Deportation od Roma and Sinti from Remscheid to Auschwitz in 1943 (Remscheid Historical Centre)

To describe the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies during World War II, the Roma use the term Samudaripen, which means “mass killing”. Although this term is best known among the Roma themselves, the terms porrajmos (“destruction”, “devouring”), Kali Traš (“black fear”), Berša Bibahtala (“unhappy years”), and borrowings of the term Holocaust are used as well.

Although prejudices against the Roma were deeply rooted in the history of some European countries, with the development of eugenics and social Darwinism in Germany in the 19th century, those prejudices were given a pseudo-scientific basis. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 also established a quasi-legal ground. The Laws equated the position of Roma in Nazi Germany with the position of Jews, declaring them “enemies of a pure racial state” and as such, undesirable. A special department for the investigation of “racial purity and demographics” was soon established, led by Dr Ritter, who, based on “research” among the Roma, concluded that they posed a threat to the German nation and should be deported or removed.

The special decree was passed demanding that all Roma and persons of Roma origin must be registered. Starting with 1936 they have been imprisoned in special camps in the suburbs, as a kind of prelude to deportations to concentration camps, which began in 1937. The first groups of Roma were sent to the so-called labour camps, namely Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Marzahn, and Vennhausen. After Poland was seized, 30,000 German Roma were deported to the occupied area, where they were imprisoned in the ghettos, along with Jews.

In 1942 Himmler himself signed an order for Roma to be deported to Auschwitz and other camps, where they were marked by wearing a brown or black triangle on their clothing, or less frequently the letter “Z” (German:  Ziguener=gypsy). Over 23,000 Roma were deported to Auschwitz alone, where they were detained in a separate section called the “Roma Family Camp” (German: Ziguenerfamilienlager). For some unknown reason, the Roma were not separated on arrival and families were allowed to stay together. Roma were initially used as labour force. Subsequently, Roma such as those from Poland, were sent to the gas chambers as soon as they arrived. A notorious Nazi doctor, Dr Josef Mengele often selected Roma for his experiments, especially their children. In 1944, the Nazis decided to “clean up” the camp, however, they encountered resistance. Roma greeted them with knives and pipes. Shortly afterward, the SS took control, sending the last group of 2,897 Roma to the gas chambers on August 2, 1944. International Roma Genocide Remembrance Day commemorates this event. 

Nazi treatment of Roma was followed by many of their allies, and Roma in occupied Europe were persecuted, tortured, and killed. Many states have adopted their versions of “racial laws” modeled on Germany. The number of Roma killed during WW II is difficult to estimate, with figures ranging from 220,000 to 500,000, which is between 25% and 50% of the pre-war Roma population. Some authors mention a possible death toll of 1.5 million.

Although former Nazi allies, including Germany itself, have admitted committing genocide against the Roma, victims have never been offered any reparations, and the Nazis were not held responsible for the crime during the post-war trials.