The Roma and Sinti have their own term for their genocide at the hands of the Nazis. They call it the Baro Porrajmos which means the “Great Devouring.” The total number of Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) who were murdered in the Nazi death camps is still unknown. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 220,000 were killed, but other sources put the total deaths at 500,000 or more than half the total number of Gypsies in all the countries of Europe.
After World War II ended, Germany gave compensation to the Jewish survivors, but compensation claims by the Gypsies were denied by the Germans in the 1950s on the grounds that the Gypsies had been persecuted under the Nazi regime because they were “asocial” or had broken the laws of the country, not because of racism. After a few years of protest by the Gypsies, compensation was finally given to the survivors.
In October 1999, I visited the Buchenwald Memorial Site near Weimar, Gemrany. I purchased the camp guidebook from the Buchenwald Museum.
The following quote is from the camp guidebook:
The racist persecution of the Sinti in Germany had already started under the cover of the Aktion Abreitsscheu Reich (i.e. during an action against “work-shy” people in Germany) carried out in 1938. Approximately 700 people called Burgenland Gypsies were deported to Buchenwald by way of the Dachau camp about one year later, i.e. in September 1939. They were put in Blocks 14 and 15. Many of them were driven to death in the quarry and in the excavation and stone-carrier parties. Hundreds of people belonging to the Romany Gypsies were provisionally put in Block 47 as the SS deported the survivors of the mass extermination of this people from the dissolved Auschwitz Gypsy Camp to the camps in Germany. Two hundred young Sinti and Romany Gypsies who were unfit for work were still sent back from Buchenwald into the gas chambers of Auschwitz in September 1944. Only a few survived among those who had to crush stones and dig tunnels in external working parties.
During the “work-shy action” in 1938, there were 4,500 vagrants and urban campers, who had no permanent address, rounded up and sent to concentration camps where they were forced to work against their will. There are no memorials at any of the former concentration camps for the “work-shy.” The persecution of the work-shy has been forgotten, except for the Gypsies who were sent to camps under this category.
Before visiting Buchenwald, I had previously been to Auschwitz-Birkenau where I had learned about the gassing of the Gypsies. According to a guidebook sold by the Auschwitz Museum, there were 20,943 Roma (Gypsies) who were gassed in the Krema V gas chamber; their bodies were burned in the pits adjacent to Krema V.
The following quote about the gassing of the Gypsies is from the web site of the USHMM:
They (the Gypsies) were killed by gassing or died from starvation, exhaustion from hard labor, and disease (including typhus, smallpox, and the rare, leprosy-like condition called Noma.) Others, including many children, died as the result of cruel medical experiments performed by Dr. Josef Mengele and other SS physicians. The Gypsy camp was liquidated on the night of August 2-3, 1944, when 2,897 Sinti and Roma men, women, and children were killed in the gas chamber. Some 1,400 surviving men and women were transferred to Buchenwald and Ravensbrück concentration camps for forced labor.
The photo above shows a Memorial to the Romany and Sinti victims of the Nazis, which was dedicated in April 1947 on the spot where the Block 47 barracks once stood. This was the first memorial ever put up by the Germans in recognition of the suffering of the Romany and Sinti under the Nazi regime.
Each of the upright stones in the memorial shown in the photo above has the name of another Nazi concentration camp where the Roma were sent. In the background in the photo above is the gate house on the left and the camp canteen on the right. In the foreground of the photo is the inscription which begins “In memory of Sinti and Romany..”
Danuta Czech wrote in her book entitled Kalendarium that 1,408 Gypsies who were able to work were transferred from the Birkenau camp to the main Auschwitz camp and housed in Blocks 10 and 11 on May 23, 1944. They were later sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp to work.
When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1998, I learned that a “Gypsy family camp” had been set up in wooden barracks in Section BIIe in the Birkenau camp in February 1943. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Gypsy camp was in existence for only seventeen months and most of the Gypsies perished.
The following quote is from the web site of the USHMM:
In a decree dated December 16, 1942, Himmler ordered the deportation of Gypsies and part-Gypsies to Auschwitz-Birkenau. At least 23,000 Gypsies were brought there, the first group arriving from Germany in February 1943. Most of the Gypsies at Auschwitz-Birkenau came from Germany or territories annexed to the Reich including Bohemia and Moravia. Police also deported small numbers of Gypsies from Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway.
[The two states of Bohemia and Moravia, which are now in the Czech Republic, were part of a German Protectorate from 1938 to 1945; they were not annexed into the Greater German Reich.]
