"Racial-biological evaluation" of the Gypsies

Both in Germany and Austria, the centralisation of the "gypsy control" by the police was initiated as early as the mid-1920s, and supported by the media in form of more and more inflammatory articles. In doing so the public could fall back on existing resentments and prejudices. It was the primary goal to list, identify and register the Roma and Sinti for the purposes of the "preventive fight against crime" ("Zigeunerkartothek-Burgenland" ["Gypsy Card-index of Burgenland"]). These registrations formed the (data-)base for later systematic persecution by the national socialists. In 1936 the Zentralstelle zur Bekämpfung des Zigeunerunwesens (central agency for the fight against the Gypsy plight) was established in Vienna. When the leader of the SS – Heinrich Himmler – was appointed Chief of the German Police of the Reich’s Department of the Interior in Germany, the institutional prerequisites for concerted action all over the Reich were initiated.

First the Roma and Sinti were considered a "problem" for the police state and for law and order. Due to the increasing influence of science, however, the racial component became more and more important for the ideological categorisation of the Roma and Sinti. The "Nuremberg racial laws" of 1935 set the line in this matter by classifying the Roma and Sinti as "racially inferior", withdrawing their citizenship and, thereby, their rights as citizens (among others the right to vote). It then became the task of science to prove the validity of this dogma, legitimising the NS-regime pseudo-scientifically.

After Robert Ritter had started to run the Rassenhygienischen und erbbiologischen Forschungsstelle des Reichsgesundheitshauptamtes (Eugenic Research Institute of the Reich’s main health office), he became the central figure in "gypsy research" in the NS state. It was his goal to prove that criminal and anti-social behaviour were inheritable. While the Jewish population was accused of "undermining the unity of the state" intellectually, Roma and Sinti were, due to their race, declared "primitives deprived of culture and history" that were "criminally penetrating the body of an otherwise healthy population". According to the eugenicists, a mixing of the races would result in the development of a "criminal sub-proletariate" that would endanger the moral order. As early as in 1935, it was demanded that Roma and Sinti should be interned in labour camps and that forced sterilisations should be carried out. Ritter, therefore, gave his special attention to the "gypsy half-breeds", whereby the classification was broader than for the Jewish population. A person was already classified a "gypsy half-breed", if one of the eight great-grandparents was a gypsy. The Burgenland-Roma fell under this category and were regarded as particularly "inferior" by Ritter, who referred to the dissertation of his Austrian colleague Karl Moravek in this respect. They were one of the first groups to be exterminated systematically.

From the late 1930's on, Tobias Portschy became the central figure in the "persecution of the gypsies" by the Nazis in Burgenland. From 1935 to March of 1938 ("Anschluss") he was the illegal "Gauleiter" of Burgenland; after Burgenland was dissolved, he was appointed "assistant Gauleiter" of Styria. In his memorandum, which was published in 1938, he called for measures that would gradually be realised in the following years. It was his personal wish to "solve the gypsy problem" as quickly as possible. His first official acts were the exclusion of the Roma from schools, the withdrawal of their right to vote and their obligation to do forced labour. In the same way as Robert Ritter, Portschy demanded that Roma and Sinti should not only be incorporated into the persecution of "anti-social characters", but that they should also be regarded as part of the "racial problem" - just like the Jewish population. He kept denouncing the "lack of morals and the looseness of the gypsies" and he never grew weary of stressing that they should "be excluded from reproduction". In the same year Heinrich Himmler announced in a circular notice that he would undertake the "regulation of the gypsy question out of the essence of their race".

The theoretical arguments of Nazi scientists and politicians remained contradictory until 1942/43. On the one hand, due to the Indian origins of the Roma and Sinti, "classification as Aryans" seemed reasonable; on the other hand, it should be proven that they were "alien" in order to legitimise their persecution, which eventually took a much more uncoordinated course than in the case of the jews. For some Roma and Sinti, for example, it was possible to serve in the Wehrmacht until 1943, even though the same army was involved in the genocide of Roma and Sinti in the East, and thousands were already being exterminated in the concentration camps at the same time. Partly decorated with medals and badges of honour, these members of the Wehrmacht were directly deported to Auschwitz from the front-line.


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Image Printable version
Image Excerpt of the article "Burgenländische Gendarmerie im Kampf gegen die Zigeunerplage" ("Burgenland police in the battle against the gypsy plague")
Image "Die Zigeunerfrage" by Tobias Portschy
Image Excerpt of the "Zigeuner-Grunderlass" ("Gypsy-general edict") by Heinrich Himmler (Germany)
Image Eva Justin's racial-biological examinations on children
Image "Racial-biological classification"
Gypsy woman is subjected to a blood test (Germany)