in the policies toward the Roma and Sinti in the entire "Großdeutschen Reich" ("Pan-German Reich"). After the Roma and Sinti had been deprived of their traditional ways of earning a living, they were often dependent on the welfare services of local authorities which, as a consequence, felt the financial pressure. Under the pretext of the "pressure of this state of affairs", which had been caused by the Nazis themselves, the persecution of the Roma and Sinti was initiated. In the course of the campaign "Arbeitsscheu Reich" ("Action Workshy Reich"), which was directed against beggars, prostitutes, vagabonds, Roma and Sinti, first arrests were made. By order of the "Reich’s" criminal investigation department about 230 Burgenland-Roma were deported together with more than 700 German Roma and Sinti to the concentration camps Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Lichtenburg in June 1938. One year later 3.000 German and Austrian Roma and Sinti were carried off to the concentration camps Dachau, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück and Buchenwald. When it came to listing the Roma and Sinti, the Nazi authorities could fall back on the police recordings of the interwar period.

Due to the "Festsetzungserlasses" (detainment decree) issued by Himmler and Heydrich, Roma and Sinti were forbidden to leave their places of residence. If this decree was disregarded, the offenders were immediately sent to a concentration camp. By order of Himmler there came a big wave of internment in 1939 ( "Schnellbrief"). This decree aimed at the concentration of all Roma and Sinti of the "German Reich" – it was estimated that they numbered about 30,000 – in camps in order to deport them as fast as possible to the Generalgouvernement in Poland. The "detainment decree" could not be realised quickly, which led to the conversion of the provisional "internment camps" into "labour camps" that were similar to concentration camps.

In the following section four examples are mentioned from among the dozens of "labour camps" that were erected in Germany, the annexed Austria and in the occupied territories of the Eastern and Southern parts of Eastern Europe:

Camp Lackenbach

The "Zigeuner-Anhalte- und Arbeitslager" ("gypsy detention and labour camp") that was built in Lackenbach (Burgenland) in 1940 held altogether more than 4,000 registered detainees and was the biggest of its kind on the formerly Austrian territory. At the beginning of November 1941 the camp reached its highest occupancy with 2.335 persons. It was subject to the head office of the criminal investigation department in Vienna. Besides Sinti from Vienna, Styria and Germany, mostly Burgenland Roma were committed to the camp. Their houses were destroyed, plundered or pulled down including the foundation walls immediately after they had been arrested.

The Roma and Sinti were accommodated in the former stables of the area; finally a typhus epidemic forced the camp administration to erect shacks. From February until late summer of 1942 "SS-Obersturmbandführer" Franz Langmüller ran the camp and established a terror regime. Offences against the ban on talking or smoking, offences against the camp rules or attempts to escape were punished with solitary confinement, the withholding of food, corporal punishment and fatiguing extra work. In 1948 Langmüller was accused of having caused the deaths of 237 Roma by a Viennese public court. He was sentenced to just one year of prison for torturing and abusing detainees of the camp. He did not have to pay a fine and could keep his property.

The "gypsy camps" functions were that of arresting people and forced labour. Further steps of persecution such as medical experiments, sterilisations and extermination were reserved for other institutions. About every tenth detainee of Lackenbach died due to the inhuman conditions in the camp. The major reasons were pests, the lack of medical treatment, and abuse and forced labour. Moreover, the detainees suffered from an enormous emotional stress. The commitment to a concentration camp was used as a reprisal and it was dependent on the arbitrariness of overseers or just bad luck. Either people were punished for their mere existence or for crimes that they had not yet committed but that they would supposedly commit in the future ("preventative fight against crime").

Maxglan (Leopoldskron)

In 1940 the majority of the Roma and Sinti living in Salzburg – about 270 people – were put under arrest by the order of Anton Böhmer, the "SS-Sturmbannführer" and superintendent of Salzburg. They were forced to build the "internment camp" Maxglan, which they would later be assigned to. As opposed to Lackenbach, the number of detainees remained relatively constant (about 300 to 400), the living conditions in the camp were only marginally different, though. Able-bodied men in supervised labour groups built highways and regulated rivers; corporal punishment was the rule. Camp Maxglan rose to a sad kind of fame because of the film "Tiefland" by the National Socialist director Leni Riefenstahl. About 40 to 60 Roma and Sinti from Camp Maxglan were forced to enlist as supernumaries. In 1943 Camp Maxglan shut down. A few detainees were brought to Lackenbach, the majority were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and gassed.

Weyer/St. Pantaleon

In January of 1941 the existing "labour and re-education camp" in Weyer/St. Pantaleon in Upper Austria was replaced by a "Zigeuneranhaltelager" ("gypsy detention camp"). The administration of the camp consisted of policemen and one man from the SA, who was in charge of the food supply. From the death files that have been preserved it can be reconstructed that the detainees were refused medical help. Many Roma and Sinti died from the inhuman living conditions in the camp, from illnesses and torture, which was used systematically. At the end of 1941 300 survivors were loaded in livestock wagons and taken to Lackenbach. Shortly before the end of the war almost all files were destroyed intentionally; none of the overseers of the "Zigeuneranhaltelager" ("gypsy detention camp") have been convicted.

Lety

In 1940 the authorities of the Czech protectorate had a "gypsy camp" erected near the town of Lety in Southern Bohemia. It was the first camp on the formerly Czech territory, more such as Hodonín (North of Brno) were to follow. For the purposes of the "preventative fight against crime" Lety was originally conceived as "re-education camp" for "anti-social" Roma and Sinti that were "unwilling to work". It was, however, a "labour camp" similar to a concentration camp, where Roma and Sinti were not interned because of their supposed unwillingness to work, but only because of their "race". The altogether 2,000 internees were forced to work for Prince Karel Schwarzenberg among others. The living conditions in the camp were as terrible as they have been described in the examples of the Austrian camps before. 600 to 700 persons died of malnutrition and pests; the majority of the survivors (about 1,000) were deported to Auschwitz after the camp shut down in 1943. The people murdered in Lety were buried in mass graves. In the 1980's a pig farm was built there. Protests from Roma representatives, denouncing this appalling lack of piety remained unheard. As late as 1995 was a memorial stone unveiled there in the presence of Václav Havel.

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Image Printable version
Image Sinti and Roma prisoners lining up for roll call in the internment camp Lackenbach (Burgenland [Austria])
Image Interned persons in the internment camp Maxglan (Salzburg [Austria])
Image "When i returned home i never saw my children again" - memories of a Romni from Burgenland (Austria) who survived the holocaust
Burgenland Roma lining up for roll call in the concentration camp Dachau (Germany), 1939
The internment camp Lety (Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia)