Roma and Sinti under National Socialism



Discrimination & Inequity Race & Ethnicity Violence

As many as 500,000 central and especially eastern European Sinti and Roma are murdered by the Wehrmacht and the SS under German occupation. In Germany and Austria alone, the number is around 25,000.

Already in 1931, National Socialists had begun subjecting Sinti and Roma to racist, pseudo-scientific measurements. The aim was to legitimate biological racism and future efforts at extermination. Beginning in 1933, political measures were intensified against Sinti and Roma. Racially motivated policies of persecution, which had begun in the German empire before the First World War (See also:Founding of the Kaiserreich, 1871) and attained an alarming reach in the Weimar Republic (see also, Racist legislation, 1926-1929) were perpetuated in an intensified form following the transfer of power to the National Socialists in 1933. In the same year, deportations to concentration camps began. The first forced sterilizations of Sinti and Roma began in 1934. In 1935, they were stripped of their German citizenship. With the expansion of the Nuremberg “racial laws”, the everyday lives of Sinti and Roma were narrowed in many ways. In many cities, they were only permitted to buy at certain shops and at certain times, and were restricted in their use of public transport, if at all permitted. They were furthermore barred from cinemas, bars, restaurants, schools, and from receiving basic medical care in hospitals. To this was added the systematic criminalization to which they were subjected by the press and the state. Under Heinrich Himmler, a central department was established within the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (RKPA) in 1938 for the registration and persecution of all Roma and Sinti residing in the German Reich. The goal of the registration program was to facilitate the “final solution” of extermination.

In October 1939, everyone in possession of an itinerant trade certificate had to surrender it to the authorities. Sinti and Roma with permanent residences could only move with permission from the police. Beginning in 1940, several large-scale deportations to concentration camps were carried out. On December 16, 1942, in preparation for a precisely calculated act of mass murder, Himmler ordered the final transport to Auschwitz of all Sinti and Roma still living within German territory. All property belonging to the victims was to be seized by the police during deportation. From February 1943, the Europe-wide deportation of Sinti and Roma to Auschwitz-Birkenau proceeded. The total number of victims is not agreed upon and varies between sources, but the figure most widely cited is of approximately 500,000 Roma and Sinti who were murdered as part of the Holocaust. The majority of them were killed in eastern Europe and specifically in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but racially motivated killings of Roma and Sinti occurred across the whole of those parts of Europe under German influence.

Much as the Hebrew term “Shoah” refers to the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people by National Socialist Germany, the Romani term “Porajmos” (lit. “the great devouring”) has been used with reference to the genocide perpetrated against the Sinti and Roma.