Despite hundreds of years of oppression, Roma people have never before experienced a movement that aimed at getting rid of the whole nation. Their differences, a lifestyle that did not fit into the fascist society model and ‘’racial impurity’’ were the motive behind the murder of the Roma people. In winter 1939 Germans started the deportation of Roma and Sinti people to Generalgouvernement. Soon after, ghettos and concentration camps in Poland became European Roma extermination centres.
In autumn 1941 around 5,000 Sinti, Kalderash and Lovari people from Austria, mainly children, were sent to the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. They were imprisoned in Zigeunerlager – a small area fenced off with a barbed wire and a water ditch. They were being killed by both executions and typhus. Until April 1942 most of the imprisoned Roma people were transported and killed in Kulmhof/Chelmno nad Nerem by truck exhausts – in mobile gas chambers.
In March 1943 in KL Auschwitz-Birkenau 32 Zigeunerlager/Familienlager barracks were created. They were built for the Roma people marked with the ‘’Asocial’’ black triangles and ‘’Z’’ tattoos. At its peak, there were around 20,000 Roma people living there. They were from Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Holland, Norway, Lithuania, France and Greece. They were being murdered by the guards, but also by hunger, typhus, scurvy, diarrhoea, scabies and noma. The camp ‘’doctors’’, including dr. Josef Mengele, were conducting research on twins, heads of Roma children were cut off and preserved, pregnant women were being infected with typhus in order to analyse the impact of the disease on the fetus. On the 16th of May 1944 Germans attempted to exterminate the people and shut down the camp. The Roma people found out about the plans and armed themselves with sticks, knives and rocks. They didn’t obey the orders and didn’t leave the barracks. The SS were too scared to react to the rebellion. They later transported and killed all the men in KL Ravensbrück and KL Buchenwald and then exterminated the elderly, women and children in gas chambers on the night of August 1st and 2nd 1944. Their bodies were later burned.
Most of the Polish Roma people have been killed in executions. Sometimes they were trying to resist, but they had no chances against armed killers. Sometimes they joined the guerilla, however, for most the only way of surviving was escaping. Before the II World War in Europe, there were around 1 million Roma people. It is estimated that half of the population was killed during the war, including 35,000 Polish Roma people.
Autor: Andrzej Grzymała-Kazłowski