On this day: Himmler orders the deportation of the Roma

December 16 1942: non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust

By Jennifer Lipman, December 16, 2010

There were five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including up to 500,000 members of the Roma community. At Auschwitz alone, it is estimated that 19,000 of the 23,000 Roma sent there during the war died.

The victims came from around Europe; citizens of France, Germany, Romania, the Ukraine and the Baltic States among the countries.

A nomadic group, the Roma of Europe had long been oppressed before the Holocaust. To the Nazis, the “gypsies” were, like Jews, racially inferior and as with the Jews, they were attacked by the SS, deported and murdered at concentration camps including Dachau, Mauthausen and Treblinka. Many Roma prisoners were subjected to so-called medical experiments by the notorious Dr Josef Mengele.

The persecution of the Roma by the Nazis began with the removal of their civil rights in the 1930s and the requiremnet that Roma people were brown cloth triangles on their clothes.

From the beginning of the war the Nazis arranged for the destruction of the Roma population. In 1940 they began deporting Roma people in their thousands to Nazi-occupied Poland and sending them to forced labour camps. Many died simply from the terrible conditions and disease, many more were murdered.

The worst came after December 1942, when Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s right hand man and the architect of the Final Solution, ordered that all Roma be deported from the “Greater German Reich”.

While with the Jewish victims anyone with Jewish blood was considered degenerate, when it came to the Roma the Nazis took the view that those of entirely “pure” Roma descent were acceptable; likewise they exempted those Roma considered well-integrated into German society and those who had served with honour in the German army.

What the JC said: There is still a dearth of information on the subject. Today, an estimated six million Gypsies live in Europe. [There is] a lack of precise knowledge about particular camps, numbers of people deported, and so on. This should not come as a complete surprise. The Nazis did not keep records of the deaths of Gypsies as meticulously as they kept those of Jews. And the Gypsies, who do now have a written tradition, have not been able to draw on the same resources as the Jews to record their history.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 9:36am, December 16 2010