Sinti and Roma, formerly called ‘gypsies’, have their historical-geographical origin on the Indian continent and came to Europe between the 8th and 12th century, where they were first welcomed in a friendly way. People integrated quickly and many converted to Christianity. From the 16th century on, however, people began to discriminate, persecute, expropriate and expel them. To this day the Sinti and Roma minority is met with distrust and prejudices.
The Nazis took advantage of the basic hatred against this group and persecuted the Sinti and Roma for racist reasons. In their world, this minority belonged to the category of Untermenschen (subhuman being).
In July 1933, the Nazis enacted the Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses (Law for the prevention against offspring with hereditary disease), which became the basis for forced sterilization of thousands of Sinti and Roma. With the enactment of the Nürnberger Rassengesetze (Nuremberg Laws) Sinti and Roma were, just like Jews, disenfranchised and degraded to second-class citizens. They were deprived of certain rights, banned from working and a sexual/romantic relationship with German-blooded people was prohibited. They were no longer allowed to use certain means of transportation and shops and were no longer allowed access to cultural and public facilities. From 1941, the children were no longer allowed to go to school and from 1942 all Sinti and Roma were released from the Wehrmacht.
‘In Europe, apart from the Jews, only the gypsies regularly belong to the alien races […].’ – former Reich Home Secretary Frick
From summer 1936, hundreds of Sinti and Roma were interned in various concentration camps and forced to work. The Nazis set up labour camps in many cities, including Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt/ Main, Magdeburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Kassel, Wiesbaden and Hamburg. Between June 1938 and June 1939, about 2,000 Sinti and Roma from the age of 12 were deported to the concentration camps in Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück and Dachau. The Erlass gegen Berufsverbrecher (Decree against Professional Criminals) (1933) in conjunction with the Asozialen-Erlass (Decree against anti-social people) (1937) provided the police with a carte blanche to imprison the ‘gypsies’ as professional criminals and anti-socials in the concentration camps for an indefinite period.
In November 1937, the Nazis established the Rassenhygienische und Bevölkerungsbiologische Forschungsstelle (Research Centre for Race Hygiene and Population Biology) at the Reich Health Office under the direction of Dr Robert Ritter. This research centre played an important role in the registration of Sinti and Roma in the German Reich. By 1944, Dr Ritter and his colleagues had written about 24,000 racial reports, which served as the basis for forced sterilization and murder in Auschwitz and other extermination camps. The necessary documents and information for the preparation of these reports were provided by the police, authorities and the Church.
In October 1938, Heinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of the Reichszentrale zur Bekämpfung des Zigeunerwesens (Reich Headquarters for the abatement of gypsies) at the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (Reich Criminal Police Office), which coordinated the registration and persecution of the ‘gypsies’. In December of the same year Himmler ordered the ‘final solution of the gypsy problem’ and thus the registration of all Sinti and Roma in the German Reich. As a result, Sinti and Roma were no longer allowed to leave their place of residence or abode and had to report to the local police.
From May 1940 the first deportations of the Sinti and Roma to the ghettos in Poland took place. From there they were taken with the Jews to the extermination camps Treblinka, Sobibor and Chelmno and were killed with gas. With the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the SS Einsatzgruppen systematically shot thousands of Sinti and Roma in Eastern Europe.
‘There was no difference between the gypsies and the Jews. The same order applied to both of them at the time.’ – Otto Ohlendorf, former chief of the SS-Einsatzgruppe
On December 16, 1943, Heinrich Himmler finally issued the Auschwitzerlass (Auschwitz Decree). On its basis thousands of Sinti and Roma from the German Reich and Eastern Europe were deported to the so-called ‘Gypsy Camp’ in Auschwitz. This camp section consisted of 240 barracks for up to 800 people each and was separated from the rest of the camp by an electric barbed wire fence. A total of 20,000 to 23,000 ‘gypsies’ were interned in this camp. One third of them died of hunger, disease, abuse or were victims of medical experiments. On the night of August 2nd to 3th, 1944, the SS dissolved the entire ‘Gypsy Camp’ and sent the remaining 2,897 women, men, and children into the gas chambers.
The Sinti and Roma have their own name for this crime: Porajmos – the devouring. An estimated half a million Sinti and Roma died during the Holocaust, but the genocide against them was denied for decades. After the Holocaust, it was said that the Sinti and Roma were not imprisoned for racist reasons, but for their anti-social and criminal lifestyles. It was not until 17th March 1982 that the then Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, under massive public pressure, recognised the genocide of the Sinti and Roma.
‘The Sinti and Roma were seriously injured by the Nazi dictatorship. They were persecuted for racial reasons. These crimes constitute genocide.’ – Helmut Schmidt, former Federal Chancellor of Germany
You can find more on this topic and a detailed chronology of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma on the website of the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma.
# Deutsches Historisches Museum (2015) „Der Völkermord an den Sinti und Roma“ von Scriba, A. Abrufbar unter: https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/der-zweite-weltkrieg/voelkermord/voelkermord-an-sinti-und-roma.html (Stand: 23.08.2016)
# Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum Deutscher Sinti und Roma „Vernichtung“. Abrufbar unter: http://www.sintiundroma.de/sinti-roma/ns-voelkermord/vernichtung.html (Stand: 23.08.2016)
# www.planet-schule.de „Sinti und Roma in Deutschland“. Abrufbar unter: https://www.planet-schule.de/wissenspool/spuren-der-ns-zeit/inhalt/hintergrund/sinti-und-roma.html (Stand: 23.08.2016)
# Zukunft braucht Erinnerung (2014) „Der Holocaust an Sinti und Roma“ von Loubichi, S. Abrufbar unter: http://www.zukunft-braucht-erinnerung.de/der-holocaust-an-sinti-und-roma/ (Stand: 23.08.2016)