From my book, Writing the Roma. Fernwood. 2016.


Chapter 4. The Roma in World War II: The Final Solution

On March 24, 1938, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo and mastermind of the Holocaust, signed the official party statement referring to the “The Final Solution to the Gypsy Question” (endgültige Losung der Zigeunerfrage). On December 8, 1938, he published his “Decree for Basic Regulations to Resolve the Gypsy Question as Required by the Nature of Race” signaling the preparations for the elimination of the Roma (Hancock 2010a: 234). Himmler ordered the deportation of Roma from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Later, they were also deported from Poland, Russia, and Lithuania. One year after his 1938 decree, Himmler ordered twenty-one Gypsy Centres to be set up in all major cities of the country, where lists of resident Roma were prepared for their mass deportation. Roma in Denmark, Norway, Greece and Bulgaria were able to escape these mass deportations (Zimmerman 2007: 47). As with the Jews, concentration camps were the preferred method for the genocide of the Roma. There, thousands Roma died of brutal forced labour and hunger, disease and torture, from medical experiments, and in the gas chambers (Fings 1997: 71). Few survived.

Concentration camps played a central role under National Socialist rule… Dachau was the first to open in 1933 and at that time contained “only political prisoners, criminals, beggars and Gypsies” (Kenrick and Puxon 2009: 124). Sterilization facilities for the Roma were housed at Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Sachsenhausen, Marzahn, and Vennhausen. Other camps such as Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Zwodau, Gusen, Rechlin, and many more were dedicated to forced labour, internment, and systematic murder. Camps at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor had the single purpose of mass killings in gas chambers (Huttenbach 1991: 381). At Chelmno, some 5,000 Roma were killed by carbon monoxide gas poisoning beginning in 1941. Ravensbruck was a women’s camp, but only the Romani inmates were all subjected to sterilization (Huttenbach 1991: 388). Special Roma camps were opened at Lackenbach in Austria (see Thurner 1999), and Léty in Bohemia and Hodonin in Moravia (see Necas 1999), both in the Czechoslovak Protectorate region. Those Roma who were not killed in the camps fell victim to the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units operated by the SS special action force), who rounded up groups of Jews, Roma, psychiatric patients, and other “undesirable” people and shot or gassed them. Arrests, confinement, and persecution of the Roma continued unabated from 1941 in the invaded lands of Belgium, Holland, Poland, the Soviet Union, Italy, and France. The likelihood of survival varied with the specific location, the Reich’s need for captive labour, the whims of the captors, luck, and whatever survival skills the Roma were able to utilize. As the Reich expanded, Auschwitz-Birkenau became fully operational in 1942 and was utilized to gas large numbers of Roma after they were held in their own section of the camp. The Roma at Auschwitz-Birkenau arrived from all over Europe. (p. 67–69)


In addition to the total loss of Romani life in Croatia (except for Bosnia, where Muslim clerics successfully lobbied for the lives of Muslim Roma [Biondich 2002]), the Reich looked approvingly upon Serbia, where “the Jewish and Gypsy questions have been solved.” Latvia, Belorussia and the Crimea, and Central Poland lost their entire Romani communities, as did Belgium, Holland, Estonia, and Lithuania. Ninety percent of Austrian and Czech Romani perished. A partial list of the extent of the genocide would also include the enormous losses of Roma in Yugoslavia, Romania, the U.S.S.R., and Hungary. Of the 245 Roma rounded up in the Netherlands, no more than thirty returned from Auschwitz. Of 8,000 Roma in Bohemia and Moravia, only about 600 survived. Huttenbach (1991: 389) reports that there were no known Romani escapees or survivors from the death centres of Belzec, Chelmno, Majdaneck, Sobibor, or Treblinka. Estimates of the total numbers of Roma killed between 1933 and 1945 range from 500,000 to 1.5 million. The variance is due not only to the lack of records for the geographically dispersed camps in which the Roma were detained but also to the way in which so many were killed in the fields, villages, and remote areas where they lived. The Roma were a people uncounted, often classified among the “remainder to be liquidated” (Konig 1989, cited in Hancock 2010a: 243; Hancock n.d.-a) in the undignified absence of a name. (p. 71)


