Term Paper: Persecution of Gypsies During the Holocaust by Nazi Germany

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Roma Persecution by the Nazis

When most people think of the atrocities of World War II they conceptualize the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from Nazi controlled Europe. Yet, within the context of ethnic cleansing there are also other cultures that were persecuted and killed by the Nazi regime. According to the American Heritage Dictionary the definition of Holocaust is: "The genocide of European Jews and others by the Nazis during World War II." Yet, it is left to the individual with continued ability and interest to find out just who the "others" were. "Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, foreign forced and slave laborers, Poles, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), and people in conquered lands. " Also in this group are those unclassified individuals such as, the poor, beggars, criminals and simply the unemployed, who are given no voice or recognition in history.

Just as they are marginalized in society, they are marginalized in history. The separation of any group from the rest of society, with a label of "other" is the very base of marginalization, and in the language of history they are still classified as "others." "Unlike the Jewish Holocaust, the genocide of the European Roma was systematically forgotten after 1945. This unacknowledged genocide was the most comprehensive destruction of Roma society in history. "

The Gypsies or as they prefer to be called the Roma, suffered a terrible ordeal and much of the world to date does not recognize this. Some estimates put the number of gypsy deaths at the hands of the Nazis at between 200, 000 and 300, 000, yet as detailed as Nazi records were a concrete number will never be know. Their plight must be detailed and outlined specifically. The Roma must be included, as a significantly affected culture, in the history of the holocaust.

The continued lack of attention to the "others" noted in history to have been persecuted by centuries of hatred, culminating in the Nazi annihilation plans, leaves the Roma in a continued position of marginalization. The continued strife suffered by the Roma, may in part be a result of the lack of official recognition of the losses they have suffered. The Roma live, mostly in separatist enclaves allover the European continent, and even in other nations, and this is not always by choice. Their story is not unique, as we can see from the continuous snippets of news westerners receive from those "other" cultures, yet what is unique is the mainstream acceptance of the continued discrimination. The diverse culture continues to be the victim of omission, just as they continue to be subjugated and isolated from opportunity.

As with all other marginalized, and persecuted cultures targeted by the Nazi Party in Germany and elsewhere the history of anti-Roma sentiment traces back for centuries, and even continues today, to some degree. The plight of the Roma can teach an important and valuable lesson to any historian or layperson interested in the phenomena of the holocaust. That lesson being that is could be anyone at any time. It was not just the estimated six million Jews, though not a number to be considered lightly, but it was others, who the Nazi regime determined through arbitrary feelings of distrust and marginalization were a threat to their own culture. Additionally, the Nazis where not the first to persecute and precipitate mass injustice and sadly, if history speaks truthfully they will not be the last.

The persecution of the Gypsies by the Nazi regime represents but a chapter in a long history replete with abuse and cruel oppression. Ever since the Gypsies appeared in central Europe in the early fifteenth century, they have been expelled, branded, hanged and subjected to various other kinds of maltreatment. Indeed, in some parts of Europe the vicious tribulations experienced by this minority continue unabated to the present day."

The story of the Roma through their history in Europe is clouded with persecution and general hatred. In most places where gypsies lived they were foundationally unwelcome, often persecuted for their very existence.

A steps were taken to prevent their immigration or to expedite their departure. In some cases, it was legal to kill and rape Gypsies; in other instances, they were banished, or were terrorized to force them to leave. Similar policies were adopted elsewhere in Europe, from the Papal States to the Lowlands, from the Rhine to the Vistula. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Gypsy communities suffered from trumped-up charges punishable by execution, lynch mobs, pogroms, corporal punishment, and torture that included compulsory branding. In Prussia in 1722, it became a capital offense just to be a Gypsy. "

As a population targeted for persecution the Nazis wasted no time making detailed plans for the annihilation of the Roma peoples. They developed complex and far reaching plans, codifying them into laws.

The Nazi assault on Gypsies as an undesirable group was launched in the first months of the Third Reich. By the end of 1933, the outlines of a policy of total removal and, if possible, extinction, were in place. In addition, Gypsies had also been numbered among those destined for mass sterilization. The goal of preventing their propagation had been pronounced on 14 July 1933, when the new cabinet issued a statement that proclaimed the concept of Lebensunwertesleben (lives unworthy of life), a category of person that, at the time, specifically and indiscriminately included and embraced all Gypsies. 1 Shortly thereafter, exploratory contacts were made with the League of Nations to assess the practicability of allocating one or two Polynesian islands to which Gypsies could be deported.

Even in the very early days of the control of the Nazi regime there were horrific plans to commit atrocities that pale in comparison to those which actually occurred. As the movement gained steam and the Nazis began to realize that the world was going to largely ignore, with mass indifference their plans and actions against those they feared and hated, they began to make more gruesome plans with less grand, and some would say less humanitarian designs. Simply arrest all they could find who were considered to be lives not worth living and work them to the brink of death or simply assassinate them with no dignity nor reason.

By September 1933, the Ministry of Interior announced a more realizable preliminary plan to arrest persons with no fixed and permanent addresses (i.e., primarily Gypsies) and to place them in special detention camps to take them out of the mainstream of society. There the Gypsies would be rendered criminally harmless and biologically "futureless" (Zukunftslos) through mass sterilization...In retrospect, the central ingredients for a formula of genocide, for the complete extermination of the Gypsies, had been created: an ideology that deprived them of the basic right to life; a process of law by edict that subjected them to totalitarian rule; a hypothetical plan to deport them abroad, and a more concrete one to isolate them from the citizenry, through imprisonment and a technology of physical mutilation, that would deny them progeny and a link with a biological future Thus, by the end of 1933, a skeletal blueprint for the genocide of Gypsies by the racial architects of the Nazi regime had been drawn up on the eve of the first Nazi roundup of Gypsies in January 1934..

Yet, as the most notable numbers began to surface, and with the Nazi general emphasis on the annihilation of the Jews, and possibly continued general discrimination against the Roma, their plight was largely ignored as history began to focus almost exclusively upon the largest group affected.

It is a familiar story, except that it has largely been told and retold in conjunction with the Jews' experience. The National Socialist vision of a racially purified Europe, however, extended far beyond their self-proclaimed and obsessive anti-Semitism. Though the war against Jews remained at the core of their racial thinking and actions, the National Socialist dream of an Aryan-German dominated empire from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains encompassed a revolutionary rearrangement of Europe's demographic composition. According to their racial scheme,

The Nazi's ideology as they detailed it was a racial hierarchy, ranking the existent population, according to race. Though it is clearly accepted that the Jews, according to the Nazis were the lowest on the rung of those to be eliminated they Roma and others were targeted early on as racially inferior and therefore in need of a grand plan for ultimate removal from the population of Europe, and eventually the world.

Europe's populations consisted of a descending hierarchy of peoples ranging from the racially superior Aryans, of whom the Germans were the highest embodiment, to those racially inferior, all the way to the Jews who were perceived as an anti-race, a people outside the pale of humanity, whose extermination became a sacred cause of the party and the state through which it exercised its demonic power....Gypsies ranked between Slavs, who were considered subhumans, and Jews, who were antihumans. While policy toward Slavs remained moot… [END OF PREVIEW]

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