"The Final Solution"

Mass shootings

The systematic killing of Roma and Sinti began in the summer of 1941, triggered by the attack of the Nazi regime on the Soviet Union ("Operation Barbarossa"). Suspected of being accomplices and spies for "Jewish Bolshevism", thousands of Roma and Sinti fell prey to mass shootings by the "SS-Einsatztruppen" (special units fighting political enemies). These commandos murdered behind the front lines with the support of the armed forces. Contrary to standard measures taken in Germany and Austria, the German troops for security and order especially aimed at those Roma who lived nomadic life styles, as they were considered as "genetically pure" and endogamous, corresponding to the typical image of the "spy".

Along with about 33,000 Jewish victims, hundreds of Roma died in the mass murder at Babi Jar near Kiev that was committed by "Einsatzgruppe C" (task force C) with active support by the "6th army". Similarly, in Poland and other regions of eastern Europe and the Balkans occupied by the Nazis, more Roma and Sinti died in mass shootings than in concentration camps. There are no exact numbers, however, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people were killed outside the camp system. In Serbia, as of 1941 under German occupation, the so-called retributional executions were synonymous with the extermination of the Roma minority. As opposed to measures taken in the east, the commandos here selected their victims, while the armed forces carried out the shootings. In 1942, Harald Turner, head of the German administration, stated that "(…)Serbia is (the)only country that has solved (the)problem of the Jews and gypsies". It needs to be added that in many cases, "Einsatzgruppen" and "Wehrmacht" (task- and armed forces) received ready support by various local fascist organisations, such as the "Ustascha" militia in Croatia. In Hungary, which the Germans occupied as of 1944, it was the so-called "Pfeilkreuzler", who committed mass-shootings and organised deportations.

The Ghetto of Lódz

As already mentioned, Roma and Sinti were supposed to remain in "internment camps""until their final deportation" to the "Generalgouvernement of Poland" ( "Schnellbrief" by Himmler). In 1941, Himmler ordered the installation of a "gypsy camp" in the Jewish ghetto of Lódz. The SS, the "jüdische Ordnungsdienst" ("Jewish authority for law and order"), and a specially organised "gypsy police" had to shut the camp off entirely from the rest of the ghetto and the outside world. No information about the conditions and rules of the camp was to reach the Gypsy internees. Between November 5th and 9th, 1941, a total of 5 transports arrived at Lódz, each of them carrying 1.000 Austrian Roma and Sinti. Two transports came from Lackenbach, the others arrived from camps at Hartberg, Fürstenfeld, Rotenturm, and Oberwart. Members of the SS and the "Reichsarbeitsdienstes" controlled the camp and obliged a number of internees to carry out forced labour. The Roma and Sinti had to sleep on the ground. They did not receive any medicine nor were they given enough to eat. After a short amount of time, there was a break out of the typhus disease. The (approx.) 4,400 Roma and Sinti who were still alive in early January 1942 were deported to the extermination camp of Chelmno and gassed: none of the 5,000 Austrian Roma and Sinti originally interned at Lódz survived.

The "Decree of Auschwitz"

On the 16th of December 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered the deportation of all Roma and Sinti still living in the "German Reich" to Auschwitz. The "Auschwitz-Erlass" (decree of Auschwitz) openly confirmed plans for the total extermination of the Roma and Sinti, which, in fact had existed since 1938 and had already been realised to a certain degree. Himmler’s order of deportation was directed against all "gypsy half-breeds, Rom-gypsies, and gypsies of the Balkans". The degree to which a person was considered "half-breed" was no longer of any importance. An exception for socially integrated Roma and Sinti as well as for a small group of "pure-bred" Gypsies, who, according to Himmler’s plans, were supposed to serve as "objects of contemplation" at an open-air museum, existed only on paper.

