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The Porajmos (also Porrajmos) literally Devouring, is a term coined by the Roma (Gypsy) people to describe attempts by the Nazi regime to exterminate most of the Roma peoples of Europe. The phenomenon has been little studied and largely overshadowed by the Jewish Holocaust, or Shoah. Because the Roma communities of Eastern Europe were less organized than, say, the Jewish communities, it is more difficult to assess the actual number of victims, though it is believed to range from 200,000 to 800,000.

In the thousand years that nomadic Roma tribes wandered through Europe, they were subject to unparalleled persecution and humiliation. Given the Nazi predilection for "racial purity," it would seem inevitable that the Roma would be among their first victims. Nevertheless, in the earliest days of the Third Reich, the Gypsies posed a problem for Hitler's racial ideologues. As anthropologists, they realized that Gypsies arrived in Europe from India, and were descendants of the original Aryan invaders of the subcontinent, who returned to Europe. In other words, the Gypsies were no less Aryan, and perhaps even more Aryan, than the Germans themselves.

In a bizarre twist, Nazi racialist Hans GŁnther added a new, socioeconomic component to the theory of racial purity. While he conceded that the Gypsies were, in fact, descended from Aryans, they were of poorer classes that mingled with the various "inferior" races they encountered during their wanderings. This, he explained, accounted for their extreme poverty and nomadic lifestyle. While he conceded that there were some groups that were "purely Aryan," most Gypsies posed a threat to Aryan hegemony because of their racial mingling.

In order to study the problem further, the Nazis established the Racial Hygiene and Population Biology Research Unit in 1936. Headed by Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant Eva Justin, the body was mandated to conduct an in-depth study of the "Gypsy problem" and to make recommendations accordingly. After extensive "fieldwork," consisting of interviews and medical examinations, it was determined that most Roma posed a danger to German racial purity and should be exterminated. No decision was made regarding the remainder (about 10 percent of the total Roma population of Europe), primarily Sinti and Lalleri tribes living in Germany, though several suggestions were made. At one point Heinrich Himmler even suggested the establishment of a remote reservation, where the "pure Gypsies" could continue their nomadic lifestyle unhindered. According to him:

"...The aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be the physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation, the prevention of miscegenation, and finally, the regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies."

The vast majority, however, were to suffer the same indignities as the Jews, and in some instances, they suffered even more brutally. They were herded into ghettoes, including the Warsaw Ghetto (April-June, 1942), where they formed a distinct subclass. According to Ghetto diarist Emmanuel Ringelblum, the Gypsies were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto because the Germans wanted

"..To toss into the Ghetto everything that is characteristically dirty, shabby, bizarre, of which one ought to be frightened, and which anyway has to be destroyed."

Further east, teams of Einsatzgruppen tracked down Roma encampments and murdered the inhabitants on the spot, leaving no records of the victims.

Gypsies were also victims of the puppet regimes that cooperated with the Third Reich during the war, especially the notorious Ustashe regime in Croatia. In Jasenovac concentration camp, along with Serbs and Jews, tens of thousands of Gypsies were killed.

On December 16, 1942, Himmler ordered that the Roma candidates for extermination should be deported to Auschwitz. To the Roma and Sinti people of Europe, this order was equivalent to the January 20 decision of that same year, made at the Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi bureaucrats decided on the "Final Solution" of the "Jewish problem." Himmler then on November 15, 1943 ordered that Gypsies and "part-Gypsies" were to be put "on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps."

According to testimonies of Jewish and Nazi witnesses, Gypsies sent to the death camps often suffered even worse than Jews. In some instances, the Nazis were so appalled by the sight of Roma arriving in the transports that they would not even let them in the gates of the camps for selection and simply murdered them by the railway platforms. In one remarkable instance, the victims were so terrified that they would be killed on the spot that they actually stormed the gates of the death camp, demanding to be allowed in--they were promptly led to the gas chambers, all the while believing that they would find sanctuary there.

Because of the loosely organized nature of the Roma community in Europe, it is difficult to determine how many Roma were actually killed during the Porajmos. Only in recent years has the Roma community begun to demand acceptance among the victims of the Nazi regime. The response so far has been mixed.

Gypsy arrivals in the Belzec death camp await instructions