The “Gypsy Camp” was created in 1942 when all Roma and Sinti, with the exception of those belonging to two tribes considered to be “pure Gypsies” of the original Indo-Germanic people, were rounded up and transported to a “family camp” in Birkenau, the Auschwitz II camp. The pure Gypsies were settled in the district of Ödenburg on Lake Neusiedler.
The term “family camp” means that Gypsy families were allowed to live together. The children were not separated from their parents and the women were not separated from the men.
According to Lucie Adelsberger in her book, Auschwitz: A Factual Report, there was a total of 20,943 Gypsies registered in Auschwitz in 1943 and 7,000 had died by September 1943.
In his book entitled Night, Elie Wiesel wrote this about the Gypsies:
I remember what happened in the “night of the gypsies”… That night will remain with me as long as I live. Throughout the kingdom of the night a whisper of fire ran through from man to man, from child to child. We heard just one word—they are burning the Gypsies.
Elie Wiesel and his father were working in the Auschwitz III camp, known as Monowitz, which was several miles from the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau. Apparently, the burning of the Gypsies was a big event and all the prisoners heard about it, even those who were working miles from the scene of the tragedy. Note that Elie did not mention that the Gypsies were gassed before they were burned. In keeping with his theme of “night,” the burning of the Gypsies happened at night, according to Elie.
According to information in the Auschwitz Museum guidebook, which I purchased in 1998, three thousand men, women, and children perished in the gas chamber during the night of August 2-3, 1944, as the Germans liquidated the so-called Gypsy family camp (Zigeunerfamilienlager) in Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
To me, it seems strange that the bodies were burned outside at night, which would have lit up the night sky and allowed numerous witnesses to tell the story. Why wasn’t this war crime kept secret?
The selection of the Gypsies for the gas chamber took two years, according to the confession of the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess. Regarding the liquidation of the Gypsy Family Camp on August 2, 1944, Hoess wrote the following:
By August 1944 there were only about four thousand Gypsies left and these had to go into the gas chambers. Until that time they did not know what fate was in store for them. Only as they were marched barrack after barrack to Crematory I did they figure out what was going on.
When Hoess wrote that the Gypsies were marched to Crematory 1, he was undoubtedly referring to Krema II, which was a short distance from the Gypsy camp. Crematory 1, or Krema I in German, was in the main Auschwitz camp, three kilometers from Birkenau. By August 1944, Krema I was no longer in operation as a gas chamber.
Both the USHMM and the Auschwitz Museum say that the number of Gypsies gassed on August 2, 1942 was 2,897, not “four thousand” as Hoess stated. Hoess made numerous mistakes in his “confessions.” Did Hoess suffer brain damage when he was beaten by the British soldiers who captured him? Why couldn’t he keep the facts straight?
Dr. Miklos Nyiszli was a famous inmate of Birkenau, who wrote a book that many people believe is a fake because he also made many mistakes.
The following quote was written by Dr. Nyiszli:
Annihilation time had come for the 4,500 inhabitants of the Gypsy Camp. The measures taken were the same as those taken for the liquidation of the Czech Camp. All the barracks were quarantined. SS guards, leading their police dogs, invaded the Gypsy quarters and chased the inhabitants outside, where they were made to line up. Rations of bread and salami were distributed. The gypsies were made to believe that they were being shipped to another camp, and they swallowed the story. A very easy and efficacious way of calming their fears. No one thought of the crematoriums, for then why would rations of food have been distributed?
This strategy on the part of the SS was dictated neither by pity nor a regard for those condemned to death, but merely by their desire to expedite a large group of people, without any unnecessary incidents or delays, to the gas chambers, guarded by a relatively small patrol. The strategy worked to perfection. Everything went off as planned. Throughout the night the chimneys of number one and two crematoriums sent flames roaring skyward, so that the entire camp was lighted with a sinister glow.
Note that Dr. Nyiszli, who worked in the “crematoriums” performing autopsies for Dr. Josef Mengele, referred to “number one and two crematoriums” but he obviously meant Krema II and Krema III at Birkenau, not Krema I, which was at the main camp.
If Dr. Nyiszli’s account is correct, the method of calming the fears of the Gypsies amounted to a tremendous waste of bread and salami. Or was the “salami” actually what Americans call Thuringer, a type of smoked, semi-dry German sausage similar to our summer sausage? I doubt that the Nazis imported salami for the Auschwitz prisoners, although maybe they did. In any case, all that bread and salami had to be thrown out after it was contaminated with Zyklon-B poison gas.
The photo above shows a group of Gypsies at the Belzec death camp in Poland. Belzec was one of the three Operation Reinhard camps; it was the first camp to begin the gassing of Jews and Gypsies in March 1942.