In the so-called "gypsy-family-camp" of Auschwitz, a total of 22.700 Roma and Sinti, most of them coming from "transit camps" in Germany, Austria (2,760), as well as from Poland, Bohemia and Moravia were packed together with no space to move. Their shelters, 32 wooden barracks, were originally intended as stables for 52 horses each. Up to 600 Roma and Sinti were housed in each barrack. Sanitary conditions were accordingly horrendous. After only a few months, hundreds of Roma and Sinti had died from lack of food, diseases and forced labour. Roma and Sinti were ordered to carry out the hardest inner-camp earth-moving and construction work. Among the children, the hunger disease "Noma" (water cancer) spread rapidly. In addition, inner-camp power-structures divided inmates into various categories and greatly influenced daily life. Political inmates ranged at the top, while Jews and Roma and Sinti found themselves at the very bottom of the hierarchy. Stereotypes and prejudices were adopted by the camp community itself. For easy orientation, the SS introduced markers of personal identification: Roma and Sinti received brown or black triangles. Their registration numbers began with the initial "Z" and were tattooed into their lower arms.

Out of all the camps at Auschwitz, the "gypsy-camp" had the highest death-rate. A total of 19.300 individuals fell prey to the machinery of extinction: 5,600 of them were gassed; 13,700 starved to death or died from diseases, epidemics, and medical experiments. The latter functioned as proof of the so-called "fatal influence" of race and heredity. The range of imagination of the camp doctors, most of all Josef Mengele, knew no bounds. Roma and Sinti were injected with saline solutions and typhus-bacilli; the doctors experimented with pigmentations and carried out injections into the heart in order to examine the eyes of twins. In this respect, however, it would be wrong to paint these doctors as inhuman demons of an isolated cabinet of horrors, as such a point of view only increases simplistic and essentialist tendencies of dehumanisation and tabooing. Doctors, as well as members of the SS and the armed forces basically acted according to a general ideology of science, in the name of "the people".

Auschwitz is representative of a number of other concentration camps to which Roma and Sinti were deported before and, systematically, after the "Auschwitz-Erlass" (decree of Auschwitz) in order to be industrially exterminated. Another form of extermination was carried out by way of forced sterilisation: thousands of Roma, mostly women and young girls suffered these operations, in many cases without anaesthesia. A large number of them died right on the spot. Survivors still suffer from general consequential illnesses and traumatic memories to this day. Moreover, they have to deal with being part of a culture which relates fertility to happiness and prestige, while being childless is seen as bad luck and shame.

There are still only vague estimations concerning the total number of victims in Europe. Figures vary between 250,000 and half a million Roma and Sinti who died in concentration camps, labour-camps, and mass shootings. In Hungary, Romania, Russia, and Slovakia respectively, 30,000-35,000 Roma and Sinti were killed; in Serbia and Croatia it was about 90,000. About 20,000 western European Roma and Sinti, most of them from France and the Benelux-states, were deported to the various extermination camps in Poland. Out of the original 10.000-11.000 Austrian Roma, Sinti, and Lovara, at least 80% were killed. Only about 600-700 Burgenland-Roma have survived the Holocaust. There is no doubt today that the killing of Roma and Sinti has to be understood as racially-motivated genocide. Like the Jews, the Roma and Sinti were first outlawed, then imprisoned, and finally exterminated.

Throughout Europe, survivors keep being confronted with the same prejudices they had already suffered before 1933 resp.1938. This ongoing discrimination also affected the so-called "financial compensations". Only a minority of Roma and Sinti survivors in Germany and Austria managed to assert their entitlements. At the same time, Austrian and German culprits first remained free of criminal charges or were granted amnesty after a short time in prison. The few Roma who did not give in to pressure and went on to file charges in many cases were again discredited and accused of lying. It was not until the late 1970's that a sense of injustice started to develop among the majority population, a process which was initiated by Roma organisations that slowly began to establish themselves at around that time.


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Image Printable version
Image Łódź
Image Persecution of Roma betweeen 1939-1945
Image Elena Lacková on the place where a "Gypsy settlement" stood before the forced expulsion from the village (autumn 1943) (Czech Republic)
Image Jasenovac
Image Resistance of the Roma and Sinti in the concentration camps
Image Memories of Vida, 74 years old (1927)
Image "Schaj man tschinen" – "You can punch me" (song)
Image "La Paulakero phukajipe" – "Paulas story"
Execution of Sinti and Roma in the "General Gouvernement" Poland
Gas wagon (extermination camp Chełmno), 1945
Monument by Eduard Oláh at the place of the Gypsy reception camp in Hodonin u Kunštátu (Czech Republic)