Icon by Jorge MurielGypsies

Many fail to notice that the Holocaust took 500,000 Gypsies' lives. They experienced the same hardships Jews did, with discriminations extending throughout their settlement of western Europe. Gypsies were termed by the Nazi's as "asocial". They were seen as racially-alien people who degenerated the "Aryan Race". The Gypsies were viewed by the Nazi's with racial stereotype's of dark-skinned thieves, pickpockets, swindlers, beggars, and fortunetellers, incarcerating them as criminals.They were ostracized from the German community even at the beginning of the twentieth century, where certain restrictions were placed if they could not prove local residency and occupation.

The main focus during this time was to set up regulations which restricted the Gypsies' behavior. Nazi ideology associated behavior with race, criminality with Gypsies. They were mainly subjected to the persecution of police. In 1936, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the German police in the Reich Ministry of Interior, gave specific orders to the police in which the freedom of Gypsies should be restricted. New laws were ordered restricting Gypsy's travel and trade, as well as incarcerating them. Multiple studies and research headed by Robert Ritter on Gypsies were performed in order to classify them, and sustain the racial stereotypes, as well as identify them among the German people. Even though Ritter's study of Gypsies had no scientific validity it was considered an important investigation that classified most of the German and many of the Austrian Gypsies from pure to non-gypsy.

A group of Gypsy prisoners, awaiting instructions from their German captors, sit in an
open area near the fence in the Belzec concentration camp.
Photo from USHHM Archives.


Most of the laws passed in 1934 referring to the deportation of Jews also referred to Gypsies who could not prove their German citizenship. The Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary diseases was applied to the sterilization of Gypsies. Gypsies were claimed to be "feebleminded", but it can be seen that the sterilizations for such racial reasons were illegal. Among others, they were sterilized as `unworthy of human reproduction' (fortpflanzungsunwuerdig), only to be ultimately annihilated as not worthy of living. In 1935, German Gypsies were confined to Ghettos and later during World War II to concentration camps where they were gassed, cremated or shot before firing squads, used as medical guinea pigs, and injected with lethal substances.

The deportations and executions of the Gypsies came under Himmler's authority. On December 16, 1942, Himmler issued an order to send all Gypsies to the concentration camps, with a few exceptions. The deported Gypsies were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a special Gypsy camp was erected. Over 20,000 Gypsies from Germany and some other parts of Europe were sent to this camp, and most of them were gassed there.