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December 1st, 2007

05:56 pm - 'We had the same pain'
by Emma Brockes

Most people know about the millions of Jews murdered in Hitler's death camps; less is known about the 500,000 Gypsies who also died. For many years, Walter Winter did not speak of the events that took place in his life between the ages of 20 and 25. After the war he put his head down and worked: in his family's funfair business and on the business of marriage, to Marion, with whom he raised six children in the corner of north-east Germany where the Winters had lived for as long as he could remember. At 84, he lives there still. "We are tough," he says, referring to his storm-battered family and, more generally, to the race to which it belongs. "We are tough because we have had to be."

Herr Winter and his wife live in a flat decorated with reminders of a world that has long since ceased to exist. There is a grandfather clock and a case displaying a china tea-set and, mounted on the wall, a violin surrounded by paintings of Romani scenes of yore: old-fashioned tubular caravans with horses out front and children tumbling over each other on the steps at the back. This way of life was still just about in evidence when Winter grew up, one of nine children, in the years before what he calls "the forgotten Holocaust". In 1943, Winter and two of his siblings were transported to the "Gypsy" camp at Auschwitz. His sister Maria's eight-year-old twin daughters died at the hands of Josef Mengele; Winter's wife, Anna, whom he met in the camp, and their new-born baby died after being transported to Ravensbruck. His brother Erich was sterilized. "They want it to be forgotten," he says. "Ja. There is a tradition of persecuting the Sinti. Always, always."

There are not many written accounts of the half-million or so Roma and Sinti who died in the camps, because, says Winter, theirs is traditionally an oral not a literary culture. Unlike the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, many of whom came from the educated middle-classes, the Sinti generally made their living on the land. Winter's own family traveled in the caravan doing seasonal farm work and show business. They were talented horsemen and women - Winter himself used to do a circus act, which involved jumping on to the back of a moving horse - and gifted mechanics and electricians. "They didn't weld," he says, "but everything else."

Even in the 1920s, they would be escorted to the border of each German county by the police. "An example," says Winter, through an interpreter, "was when I was six years old. My parents were having coffee in the morning, on a day we were due to move on. A policeman came to the door of the caravan and told us to leave right away. My mother said, 'We can't leave immediately, the children are having breakfast.' But the policeman didn't want to wait. He took out the baton and my father started to pack up, rapidly. But it wasn't fast enough for the policeman. He first whipped the horses, then he hit my father." Read more...Collapse )

·Winter Time: Memoirs of a German who Survived Auschwitz is published by the University of Hertfordshire, price £9.99.


05:54 pm - Gypsy Victims of the Nazi Terror
by Myriam Novitch

The extermination of the Gypsies was part of the programme of the Nazi party. However, official discrimination against Gypsies as a group can be traced back at least as far as 1899, when the Bavarian police created a special Gypsy Affairs Section which received copies of verdicts delivered by the courts concerning offences committed by Gypsies. In 1929 this Section became a National Centre, with headquarters in Munich, and from then on Gypsies were not allowed to move from one place to another without permission from the police. Gypsies aged over sixteen who could not prove that they had a job faced a sentence of two years' labour in a reformatory institution.

After 1933, the year in which Hitler came to power, these measures became even more severe. Gypsies who could not prove that they were of German nationality were deported; others were interned as "asocial" persons. Interest in their racial characteristics began to grow. In 1936 Dr. Hans Globke, one of the drafters of the Nuremberg Laws, declared that "Gypsies are of alien blood" (Artfremdes Blut). Unable to deny that they were of Aryan origin, Professor Hans F. Guenther categorized them as Rassengemische, an indeterminate mixture of races.

The study of the racial characteristics of Gypsies came to be admitted as a subject for doctoral theses. Eva Justin, the assistant of Dr. Ritter of the Health Ministry's Race Research Division, declared when submitting her thesis that Gypsy blood was "very dangerous for the purity of the German race".

