Roma in Deutschland/Polen

Wellesina McCrary  |  Roma in Deutschland/Polen

Wellesina McCrary | Roma in Deutschland/Polen

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Nazi Policy Influence Roma and Sinti Lives

In the 1930s Nazi Germany anti-Gypsy actions, such as registering and arresting on a massive scale of the Romani and Sinti, grow in power. Deprived of their rights, the Romani become one of the first prisoners of concentration camps.

After the beginning of war, they are deported to the territories occupied by the Germans and murdered in camps or shot in mass executions. In December 1942, Heinrich Himmler, one of Nazi Germany main leaders, issues a decree ordering the deportation of German Roma and Sinti to the so-called Zigeunerlager, created on the territory of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The first transport to the Gypsy camp in Auschwitz comes on 26th February 1943. The Romani come in cargo trains, crowded, in nightmarish conditions. Transported in cattle wagons, they die of cold and hunger in winter, and of heat and thirst in summer. There are children among the prisoners. By the time of Auschwitz-Birkenau’s liquidation in 1944, about 20 thousand Roma and Sinti die in gas chambers, die of diseases and medical experiments conducted by Josef Mengele.

In the years 1942-1944, 23 thousand Romanis were transported to the Gypsy camp (Zigeunerlager) in Auschwitz-Birkenau. They had all numbers tattooed on their left forearms. In the Gypsy camp, unlike in any other sub camps in Auschwitz, families were not separated. Women, men and children lived together. Their accommodation was stable barracks with thin walls and with no floors. There were beds on both sides. Barracks meant for 400 people housed twice as many. Hygienic conditions were catastrophic. Only three barracks were equipped with washbasin, and only two with toilets.


Just as any other Auschwitz prisoners, Romani prisoners were punished for the tiniest of crimes. They had to stand on rolls for hours on end, suffering from cold, hunger and chicanery from the Germans. They were tormented, made to do physical exercise such as jumping and falling to the ground or running. They were also lashed. For different offences they were also placed in a bunker where they had to stand without a possibility to move, or they were sent to a penal company. The Germans often stormed into the barracks at night and beat the prisoners with sticks.

The ghastly hygienic conditions, cold, overcrowding and hunger in the barracks caused diseases and an outbreak among Romanis that, in March 1943, resulted in a necessity to open a hospital in two barracks.  The conditions were not good for treatment of sick people, the prisoners lacked clothing, bedding and medicaments. They suffered from hunger, scabies, tuberculosis or pneumonia. In May 1943, prisoners sick with typhoid were killed in the gas chamber.

The chief physician in Zigeunerlager was doctor Josef Mengele, who conducted experiments on sick prisoners and Roma children, and then sent them to death. After the Zigeunerlager’s liquidation on the 2nd August 1944, part of the Romanis that were still alive were transported to Buchenwald or Ravensbruck camps, and the rest were gassed.

End of War and Postwar Destiny

After the liquidation of the Gypsy camp in Auschwitz in summer 1944, all the remaining men were moved to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Women were placed in Buchenwald’s sub camps, where they worked in slave conditions in industrial plants for the needs of the German Army. The inhuman conditions, backbreaking work, hunger and diseases let only few people reach the end of war. The American Army liberated the concentration camp in Buchenwald on 11th April 1945.

The old prejudice against the Romani still exists in the contemporary world. In many countries of the European Union, Roma people still suffer from discrimination, and they experience lack of defense of their human rights.


The hostile attitude towards this nation is visible in hate speech spread not only on the Internet, but also on the media. Those signs of discrimination influence the negative self-esteem of the Romani, deepen their sense of harm, and do not promote their social integration.

Roma, fearing persecution, avoid staying in the public space. They often choose not to report assaults or threats to the police, as they don’t believe they could get any help. They are also afraid of the perpetrators’ revenge. Hence, it is vital to remember about their tragic past, as well as about the fact that prejudice and hatred lead to injustice, harm and death of those people who, just as the others, have the right to live peaceful lives.   square.jpg