The uncounted notwithstanding, it is known that the Nazis killed between one-fourth and one-third of all Roma living in Europe, and as many as 70 percent in those areas where Nazi control had been established longest (Strom and Parsons 1978, cited in Hancock 1987: 64). In a letter written in 1984 to Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal writes: “the Gypsies had been murdered [in a proportion] similar to the Jews; about 80 percent of them in the area of the countries which were occupied by the Nazis” (cited in Huttenbach 1991: 389; cited in Hancock 1987: 64). The six million Jewish deaths represent a loss of two-thirds of their European population at the time (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2014). Wiesenthal later declared that “the Nazis would have gassed six million if the Gypsies had been as numerous [as the Jews]” (1989, cited in Alt and Folts 1996: 69). (p. 72–73)


A replacement of Romani victimhood with Romani resistance has been proclaimed

in recent actions by a group of political actors and partner organizations in Europe. Linked to sites such as and, activities are organized to commemorate May 16, the day in 1944 when the Romani prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau, numbering around six thousand at the time (Chopinaud 2015), armed themselves and successfully quelled an attempt by the Nazis to murder them. This act and others have inspired authorship (e.g., Nirenberg 2016; Brooks 2015), NGO activity (e.g., Mirga-Kruszelnicka, Acuna, and Trojański, eds. 2015) and political action. Its scope extends to the celebration of individual Romani resisters, escapees, partisanships, heroes, and those who helped Roma to survive the Holocaust. (p. 73)



Chapter 5. The Roma During the Communist Era and the Rise of Nationalism

The Roma join other groups situated precariously at the border of the ethnic nation-state who are accused of intrusion, indolence, ill will, criminality or any such thing “feeding parasitically on the social body” (Bauman 2004: 41)…Pariah groups are seen as a threat to national security and to personal safety, to economic growth and to compliance with international norms for democracy.

The Roma’s “outsider” status triggers affective responses of fear, anger, and hatred among those who mobilize to defend imagined sociopolitical boundaries. The body of the Other is engendered as fundamentally different, an imminent threat to the certitudes of nationalism. Exploiting these fears, national leaders seize these groups as safe objects with which to demonstrate their political power. In some states, minorities may be the only social problem over which leaders galvanize popular support. Incapable of protecting its citizens from the ravages of global economic forces, the state turns instead to the expulsion or suppression of its national ethnic minorities. States require continuous renewal of the vulnerabilities of groups like the Roma against which they can demonstrate their powers.

During the communist era, treatment of the Roma was variable. Minority status and assimilation policies fluctuated from country to country and from year to year. Cultural institutions were established, some of which are extant. But the control of Roma populations extended to the suppression of heritage and language. The aftermath was a rampant loss in the adaptability so crucial for Romani communities. With the rise of ethnic nationalism across Central and Eastern Europe, extremism flourished. Expressed not only by fringe groups but also by mainstream leaders and institutions, the populism provoked by ethnic nationalism is driven by designating a group to whom the benefits of membership are withheld. The Roma occupy this space. Abuse of every kind becomes acceptable, even ubiquitous. (p. 85)


Chapter 9. Refusing Roma Refugee Claimants

When Romani refugee claimants from Hungary, Czech Republic, and elsewhere are repatriated to Europe, they return to persecution, patterns of discrimination that amount to persecution, and the absence or inadequacy of state protection. (p. 152)…These perilous conditions create those of a “huge open prison” for Roma in these countries (Fekete 2014a: 68). The ongoing violence intensifies social inequalities. Research on national employment, housing, education, and healthcare indicate significant lags behind the majority. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2013: 33–34) sums up the health research on the Roma in these countries (p. 153)…

…Consolidating research from the European Union Agency for Human Rights, the United Nations Development Program, the European Commission, and the World Bank for twelve countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2013: 27) confirms the precarious or substandard living conditions for Roma. Reports by numerous non-governmental organizations like European Network Against Racism (Bodrogi and Kadar 2012–13), Council of Europe (2012), Norwegian Helsinki Committee (2013), the European Roma and Travellers Forum (2015), and Human Rights Watch (2013) describe enduring patterns of discrimination in housing, education, employment, and in public places. When Roma are deprived of adequate housing, access to national standards in education, healthcare, and employment due to systemic and normative discrimination, conditions arise that qualify as persecution…

…Conditions for Roma throughout Europe correspond to the UNHCR’s definition of persecution. The involuntary movement of refugees that such conditions produce — whether in Czech Republic, Hungary, or elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe — may be described as “coercive migration” (Aleinikoff 1994). Seeking refuge from harm, the basis of Romani refugee claims rests on the destruction of community. Sufficient attention to their claims requires a broader perspective on asylum than receiving nations often adopt. Despite the barriers that Romani refugee claimants face in Canada, thousands do settle here as they have been doing for over one hundred years. The desire to fight injustice, develop resources, and build community has arrived. (p. 153–154)



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