“Like the Jews, Gypsies were singled out by the Nazis for racial persecution and annihilation. They were ‘nonpersons,’ of ‘foreign blood,’ ‘labor-shy,’ and as such were termed asocials. To a degree, they shared the fate of the Jews in their ghettos, in the extermination camps, before firing squads, as medical guinea pigs, and being injected with lethal substances.
Ironically, the German writer Johann Christof Wagenseil claimed in 1697 that Gypsies stemmed from German Jews. A more contemporary Nazi theorist believed that “the Gypsy cannot, by reason of his inner and outer makeup (Konstruktion), be a useful member of the human community.”<1>
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 aimed at the Jews were soon amended to include the Gypsies. In 1937, they were classified as asocials, second-class citizens, subject to concentration camp imprisonment. <2> As early as 1936, some had been sent to camps. After 1939, Gypsies from Germany and from the German-occupied territories were shipped by the thousands first to Jewish ghettos in Poland at Warsaw, Lublin, Kielce, Rabka, Zary, Siedlce and others. <3> It is not known how many were killed by the Einsatzgruppen charged with speedy extermination by shooting. For the sake of efficiency Gypsies were also shot naked, facing their pre-dug graves. According to the Nazi experts, shooting Jews was easier, they stood still, ‘while the Gypsies cry out, howl, and move constantly, even when they are already standing on the shooting ground. Some of them even jumped into the ditch before the volley and pretended to be dead.’ <4> The first to go were the German Gypsies; 30,000 were deported East in three waves in 1939, 1941 and 1943. Those married to Germans were exempted but were sterilized, as were their children after the age of twelve. <5>
Just how were the Gypsies of Europe ‘expedited’? Adolf Eichmann, chief strategist of these diabolical logistics, supplied the answer in a telegram from Vienna to the Gestapo:
Regarding transport of Gypsies be informed that on Friday, October 20, 1939, the first transport of Jews will depart Vienna. To this transport 34 cars of Gypsies are to be attached. Subsequent trains will depart from Vienna, Mahrisch-Ostrau and Katowice [Poland]. The simplest method is to attach some carloads of Gypsies to each transport. Because these transports must follow schedule, a smooth execution of this matter is expected. Concerning a start in the Altreich [Germany proper] be informed that this will be coming in 34 weeks. Eichmann. <6>
Open season was declared on the Gypsies, too. For a while Himmler wished to exempt two tribes and ‘only’ sterilize them, but by 1942 he signed the decree for all Gypsies to be shipped to Auschwitz. <7> There they were subjected to all that Auschwitz meant, including the medical experiments, before they were exterminated.
Gypsies perished in Dachau, Mauthausen, Ravensbruck and other camps. At Sachsenhausen they were subjected to special experiments that were to prove scientifically that their blood was different from that of the Germans. The doctors in charge of this ‘research’ were the same ones who had practiced previously on black prisoners of war. Yet, for ‘racial reasons’ they were found unsuitable for sea water experiments. <8> Gypsies were often accused of atrocities committed by others; they were blamed, for instance, for the looting of gold teeth from a hundred dead Jews abandoned on a Rumanian road. <9>
Gypsy women were forced to become guinea pigs in the hands of Nazi physicians. Among others they were sterilized as ‘unworthy of human reproduction’ (fortpflanzungsunwuerdig), only to be ultimately annihilated as not worthy of living. … At that, the Gypsies were the luckier ones; in Bulgaria, Greece, Denmark and Finland they were spared. <11>
For a while there was a Gypsy Family Camp in Auschwitz, but on August 6, 1944, it was liquidated. Some men and women were shipped to German factories as slave labor; the rest, about 3,000 women, children and old people, were gassed. <12>
No precise statistics exist about the extermination of European Gypsies. Some estimates place the number between 500,000 and 600,000, most of them gassed in Auschwitz. <13> Others indicated a more conservative 200,000 Gypsy victims of the Holocaust. <14>”
- Auschwitz – Oswiecim, Poland (travelpod.com)
- Kristallnacht, and the Lessons of History (themoderatevoice.com)
The Travail of the Gypsies