The situation of Gypsies was worsened by a decree of 14 December 1937 which declared them to be "inveterate criminals". In late 1937 and in 1938 there were widespread arrests, and a special section was created for Gypsies in Buchenwald concentration camp. Gypsy names appear in the death lists of many camps including Mauthausen, Gusen, Dautmergen, Natzweiler and Flossenburg. Many Gypsy women were the victims of experiments by SS doctors at Ravensbruck. A certain Dr. Portschy submitted a memorandum to the Fuhrer proposing "forced labour and mass sterilization of the Gypsies because they are endangering the blood purity of the German peasantry".

In 1938 Himmler intervened personally, ordering the transfer of the Gypsy Affairs Centre from Munich to Berlin. In the same year 300 sedentary Gypsies, the owners of fields and vineyards, where arrested in the village of Mannworth.

Himmler stipulated that Gypsies should be classified as follows: pure Gypsies (Z); mixed race Gypsies of predominantly Gypsy blood (ZM+); mixed race Gypsies of predominantly Aryan blood (ZM-); and mixed-race Gypsies with half-Gypsy, half-Aryan blood (ZM).

In his study "L'Allemagne et le genocide" the historian Joseph Billig identified three methods of committing genocide: the suppression of fertility, deportation, and homicide.

Gypsy women married to non-Gypsies were sterilized in the hospital at Dusseldorf-Lierenfeld. Some died as a result of being sterilized while pregnant. In Ravensbruck camp 120 Gypsy girls were sterilized by SS doctors.

Forty years have passed since the genocide of the Gypsies. These lines are no more than a reminder of the terrible crime committed against this group of human beings.

(Te avel angle tute)

05:53 pm - The 'Devouring': A look at the Romani Holocaust
By Brian Kenety

The Porrajmos, literally "the Devouring," is the term that the Roma & Sinti (Gypsies) use to describe the Nazi regime's attempt to wipe their people off the face of the Earth; for the genocidal wave of terror known to most of the world as the Holocaust. An estimated half million Romani people were killed during the Second World War — only five percent of the Czech-born population survived. Nearly all who lived through internment in the Czech-run labor camps near Hodonin and Lety — now the site of a pig farm — later perished in the so-called "Gypsy family camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Inmate number 1-9-9-6 was among the few Romani to survive Auschwitz. The Nazis didn't bother to tattoo an ID number on Antonin Hlavacek's arm — Romani children, like the elderly, weren't meant to live long, so his number was written in ink. But sixty years later, Mr Hlavacek can no more forget the number he answered to at Auschwitz than the atrocities he witnessed as a young boy.

"The transports would come in when it was dark. We weren't allowed to go outside but heard it all. They'd pull everyone out of the train, pile up their clothes and belongings on the floor and send most of them straight to the 'showers'. Instead of water, it was gas that came out of the pipes. There was also a group of prisoners, selected every three months, that was given more food and made to work in what we thought was a bakery. Only much later did we realize it was a crematorium, where they burned people. The toilet was just one big hole with a piece of wood over it and in order to get to it, we had to move aside dead bodies because they were only taken away every three days."

The horrors of the death camps have been exhaustively documented, but the wartime fate of the Romani — who, alongside Europe's Jewish population, were singled out for extinction by the Nazis along racial lines — is less widely understood; their tremendous suffering and loss often reduced to little more than a historical footnote. An estimated 70 percent of Europe's Romani population died in the "Devouring"; yet no Romani were called to testify at the post-war Nuremberg Trials and no one spoke there on their behalf. Artur Radvansky — a Jewish Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz — has made a point of bearing witness in recent years, traveling to Germany to explain the Holocaust to students of all ages. One horrific event stands out in his mind above all the others — the day he watched camp guards bring in a group of Romani war veterans from Germany.

"I witnessed the most terrible thing, something which no-one else knows about in this country because no-one else is alive to remember it. One day, the Auschwitz guards brought in between 400 and 600 Romani from Germany. Many of the men were former German soldiers who had fought in Poland during the First World War. Some of them were still wearing their medals: the Knight's Cross, if you're familiar with it. They were decorated soldiers — German soldiers — and yet one night the guards came and took them to the gas chambers to be killed." Read more...Collapse )

PhotographsCollapse )

(Te avel angle tute)

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