Europe’s Roma and Sinti people (Gypsies) were targeted by the Nazis for total destruction. The Porrajmos, or Porajmos, which translates to 'the Devouring', is the term used to describe the Nazi genocide of Europe’s Roma and Sinti population. Upward of 200,000 Roma and Sinti were murdered or died as a result of starvation or disease. Many more were imprisoned, used as forced labour or subject to forced sterilisation and medical experimentation.
In June 1936, a Central Office to ‘Combat the Gypsy Nuisance’ opened in Munich and later that year, Berlin police were given the authority to conduct raids against Gypsies so that they would not mar the image of the city as the host of the summer Olympic Games.
In June 1938, 'Gypsy Clean-up Week' took place throughout Germany. Roma and Sinti men, women and children were targeted for persecution and imprisonment.
Between 1939 and 1940 labour camps for ‘people avoiding work and living off crime’ were set up in the Czech Republic. Roma and Sinti men, women and children were also sent to camps in Lety and Hodonin, and in 1940, statistics about ‘Gypsies, mixed Gypsies and people with Gypsy style of life’ were officially collected. Those found to be in any of these categories were sent to the camps. Out of c.2500 internees at these camps, over 50% were deported to Auschwitz and many more died due to starvation and maltreatment within the camps.
The experience of Europe’s Roma and Sinti population has parallels with that of the Jewish people. Both populations were targeted on the grounds of their race and had previously suffered centuries of discrimination. The Nuremberg Laws which prohibited marriage between Jews and Aryans and enshrined the loss of citizenship rights were also applied to Roma and Sinti. As with Jewish children, Roma and Sinti children were banned from public schools and Roma and Sinti found it increasingly difficult to maintain or secure employment.
As the Second World War began, the persecution of Roma and Sinti intensified. Deportations of Roma and Sinti to ghettos including Łódź and to concentration camps including Dachau, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau; which had a specific ‘Gypsy Camp’; began.
On 26 February 1943, the first transport of Roma and Sinti men, women and children arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the 23,000 Gypsies imprisoned within the camp, it’s estimated that around 20,000 were murdered.
On 2 August 1944 the Zieguenlager (Gypsy Camp) at Auschwitz was liquidated and 2,897 Roma and Sinti were exterminated in the gas chambers. The surviving prisoners were deported to Buchenwald and Ravensbruck concentration camps for forced labour.
Despite the atrocities committed against Roma and Sinti by the Nazi regime their experiences were only fully recognised by the West German Government in 1981 and the Porrajmos is only now becoming more widely known.
Find out more:
- Listen to historian Donald Kenrick talk about the Porrajmos
- Read historian Rainer Schulze's nine-part blog he wrote to mark Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month 2015:
- An introduction to the Nazi persecution of the Roma and Sinti
- The life of Sinto boxer Johann 'Rukeli' Trollmann
- Auschwitz-Birkenau's Gypsy Family Camp
- Auschwitz-Birkenau's Roma survivors
- Persecution of Roma varied across east and south-east Europe
- Roma survivors from former Yugoslavia
- The Roma community's long battle for public recognition
- Settela's story
- How should we remember the Nazis' Roma victims?