Gypsies (Roma and Sinti) were persecuted before, during and after the Holocaust.
Following the Nazi rise to power, the persecution of all Gypsies in Germany increased, and eventually became genocidal. Prior to the Second World War, approximately 30,000 Gypsies were lived in Germany, and just under a million lived across Europe.
The Nazis believed Gypsies were ‘non-Aryan’ and an inferior race, which had genetically inherited criminal qualities.
This belief was reinforced by the research of the eugenic scientist Dr. Robert Ritter. As a result of Ritter’s research, the Nazis subjected many Gypsies to forced sterilisations to prevent them from having children.
On 17 June 1936, Heinrich Himmler became Head of the German Police. This new role gave Himmler unlimited control over the terror forces in Germany.
Just under two years later, on the 16 May 1938, Himmler established the Reich Central Office for Combating the Gypsy Nuisance. This office centralised efforts to persecute Gypsies living in the Third Reich.
On the 8 December 1938, Himmler issued the Decree for Combating the Gypsy Plague. Amongst other actions, the decree ordered the creation of a nationwide database to all Gypsies living in the Third Reich. This database would later be used to round up Gypsies and put them in forced labour and concentration camps.
Alongside these developments, in the second half of the 1930s, a large number of holding camps were created.
These camps designated certain areas of the cities or towns where Gypsies could live. The camps were created individually by the different regional governments, varying from city to city and between states.
The initial Gypsy camps were portrayed as a move to clean up inner cities and remove any unauthorised dwellings in municipal areas, which often attracted complaints. The camps varied hugely, but most had limited sanitation and were guarded by a police or SS officer. At this stage, most people were free to enter and leave the camps for work or leisure. Despite this, the camps still marked a large escalation in the persecution of Gypsies, and a huge infringement on people’s freedom and privacy.
This was, however, simply the beginning. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, the nature of the camps changed. The rules became stricter, with increased supervision, curfews, and daily head counts of the occupants. In October 1939, a decree was issued banning the movement of Gypsies. People in the camps also became subject to compulsory labour.
The Nazi policy towards the Gypsy population fluctuated following the outbreak of war.
Whilst the Nazis policy towards Gypsies remained persecutory, the Nazis were unsure whether to deport the Gypsies – resettling them in the General Government in Poland – sterilise the entire population to avoid any more Gypsies being born, or exterminate them.
Due to the complicated bureaucratic nature of the regime, almost all of these methods were employed towards the Gypsies at one stage.
For example, on 27 April 1940, Heydrich issued the Decree for the Resettlement of the Gypsies, which aimed to deport all German Gypsies from the Reich within one year. This decree resulted in 2500 people being deported to the General Government in Poland, before it was suspended in September 1940.
In September 1941, 5,000 Austrian Gypsies were deported to the Łódź Ghetto, where many of them died from infection or were murdered.
On 16 December 1942, a decree was issued by Himmler to move all Sinti and Roma in Reich Territory to Auschwitz, where a special camp had been built to hold them. Following the order, more than 22,000 Roma and Sinti were rounded up and sent. Just a few would survive.
A number of medical experimentations took place on Gypsies in the various concentration camps they ended up in, ranging from the infamous experiments by Dr. Joseph Mengele at Auschwitz, to typhus injections at Natzweilier.
Gypsies were also murdered in their thousands by the Einsatzgruppen.
The Einsatzgruppen conducted mass shootings of any ‘undesirable’ groups in occupied territories, following behind the invading German Army.