Civil rights movement

Demonstration of more than 200 Sinti and Roma against the continuing discrimination by the Bundeskriminalamt in 1983

Whereas the newly founded Federal Republic soon recognized Jewish victims as a pre-requisite for readmission to the community of international states and at least granted them material "compensation" for the torment suffered, the genocide of the Sinti and Roma minority was denied for decades. The survivors were cheated of their moral recognition as victims of the National Socialist "racial policy" and their claims for compensation. Even the property stolen by the Nazis was not returned in most cases. The competent authorities and medical opinion refused to recognize that health problems and the loss of training and education were the result of persecution. In this respect, they openly represented racist opinions which were a continuation of National Socialist racial ideology.

Many of those jointly responsible for the genocide of the Sinti and Roma pursued a career in authorities or in the private sector after the war without hindrance. The deportations to the extermination camps were justified as a purported "crime prevention measure". This thinking even found its way into the judgments of the highest German courts. The genocide of the Sinti and Roma also remained a marginal issue, which was worth a footnote at most, in academic circles and at the former places of persecution, the remembrance and memorial sites.

This gradually began to change with the political self-organisation of the people concerned and the foundation of the civil rights movement, which has been raising awareness of their concerns through public events since the end of the 1970s. In particular, the reporting on the hunger strike at the Dachau concentration camp memorial at Easter 1980, which was a protest against the methods of racist special registration of our minority at judicial and police authorities based on the records of the National Socialist period and sometimes even carried out by former SS personnel, drew attention far beyond the borders of Germany.

The hunger strikers laid wreaths at the Dachau concentration camp memorial at the beginning of the hunger strike at Easter 1980

The foundation of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma with its office in Heidelberg followed in February1982. This umbrella organisation, which has 16 member associations (Regional Federations and regional organisations), has represented the interests of the Sinti and Roma living in Germany at the national and international level ever since.

A crucial turning point in the civil rights work was the 17th March 1982, when the former Federal Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, received a delegation from the Central Council and officially recognized the National Socialist crimes against the Sinti and Roma as genocide for reasons of so-called "race" in a manner which was significant under international law. This was confirmed by his successor in this office, Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in a debate in the Bundestag in November 1985.

After more than 20 years of persistent civil rights work by the Central Council and the Regional Federations, a perceptible change has taken place in many areas of society when it comes to dealing with our minority. This also applies to the question of compensation: since the middle of the 1980s, the Central Council has been able to bring about a fundamental change in the former discriminatory compensation practice for our surviving concentration camp victims and enforce revised decisions of the competent authorities in favour of the people concerned in several thousand individual cases.