Saturday, December 16, 2017

Remembering the Roma Holocaust

 75 years ago, Heinrich Himmler instructed German police to bring "all gypsy mixed-bloods, Roma Gypsies and […] members of gypsy clans" to Auschwitz. German government only recognized the crimes as genocide in 1982, four decades after Himmler's decree. 

On Saturday, Germany marked 75 years since Himmler ordered that "all gypsy mixed-bloods, Roma Gypsies and non-German-blooded members of gypsy clans with Balkan origins" should be brought to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The move was to be completed "within a few weeks" and "in accordance with established legal guidelines," according to a police order referring to Himmler's decree of December 16, 1942

German officials honored the Roma and Sinti victims of the Nazi regime on Friday. Michael Müller, the chairman of Germany's Bundesrat, said the anniversary of the Auschwitz decree should serve as a reminder to "push more strongly against anti-democratic tendencies" in present-day Germany. Müller warned against ignoring and dismissing xenophobia. While referring to the rise of populist regimes also classified the Roma as a group that could be forcibly sterilized. In 1935, the government passed a series of discriminatory regulations on race, dubbed the Nuremberg Laws. The Roma were designated a "foreign and inferior race" under the new legislation, much the same terminology used for Jews and people of African origin. The authorities soon started moving Roma to concentration camps. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Nazi authorities decided to deport Roma to newly occupied territories in Poland. The first mass deportation to the east started in 1940 and continued in the next few years. At the same time, German forces in the Soviet Union and in the Balkans also systematically executed the local Roma.

Unlike Jews, the Roma prisoners were allowed to wear civilian clothes and to stay with their family members while imprisoned in Auschwitz. In all other ways, however, their fate was similar to that of other inmates — they were killed in gas chambers, or died from infectious diseases, starvation or exhaustion through forced labor. They were also subjected to medical experiments at the hand of Auschwitz's doctor, Josef Mengele. While estimates vary depending on the source, it is believed that Nazis killed between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti in Europe.

However, the issue of genocide against Roma received very little attention after the end of the war in 1945. Authorities in former West Germany claimed that, unlike Jews, Roma were not targeted based on their race. Instead, according to officials at the time, the Nazi regime persecuted the Roma because they were designated as a part of the so-called "asocial" segment of the population, which also included beggars, alcoholics and homeless people. This argument was also used to justify withholding reparations.

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