The Roma, the Holocaust, and Consistent Commentary

May 30, 2013 by

Most people who know me know I have strong feelings about erasure of my people from academic and historical sources on the Holocaust. Even in contemporary media, we are relegated to “… and Gypsies”.

It is much more difficult to find sources (of any kind) about the Romani and Sinte victims of the Holocaust than it is about the Jewish ones. This is, I believe, largely due to the fact that Roma at that time were still largely an analphabetic (I prefer that to “illiterate”, which seems to imply a backwardness and is often utilized in that manner) and orally-based culture.

The Jews wrote about what happened – there were many prominent Jews all over the world who cried out for their brothers and sisters…

not so for the Roma. Our accounts have become part of our cultural language and music, but have remained largely personal and familial legacies.

However, the Roma were pursued relentlessly. There are reports that of the more than 6,000 Roma in the Czech Republic in 1942, less than 900 survived. It is also believed that of the (approximately 2,000) Roma in Belgium, there was only ONE sole survivor.

Not only are the Romani and Sinte victims of the Holocaust not discussed and written about in the same way as the Jewish ones, there is a lot of discrepancy between accounts.

Some scholars say no more than 200,000 Roma and Sinte died. Some say upwards of 2 million (often with no distinction between ‘Roma” and “Sinte” even though we are two very different populations). Accounts vary between non-Roma historians and those with Romani heritage. The number of Jewish victims is consistently reported to be 6 million.

Personally, I am of the “more than 2 million Roma and Sinte” belief and I can easily justify that belief. However, numbers don’t matter. 2 million or 6 million, our populations were decimated, our families torn apart, and our cultural soul shattered into a million pieces.

We still feel that pain, generations later, and pain is pain.

Upwards of 90% of all Roma in some areas were slaughtered by the Nazis. Some families were lost entirely.

Roma were treated differently than Jews, Homosexuals, and other ethnic minorities. Often they were “housed” in open fields, without shelter from the elements. They received no food. But, most Roma did not even make it to the camps – they were rounded up and shot where they stood; in the woods, by the river, wherever they happened to be. The Nazi guards did not bother to take names or whatever identification they could find – they just slaughtered them like animals.

Most were buried in hurriedly made shallow graves – many of which are still coming to light. For example, in Latvia (where over 4,000 Roma lived during the war), many were rounded up and taken away for “follow up” (a Nazi euphemism for murder). According to Lewy “In April, 1942, one hundred Gypsies, mostly women and small children, were assembled at the jail in Valmiera, then taken out and shot.” (The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, page 124).

There is no list in existence of their names.

At the beginning of the war, 1,000 Latvian Roma were rounded up and shot on the beach (a favourite Nazi spot for execution), one of the first mass killings of Roma.

There is no list in existence of their names.

Many people don’t realize that Roma were often “expelled” by the Germans. For example, more than 30,000 Roma were ordered to leave Germany in 1940 for the occupied territory of Poland. However, instead many were simply killed by the SS Einsatzgruppen (special forces). The families who did make it to the camps (such as Treblinka) were immediately gassed. However, Polish Roma were not sent to the camps and gassed. They were shot.

There is no list in existence of their names.

“Gypsy” matters came under the authority of Himmler and in 1942 he ordered ALL “Gypsies” to be sent to Auschwitz.

We know what happened there

and on August 6, 1944 the entire “Gypsy family camp” was liquidated. More than 3,000 women, children, and old people were killed that day.

There is no list in existence of their names.

What I am trying to say is, I suppose, that our Porrajmos is not the same as the Jewish Shoah, but we all suffered in the Holocaust. Our lives are no less valuable and our survival no less remarkable. We deserve to be able to discuss it and to be included in commentary without having our words policed by others.

Our records are sparse, our voices are not as loud, but we are still here and we have every right to talk about this in all arenas (including formal and informal). Much of the scholarship about us is by non-Roma and as such is woefully misrepresentative. The insistence on calling us “Gypsy” even though within academic circles it is relatively easy to find our correct endonym (that of “Roma” or “Sinte”) is very damaging and leads to perpetuation of stereotypes.

I believe it’s vitally important to include every persecuted group in every conversation about the Holocaust. The term Porrajmos is one that is not widely known. It is one that my own family would not know – it is largely an academic term. One that is used to separate the Roma Holocaust from the Jewish Holocaust. I believe this can be very useful – the Shoah and the Porrajmos have very different meanings even though they are rooted in the same event and as such contain great cultural importance,

However, there is a pressing need for consistency. The Roma need to be included in discussion and remembrance of the Holocaust. There needs to be adequate public recognition of our loss and our mourning.

I want to be able to speak about this in public without being threatened or shamed.

2 Comments

  1. Dear Qristyna, here in London we’re hold the Porajmos Commemoration on 2 August
    in Hyde Park together with a protest against the Nazi revival and violence against Roma.

    Friends in the US, including Kristen Fox (krlyfox@yahoo.com) are planning an event in
    Washington DC. You may want to contact her.

    You can contact the 8 April Movement and myself at dale.farm@btinternet.com

    T’oves bahtali
    Grattan Puxon

  2. Amber

    I feel the same. Even as a child I found it odd (at best) and, well, evil (at worst) that the Roma & Sinte were basically erased from that part of history. As an adult I know that this erasure is part of larger, more insideous prejudice that, at least in the states, works to vanish recognition of the Roma as an ethnic group entirely. Worse, it’s become habit – which is far, far more difficult to break than outright hatred, though outright hatred still remains.

    It’s getting easier, though, to find information on the Porajmos and Roma cultures/peoples in general. At least on my end, which is that of a reference/research librarian with a mostly academic interest. That, I think, is thanks to activists like you and others who blog and write and protest and insist that we get it right and point out when we get it wrong. Oh, there’s likely a generations long road before ethnic minorities, especially those so universally shunned and mythologized like the Roma, begin to have equal footing with white people, but I firmly believe that it will happen.

    Of course, on the less optimistic side of things, I could just be getting more adept at researching these subjects because I’ve been doing it in my free time for a few years now . . .

    Regardless, I very much enjoy your blog.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: