Term Paper: Gypsies During World War II

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[. . .] Often the camps had no electricity, and little or no sanitary facilities. One of the largest of the camps was located in Salzburg, Austria, and employed the Gypsies in forced labor, such as working in a quarry or building state highways.

During this time, many of the Gypsies forced out of the cities to these camps had no way to support themselves, and ended up receiving welfare or government unemployment money. These funds were always less than were paid to German citizens, even though most of these Gypsies considered themselves German. Even if they did not receive welfare money, they had to pay rent to live in these camps. Many Gypsies also lived in private homes and apartments, and were not a part of these camps at all. These camps continued throughout the war, but they changed, and the Gypsies living in them had much more supervision and control.

Track Number Two. When the Nazis rose to power in Germany, many of the people were concerned about a growing crime rate and public safety. The Nazis tended to blame non-Aryan members of society for these ills, including the Gypsies. Because the Gypsies had a reputation of robbers and petty thieves, they were a natural target. During Track Two, preventative policing became the order of the day, and many German police officers regularly targeted Gypsies. These members of society became known as "asocials," and they were branded just as Jews were branded, and fell under many of the same regulations by police and increasingly by the state. While Track Two overlapped Track One at times, it is clear by Track Two, the regulations facing Gypsies were even more stringent, and their lives were spiraling further out of control (Lewy 25). Many Gypsies who did not hold down regular jobs were also denoted "work-shy," and they too would face increased scrutiny by the police and retribution as Track Two continued Lewy 28). As the Nazis rose in power, local policing agencies gradually gave way to enforcement by the Hitler's secret police (SS), and the Gestapo. These two agencies began to sweep through the slums of the cities, looking for asocials or any other "lesser" members of society they could remove and send to the camps or to forced labor. Many of these asocials were Gypsies. Historian Lewy continues, "Their stay in the camps was designed to 'educate' them and make them into worthy members of what the Nazis called the German people's community. Many did not survive this schooling, which was accompanied by systematic brutalities" (Lewy 30). These arrests continued throughout Track Two, and after the beginning of the War in 1939. Many of the Gypsies arrested remained in concentration camps until after the war, but even more died in the camps, and most of the Gypsies who disappeared never left a trace for their loved ones to follow.

Track Number Three. The first two tracks, put in place before the War, targeted the Gypsies on mostly social grounds. They were unemployed, they were a social burden, they were unclean and unhealthy. However, the Third Track raised the bar. In 1938, Hitler's infamous assistant Heinrick Himmel issued a decree that plainly stated the Gypsies were suspect because of their "inner characteristics," which clearly implied their race (Lewy 36). In addition, during this time and into the war years, many Gypsies were sentenced to death by the local court systems for minor offenses, such as stealing a bicycle or food (Lewy 169). This solved the problem of deportation, and rid the community of "unsavory" Gypsies who where threats to society. It is not known how many Gypsies lost their lives at the hands or the court system during this time. Many Gypsies were tried as "asocials" rather than Gypsies, and many were then transferred to concentration camps, never to be seen again. By the end of Track Three, most Gypsies in areas under German control, including Poland, Austria, Germany, and beyond, were languishing in concentration camps, most notably Auschwitz.

During the War

As the war began and continued, the Nazis removed increasing numbers of Gypsies to the concentration camps, forcing them to work in poor and inhumane conditions. In Camp Salzburg, for example, all the members of a family, which could include eleven people or more, had to share one tiny room with only one cot. They had to use their own blankets and utensils, as there were none provided in the camp. They also had to provide their own clothes. There was no doctor or clinic in the camp, and those who were ill had to walk to a local hospital. Some too ill to walk were taken by ambulance. A camp kitchen put out dry bread, broth, and stew for the meals, and most people did not have enough to eat (Thurner 24-25). Conditions at many other concentration camps during the war were the same or even worse. As an ethnic minority, the Gypsies were always thought of in the same way as Jews in Germany - they were unclean and impure. Eventually the desire to exterminate all but the most pure German people led to the extermination of thousands of Jews, and thousands of Gypsies. One author notes, "The killing of Gypsies declared to be 'unfit to live' was concentrated in Auschwitz as well. A section of Birkenau, the compound bigger than all camps erected next to Auschwitz, was established as a Gypsy camp" (Langbein 15). While most of the detainees were located in Auschwitz, there were several other camps containing Gypsies. Records show that at least 5,000 Gypsies were shipped to other camps from Auschwitz. Many of them were in good physical condition, and so were shipped to other camps to work, and ultimately to die, as Himmler created the "extermination by work" program. Ultimately, workers would be worked so hard and fed so little that ultimately the Nazis would work them to death, thus sidestepping the problem and cost of extermination and removal (Lewy 168).

While the truth of the Gypsy genocide is known, many experts contend while there was an unwritten policy to exterminate all Jews, the same policy did not exist for the Gypsies (Greenwald 151). The fact remains that thousands of Gypsies lost their lives in the camps during the war, and that the Nazis had a distinct policy against the Gypsies as a race. For example, Gypsies had to wear a black triangle signifying "Antisocial" on their clothing when they congregated in Germany, and beginning in 1943, they were issued special identification numbers that began with the letter "Z" for Zigeuner, the German word for Gypsy (Langbein 5). Most of the Gypsies faced extermination at the infamous Auschwitz camp, and one survivor remembered a German doctor intent on rounding up as many Gypsies as possible. He said, "Mengele combed the blocks, tracking down Gypsy children who had hidden, and how he himself transported a group of those children in a car to the gas chamber -- drawing upon their trust for him and speaking tenderly and reassuringly to them until the end" (Lifton 186). In addition, many Gypsies were used as human guinea pigs for a variety of Nazi experiments.

The Nazi Experiments

During World War II, Nazi scientists were not only busy at work inventing and improving rocketry and the jet engine, they were conducting massive scientific experiments on Jews, the handicapped, the mentally ill, and the Gypsies (Harrington 181). They saw these people as useless members of society, or "useless eaters" (Mostert 155), and felt they were furthering the future of mankind by systematically removing them from society. One German researcher noted, "Their [useless eaters] life is absolutely pointless, but they do not regard it as being unbearable. They are a terrible, heavy burden upon their relatives and society as a whole. Their death would not create even the smallest gap -- except perhaps in the feelings of their mothers or loyal nurses" (Mostert 156). This widespread public opinion set the stage for the genocide and mass experimentation on Gypsies and others during the Nazi regime.

One camp notable for experimentation was Dachau, where scientists conducted experiments on Gypsies to research a variety of medical conditions, including malaria and the potability of seawater. Forty Gypsies "volunteered" for the seawater experiments, which included diets made up of no food and water, seawater, seawater with an additive to remove the salty taste, and seawater with silver nitrate as an additive. Scientists expected the tests to last twelve days, but the Gypsies only lasted six to ten days. They exhibited "symptoms of starvation and severe thirst. They rapidly lost weight and became increasingly agitated; those who started to scream and rave were tied to the beds. When they were close to death, they were injected with a preparation that was supposed to prevent their demise" (Lewy 173). A surviving helper in the lab remembers that the only reasons some of the Gypsies survived was that some… [END OF PREVIEW]

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