Although this website is primarily focusing upon the experience of the Jewish population of Oradea in the Holocaust, it must be remembered that similar discrimination, internment and murder was suffered by the Roma (or Romani) community (Roma, Sinti and other groups of travelling people) at the hands of the Nazis. Hundreds of thousands died. Photo credit: Archives of Mechanical Documentation, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives
As early as 1933 the National Socialists introduced new laws which targeted those who were regarded as vagrants, beggars or homeless and criminalised. Roma were regarded as being within the criminal class and they were arrested in large numbers and sent to concentration camps.
When the Nuremburg Racial laws came into being in 1935, Roma along with Jews and Negroes were regarded as racially distinctive with alien blood. As such they lost their civil rights and their marriage to Aryans was prohibited.
Unlike Jews who wore the yellow star the Roma were forced to wear black triangular patches.
The outbreak of war in 1939 accelerated the incarceration and killing. The mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) in territories occupied by German forces dealt with the Roma as harshly as they did with Jews.
The Roma in Romania were not subject to the same horrific treatment, despite Romania being an Axis partner of Germany. However, in 1941 and 1942, Romanian authoritieshave deported around 26,000 Roma (primarily from Bukovina, Bessarabia, Moldavia and Bucharest) to Transnistria, part of south western Ukraine placed under Romanianadministration. Many of these Roma died in appalling conditions.
Large numbers of Roma were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the camp authorities housed them in a special compound that was called the "Gypsy family camp." In May 1944, the camp leadership decided to murder the inhabitants of the Gypsy compound. The SS guards surrounded and sealed off the compound. When ordered to come out, the Roma refused, having been warned and having armed themselves with iron pipes, shovels, and other tools.
The SS leaders chose to withdraw. After transferring as many as 3,000 Roma capable of work to other camps, the SS moved against the remaining 2,898 inmates on August 2 1944. Most of the victims were ill, elderly men, women, and children and they died in the gas chambers of Birkenau. A handful of children who had hidden during the operation were captured and killed in the days that followed.
At least 19,000 of the 23,000 Roma sent to Auschwitz died there.
An understanding of the long history of the Roma/Sinti presence in Europe can be obtained from the Education of Roma Children in Europe website.
Testimonies of Roma/Sinti involved in the Holocaust from across Europe are beautifully brought together here.
A highly recommended educational pack on the Roma/Sinti genocide has been produced by Mag. Dr. Gerhard Baumgartner with support from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The educational pack which should be examined in detail is accompanied by a lesson pack. Click on the image below to see it.
Based in Oradea, the Ruhama Foundation, operate at community level to improve the life chances of Roma families.