A recent U.S. State Department report on human rights around the world noted that Gypsies, often also called Romani or Roma, “suffer disproportionately from poverty, unemployment, interethnic violence, discrimination, illiteracy and disease.” In Hungary, Gypsies number between half and one million, and they are routinely subjected to harassment and intimidation by skinheads and other extremist elements; many have been attacked physically. Romania has about 2.5 million Gypsies, and there, too, anti-Gypsy violence is rampant. According to a recent poll in the Czech Republic, almost one-third of its population is opposed to coexistence with the Gypsy minority, who number between two and three hundred thousand and constitute an impoverished underclass. Assaults on Gypsies by Serbian neo-Nazi gangs are frequent; in October 1997 a pregnant Gypsy woman was beaten to death in Belgrade. The Gypsies of Kosovo have been accused of collaborating with the Serbs during the recent ethnic cleansing of the province, and those who have not fled to Serbia have been severely harassed. A 1994 survey done for the American Jewish Committee in Germany found that 68 percent of those questioned did not want Gypsies as neighbors and 40 percent judged the behavior of Gypsies to be “provocative.” In September 1994 two Gypsy refugees from the former Yugoslavia died in an arson attack in a small town in Westphalia, Germany. In February 1995 four Gypsies in Austria were killed by a pipe bomb. All this comes after a wave of Nazi persecution during the Second World War that claimed the lives of more than a hundred thousand Gypsies.
EUROPE: DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ROMA 25 October 2007
Nearly 80 per cent of the total European Roma population of about 10 million live in European Union (EU) member and aspiring member states. The Roma population is the poorest and one of the fastest growing in the region, living predominantly on the margins of society. Roma are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Europe.
The Roma community suffers massive discrimination in access to housing, employment and education. In some countries they are prevented from obtaining citizenship and personal documents required for social insurance, health care and other benefits. Roma are often victims of police ill-treatment and their complaints are seldom investigated. Frequently Romani children are unjustifiably placed in “special” schools where curtailed curricula limit their possibilities for fulfilling their potential. Romani children and women are among the communities most vulnerable to traffickers.
The Decade of Roma Inclusion, which started in 2005, aims to improve the social and economic status of Roma. The initiative of several countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia, and supported by the international community is implementing policy reforms and programmes designed to break the vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion.
Over the years Amnesty International has researched different aspects of discrimination against the Romani communities across Europe. The organization has recorded the following findings in 2006 and the first half of 2007:
Roma were often the victims of torture or other ill-treatment by law enforcement officers across the region. Roma were also often victims of racist attacks during which they were not adequately protected by the police. The authorities in many countries failed to fulfil their domestic and international obligations towards the Roma community.
- In February 2006, the European Court of Human Rights found that Bulgaria had violated Zahari Stefanov’s rights to life and to be free from torture and arbitrary detention. Zahari Stefanov, aged 23 and of Romani origin, had died in June 1993 in Kazanluk police station. An official enquiry at the time concluded that he had jumped of his own accord out of a third-floor room where he was being questioned, and that all his injuries were caused by the fall.
- In May 2007, in the case of Šecic v. Croatia, the European Court of Human Rights found Croatia in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, prohibiting torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as of Article 3 in conjunction with Article 14, the latter prohibiting discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in the European Convention on Human Rights. Šemso Šecic, a Romani man, had been attacked in 1999 by two men who beat him all over his body with wooden planks shouting racial abuse and, as a result, had sustained multiple rib fractures. Following the attack, the Croatian authorities failed to promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate this crime, whose perpetrators have remained unpunished.
- The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns in its February 2006 report about a number of allegations of police violence towards this community and cases of inaction by the police force related to crimes committed against Roma.
- On 24 July 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a two-year prison sentence for a former Brno police officer for having beaten up and maltreated a 14-year-old Romani boy after abducting him together with another colleague.
- On 30 November 2006, Giorgos Tylianakis, the police officer who had killed a 22-year-old Romani man, Marinos Christopoulos, in October 2001, was sentenced to 10 years and three months’ imprisonment for reckless homicide.
- In June 2007, the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that there had been a violation of the right to life in the case of Karagiannopoulos v. Greece — in January 1998, a Romani man, then aged 17, was left disabled after being shot in the head by a policeman after arrest.
Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW. web: http://www.amnesty.org