Sunday, January 27, 2019

Remember the Roma and the Sinti

The Sinti and Roma have lived in Europe for 600 years. Under the Nazis they were marginalized, forcibly sterilized and murdered. After World War II, German society denied for decades they had been persecuted. Many German Sinti fought for Germany not only in the First World War but also in the Wehrmacht from 1939 on. In 1941 the German high command ordered all "Gypsies and Gypsy half-breeds" to be dismissed from active military service for "racial-political reasons."

Eva Justin, a nurse and anthropologist, learned the Romani language to gain the trust of Sinti and Roma. As a specialist in so-called scientific racism, she traveled through Germany to measure people and create a complete registry of "Gypsies" and "Gypsy half-breeds" — the basis for the genocide. She and others researched family ties and assessed churches' baptismal records. In the 1930s, Sinti and Roma families were in many places forced into camps on the outskirts of town, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by guards with dogs. They were unable to leave. Their pets were killed. They had to work as slave laborers. Many were forcibly sterilized. In May 1940 Sinti and Roma families were sent through the streets of the town of Asperg in southwestern Germany to the train station and deported directly to Nazi-occupied Poland. "The dispatchment went smoothly," a police report noted. Most of those deported traveled to their deaths in work camps and Jewish ghettos. Only one out of every ten people deported to Auschwitz survived. When Russia's Red Army arrived at Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, children were among the prisoners. But for the Sinti and Roma, the liberation came too late. On the night of August 2-3, 1944, the officers in charge of Auschwitz ordered those remaining in the "Gypsy Camp" sent to the gas chambers.

After the concentration camps were liberated, allied and German authorities issued survivors certificates of racial persecution and imprisonment. Later, many people were told they had only been persecuted for criminal reasons, and their requests for compensation were denied. In the early 1980s, representatives of the Sinti and Roma communities staged a hunger strike at the entrance of the former Dachau concentration camp. They were protesting the criminalization of their minority and calling for the recognition of Nazi persecution. In 1982, then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt officially recognized the Sinti and Roma as victims of Nazi genocide. In 2012, a memorial for the Sinti and Roma victims of Nazi persecution was erected near the Bundestag in Berlin. The site is a reminder of the fight against discrimination for the world's Sinti and Roma, particularly on International Romani Day. To this day, members of the minority still experience discrimination in Germany and around Europe.

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