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The Nazi War on the Gypsies

by Gad Nahshon

The 'Gypsy Nation' does not have a public relations machine. They do not have a state to represent them. Therefore, only a few people are aware of the fact that around 800,000 Gypsies were a target of Nazi persecution in World War II. At least around 25% of the Gypsy population in Europe was murdered in various concentration camps or they were victims of other reasons which were originated in these persecutions such as various diseases.

Gypsies died also in Halemno and Auschwitz. In March 1943, 1700 were killed in gas chambers. At least 20,000 Gypsies were gassed in 1943-44. Guenther Lewy, a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, an expert of the history of Nazi Germany, decided to illuminate the terrible fate of these Gypsies, the step-children of humanity.

He expressed their outcry in his new pioneer, original research, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies (Oxford University Press, New York 2001). This book is the most comprehensive and compelling account available of the fate of the Gypsies under the Nazi inferno. Prof. Lewy conducted an excellent research in German and Austrian archives. And he also used oral history (Gypsy survivors). The Gypsies themselves do not have a tradition of documentation of their own history.

There are various groups of Gypsies: Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Russia, and Yugoslavia. There was also a group of mixed German-Gypsy families. There were even Gypsies who served as Nazis in the German army, a fact which annoyed Hitler himself. Prof. Lewy discussed the specific problems of the Nazi concept of the 'Gypsy Nation'. First, from 1933, in Germany itself. He exposed the inability of the Nazis to develop a final solution to this problem: What to do with the Gypsies.

This book will be, according to the distinguished expert Prof. Saul Friedlander, "...the standard work on the subject. It documents the Nazi criminality." We must point out to Prof. Lewy intellectual integrity and honesty. Why? We live in the era of 'Holocaust Industry,' in an academic world which tends to trivialize the Holocaust or the 'Shoah.' Prof. Lewy points out that there was no scientific Nazi attempt to massacre the Gypsies. The Nazi policy suffered from confusion. Therefore, most of the Gypsies survived World War II. The Nazis did not draw a final solution as they did for the Jews. They tortured the Gypsies, they deported them like animals. They destroyed their families. They killed them as 'spies' or communist 'partisans.' They gassed them in the death camps. But they were never considered to be like the Jews, a danger to the German Nation. They, on the other hand, like the Jews, were declared to be a biological threat to the 'purity' of the Nazi race.

Prof. Lewy concluded that the Nazi policy was influenced by "...the attitudes of the German people to the Gypsy minority." Indeed, Prof. Lewy proved that the Nazi policies were influenced by the pressure from below, from the local municipalities who liked to get rid of their Gypsies, their 'a-social' tribe.

Local police chiefs tend to complain about the Gypsies even before the Nazis came to power in 1933. Who tolerated Gypsies? But the Nazis ideology of race turned these Gypsies, only 23,000 in Germany in 1933, into a major subject, an issue to be challenged. And they became like other victims of Nazi persecution. They were arrested, transferred to camps, to concentration camps, they were sent to the 'East' like the Jews. But not exactly to be murdered like the Jews. Often the Nazi showed mercy. On July 14, 1933, the Nazis enacted a new law: The law for the 'Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring'. The law enabled the state to sterilize people because of many reasons such as a person with inherited disease. In 1934, 43,775 persons were sterilized in Nazi Germany. It was a 'victory' for Nazi racism, the quest for purity. Later, the Nazis offered Gypsies this process. This was viewed as a limitation of the Gypsy fertility. It was a way by which a Gypsy could save himself from persecution and deportation. These people were even allowed to get married...gypsies were used by Dr. Mengele, the 'Angel of Death', in his inhuman so-called 'medical experiments.'

The irony of history is that the campaign against Gypsies in Germany never stopped, even after the war in 1946. Prof. Lewy wrote that the Germans continued to ask for anti-Gypsy legislation. They still complained about the 'Gypsy Plague'! Furthermore, the Germans refused, in 1965, restitutions to the Gypsies, their victims. The German courts refused to define these Gypsies as victims! But in the 1980's, some Gypsies did receive compensation for their sufferings or sterilizations. The Gypsies still must fight for their justice. Let's hope that their organizations such as 'World Romani Congress' (London) and the 'Center for Culture and Documentation' will contribute to the struggle of the Gypsies to achieve this justice and to preserve their identity and heritage.

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