Porajmos: Wikis


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Romani arrivals in the Bełżec extermination camp await instructions

The Porajmos (also Porrajmos, literally, Devouring in some dialects of the Romani language) is a Romani term introduced by Romani scholar and activist Ian Hancock to describe attempts by Nazi Germany, the Independent State of Croatia and its allies to exterminate most of the Romani people of Europe as part of the Holocaust.

The persecution and murder of the Roma and Sinti has been little studied and largely overshadowed by the Shoah (the Jewish Holocaust). Because the Romani communities of Eastern Europe were less organized than the Jewish communities, it is more difficult to assess the actual number of victims, though it is believed to range from 220,000 to 1,500,000.[1] The estimates for Croatia are consistent that around 27,000 (virtually all) Croatian Romanis were killed.[2] Ian Hancock has estimated that almost the entire Romani population was killed in Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.[3] Only in recent years has the Romani community begun to demand acceptance among the victims of the Nazi regime.


Using the term

The term porajmos was introduced into the literature by Hancock, in the early 1990s. According to Hancock, the term was not coined by him but rather was invented by a Kalderash Rom whose name he does not remember during an informal conversation in 1993, where several people were discussing what to call the Holocaust in Romani. Of the several suggestions, Hancock found this one particularly appropriate.[4] Hancock's recollection of 1993 as the date of this exchange must be mistaken as the term was used by Prof. Henry R. Huttenbach as early as 1991.[5][6]

Some Russian and Balkan Romani activists protest against using the word porajmos.[7] In various dialects this word is a synonym for the word poravipe, which has the meanings "violation" and "rape", so these activists consider the word to be offensive. Balkan Romani activists express a preference for the term Samudaripen,[8], coined by linguist Marcel Courthiade. It has been dismissed by Hancock, who argues that it does not conform to Romani language morphology.[4] Some Ruska Roma activists offer the emotive term Kali Traš ("Black Fear").[9]

Another alternative that has been used is Berša Bibahtale ("The Unhappy Years").[4]



Aryan racial purity

In the thousand years that Romani tribes lived in Europe, they were subject to antiziganist persecution and humiliation[10]; they were stigmatized as habitual criminals, social misfits, and vagabonds[10]. Given the Nazi predilection for “racial purity”, it would seem inevitable that the Romanies would be among their first victims. Nevertheless, in the earliest days of the Third Reich, the Romanies posed a problem for Hitler’s racial ideologues: the Romani language is one of the Indo-Aryan languages, originating in northern India. Nazi anthropologists realized that Romanies migrated into Europe from India and were thus descendants of the Aryan occupants of the subcontinent, thought at the time to have invaded India from Europe. In other words, the Romanies are native speakers of an Aryan language.

Huttenbach argues that the Nazis planned to eliminate the Romanis, one way or another, from as early as 1933; they announced on 14th July 1933 the goal of preventing Lebensunwertesleben from reproducing.[11] The Department of Racial Hygiene and Population Biology began to experiment on Romanis to reach criteria for their racial classification.[12]

Nazi racialist Hans F. K. Günther added a socioeconomic component to the theory of racial purity. While he conceded that the Romanies were, in fact, descended from Aryans, they were of poorer classes that had mingled with the various “inferior” races they encountered during their wanderings. This, he explained, accounted for their extreme poverty and nomadic lifestyle. While he conceded that there were some groups that were "purely Aryan", most Romanies posed a threat to Aryan homogeneity because of their racial mingling.

Romani woman with German police officer and Nazi psychologist Dr Robert Ritter

To study the problem further, the Nazis established the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit (Rassenhygienische und Bevölkerungsbiologische Forschungsstelle, Department L3 of the Reich Department of Health) in 1936. Headed by Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant Eva Justin, the body was mandated to conduct an in-depth study of the "Gypsy question (Zigeunerfrage)" and to provide data required for formulating a new Reich "Gypsy law". After extensive fieldwork in the spring of 1936, consisting of interviews and medical examinations to investigate genealogical and genetic data, it was determined that most Romanies posed a danger to German racial purity and should be eliminated. No decision was made regarding the remainder (about 10 percent of the total Romani population of Europe), primarily Sinti and Lalleri tribes living in Germany, though several suggestions were made. At one point Heinrich Himmler even suggested the establishment of a remote reservation, where "pure Gypsies" could continue their nomadic lifestyle unhindered. According to him:

...The aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be the physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation, the prevention of miscegenation, and finally, the regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies.

Nine representatives of the Romani community in Germany were asked to compile lists of pure-blooded Romanies to be saved from extermination. However, these lists were often ignored and some who were named on them were still sent to concentration camps.[13]

Loss of citizenship

On November 14, 1935, The Law for the "Protection of Blood and Honour", colloquially known as the Nuremberg laws, was passed. This law forbade Aryans to marry non-Aryans. Criteria defining who is Romani were exactly twice as strict as those defining any other group. The second Nuremberg law, The Reich Citizenship Law, stripped citizenship from "non-Aryans". Blacks[14] and Romanies, like Jews, lost their right to vote on March 7, 1936.


The Brown Triangle. Romani prisoners in German concentration camps such as Auschwitz were forced to wear the inverted triangle on their prison uniforms to distinguish them from other inmates.[15]

The extermination of Romanies was started as early as 1933 while camps were being established by the Nazis to contain Romanies at Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Mahrzan and Vennhausen. The vast majority of Romanies were to suffer the same indignities as the Jews. The Society for Threatened Peoples estimates the casualties at 277,100.[16] Martin Gilbert estimates a total of more than 220,000 of the 700,000 Romani in Europe, including 15,000 (mainly from the Soviet Union) in Mauthausen in January–May 1945.[17] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum cites scholars that estimate the number of Sinti and Roma killed to lie between 220,000 and 500,000.[18] Dr. Sybil Milton, a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Research Institute, estimated the number of Romani lives lost to be up to 1,500,000.[1]

They were herded into ghettos, including the Warsaw Ghetto (April–June, 1942), where they formed a distinct subclass.[citation needed] Ghetto diarist Emmanuel Ringelblum speculated that Romanies were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto because the Germans wanted:

...to toss into the Ghetto everything that is characteristically dirty, shabby, bizarre, of which one ought to be frightened, and which anyway has to be destroyed.[19]

The Nazi government did not seem to persecute Romani in Denmark or Greece.[20][21] Bulgaria and Finland, although allies of Germany, did not cooperate with the Porajmos, just as they did not cooperate with the Shoah.

Further east, teams of Einsatzgruppen tracked down Romani encampments and murdered the inhabitants on the spot, leaving no records of the victims. In other cases, significant documentary evidence of mass murder was generated.[22]In return for immunity from prosecution for war crimes, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski stated at the Einsatzgruppen Trial that 'the principal task of the Einsatzgruppen of the S.D. was the annihilation of the Jews, Gypsies and Political Commissars.'[23]

On December 16, 1942, Himmler ordered that the Romani candidates for extermination should be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. To the Romani people of Europe, this order was equivalent to the January 20 decision of that same year, made at the Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi bureaucrats decided on the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem”. Himmler then ordered, on November 15, 1943, that Romanies and "part-Romanies" were to be put “on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.”[24]

Persecution in other axis countries

Romanies were also victims of the puppet regimes that cooperated with the Third Reich during the war, especially the notorious Ustaše regime in Croatia. In Jasenovac concentration camp, along with Serbs and Jews, tens of thousands of Romanies were killed. Yad Vashem estimates that the Porajmos was most intense in Yugoslavia, where around 90,000 Romanies were killed.[25] The Ustashe government also deported around 26,000,[26] Serbian Romanies are parties to the pending Class action suit against the Vatican Bank and others currently pending in U.S. Federal Court seeking return of wartime loot.[27]

The governments of some Nazi German allies, namely Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, also contributed to the Nazi plan of Romani extermination, but this was implemented on a smaller scale and most Romani in these countries survived, unlike those in Ustaše Croatia or in areas directly ruled by Nazi Germany (such as Poland). The Hungarian Arrow Cross government deported between 28,000 and 33,000 Romanies out of a population estimated between 70,000 and 100,000[28].

Similarly, the Romanian government of Ion Antonescu had its own concentration camps in Transnistria to which 25,000 Romani people were deported, of whom 11,000 died.[29]According to eyewitness Mrs. de Wiek, Anne Frank, a notable Jewish Holocaust victim is recorded as having witnessed the prelude to the murder of Romani children at Auschwitz; "I can still see her standing at the door and looking down the camp street as a herd of naked gypsy girls were driven by, to the crematory, and Anne watched them going and cried." [30]

In the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Romani internees were sent to the Lety and Hodonín concentration camps before being transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau for gassing. What makes the Lety camp unique is that it was staffed by Czech guards, who could be even more brutal than the Germans, as testified in Paul Polansky’s book Black Silence. The genocide was so thorough that the vast majority of Romani in the Czech Republic today are actually descended from migrants from Slovakia who moved there during the post-war years in Czechoslovakia. In Nazi-occupied France, betweeen 16,000 and 18,000 were killed.[31]

Medical experiments

Another distinctive feature of the Porajmos and the Holocaust was the extensive use of human subjects in medical experiments.[32] The most notorious of these physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in the Auschwitz concentration camp. His experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes and various amputations and other brutal surgeries.[32] The full extent of his work will never be known because the truckload of records he sent to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute were destroyed by von Verschuer.[33] Subjects who survived Mengele's experiments were almost always killed and dissected shortly afterwards.

He seemed particularly keen on working with Romani children. He would bring them sweets and toys, and would personally take them to the gas chamber. They would call him "Onkel Mengele".[34] Vera Alexander was a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins:

I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parents– I remember the mother's name was Stella– managed to get some morphine and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.[34]


Plaque in Rome (Italy) in memory of Romani people who died in extermination camps.

The first memorial commemorating victims of the Romani Holocaust was erected on May 8, 1956, in the Polish village of Szczurowa commemorating the Szczurowa massacre.

On October 23, 2007, Romanian President Traian Băsescu publicly apologized for his nation's role in the Porajmos, the first time a Romanian leader has done so. He called for the Porajmos to be taught in schools, stating that, "We must tell our children that six decades ago children like them were sent by the Romanian state to die of hunger and cold". Part of his apology was in the Romani language. Băsescu also awarded three Porajmos survivors with an Order for Faithful Services.[35]

Prior to recognizing Romania's role in the Porajmos, Traian Băsescu was widely quoted after an incident on May 19, 2007, in which he insulted a journalist by calling her a "stinky gypsy." The president subsequently apologized.[36]

See also


  2. ^ See the estimates listed at lines 195-201 in [http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.TAB9.1.GIF Table 9.1, Statistics of Democide, RJ Rummel, LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 1998
  3. ^ http://www.oocities.com/~Patrin/lewy.htm
  4. ^ a b c On the interpretation of a word: Porrajmos as Holocaust – Ian Hancock
  5. ^ Huttenbach, Henry R. The Romani porajmos: The nazi genocide of Europe's gypsies: in The Gypsies of Eastern Europe Ed. John Kolsti, 1991
  6. ^ Nationalities Papers, Volume 19, Issue 3 Winter 1991 , pages 373–394
  7. ^ http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddr3tfjd_0cpggdpfw
  8. ^ http://dosta.org/?q=node/37
  9. ^ http://romanykultury.info/discussion/discussion.php?row=3
  10. ^ a b Ian Hancock, We are the Romani People. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2002, (ISBN 1 902806 19 0)
  11. ^ Gisela Bock, Racism and Sexism in Nazi Germany, p.408 in The Gypsies of Eastern Europe,ME Sharpe Inc, London, p.46
  12. ^ Gabrielle Tyrnauer, The Fate of the Gypsies During the Holocaust, p.19 in The Gypsies of Eastern Europe,ME Sharpe Inc, London, p.47
  13. ^ Helen Fein, Accounting for Genocide, Free Press, 1979, pp.140-1
  14. ^ US Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Nuremberg Laws: Nazi Racial Policy 1935". http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/nlawchr.htm. 
  15. ^ The Holocaust History Museum
  16. ^ http://www.gfbv.it/3dossier/sinti-rom/de/rom-de.html#r5
  17. ^ Gilbert, Martin (2002). The Routledge Atlas of the Holocaust. Routledge, London & New York. ISBN 0 415 28145 8.  (ref Map 182 p 141 with deaths by country & Map 301 p 232)
  18. ^ Sinti and Roma, ed. by Holocaust museum
  19. ^ Yad Vashem, "Ringelblum’s Diary"
  20. ^ http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/microsoft%20word%20-%206324.pdf
  21. ^ No record of Romanies killed in Denmark or Greece, Ian Hancock quoted in The History of the Holocaust: a handbook and dictionary, Edelheit & Edelheit, Westview, 1995 p.458
  22. ^ Headland, Ronald (1992). Messages of murder: a study of the reports of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the Security Service, 1941-1943. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. pp. 63. ISBN 9780838634189. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Mue8a5Rwyi0C&pg=PA63&dq=einsatzgruppen+gypsy&cd=3#v=onepage&q=einsatzgruppen%20gypsy&f=false. Retrieved 17/02/10. 
  23. ^ "The Trial of German Major War Criminals Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany 7th January to 19th January, 1946". The Nizkor Project. 2009. http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/imt/tgmwc/tgmwc-04/tgmwc-04-28-06.shtml. Retrieved 17 February 2010. 
  24. ^ Gilbert, Martin (2004). The Second World War: A Complete History. Clearwater, Fla: Owl Books. p. 474. ISBN 0-8050-7623-9. 
  25. ^ http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/microsoft%20word%20-%206324.pdf
  26. ^ Jasenovac, at the Jewish Virtual Library.
  27. ^ Vatican Bank Claims
  28. ^ Crowe, David M. (2000). The Roma Holocaust in Schwartz, Bernard; DeCoste, Frederick Charles (Eds.) The Holocaust's ghost: writings on art, politics, law and education. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: University of Alberta Press. pp. 178–210. ISBN 0-88864-337-3. 
  29. ^ The report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (PDF), from Yad Vashem
  30. ^ "Anne as a child"—see part about Mrs. de Wiek and "gypsy girls"
  31. ^ http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/microsoft%20word%20-%206324.pdf
  32. ^ a b Harran, Marilyn J. (2000). The Holocaust Chronicles: A History in Words and Pictures. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International. p. 384. ISBN 0-7853-2963-3.  Full text
  33. ^ Müller-Hill, Benno (1998). Muderous science: elimination by scientific selection of Jews, Gypsies, and others in Germany, 1933-1945. Plainview, N.Y: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-87969-531-5. 
  34. ^ a b Berenbaum, Michael (1993). The world must know: The history of the Holocaust as told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Boston: Little, Brown. pp. 194–5. ISBN 0-316-09134-0. 
  35. ^ Romanian Leader Apologizes to Romanies, Washington Post
  36. ^ Violence against Roma: Romania Human Rights First

Further reading

External links


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