The National Socialist genocide of the Sinti and Roma

Else Schmidt (centre), here with her two stepsisters, only survived the concentration camps, because her father managed to free her from Ravensbrück concentration camp.

In contrast with the distorted pictures of National Socialist propaganda, Sinti and Roma were integrated in community life before the "seizure of power". Many had served in the army in the First World War and been decorated.

Just under a year before the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor of the German Reich, a reporter from the "Pfälzische Rundschau" wrote an account about the Sinti of Eußerthal, who had had their home there for generations:

"The gypsy families come to the village, buy their milk and bread, otherwise they do not attract attention to themselves, they send their children to the village school, go to Mass, because they converted to the Roman Catholic faith, and also discharged their civic duty in the last Reich presidential election."

The normality of this life in the community was systematically destroyed at the beginning of Nazi rule. On the basis of the National Socialist racial ideology, Sinti and Roma were deprived of their rights step-by-step, robbed of their livelihood and finally deported to the death camps. The last families under the Auschwitz Decree of 16th December 1942.

Preparation of head models at the "Racial Hygiene Research Unit" (Federal Archives)

The "final solution" was founded on "race" and was radically different from all previous forms of persecution and cannot be considered as a simple continuation of state "gipsy policy" on any account. On the contrary, the Holocaust of the Sinti and Roma represented a fundamental turning point in the centuries-old shared history of minority and majority society. At the same time, it signified a break with the traditional forms of political thinking and action.

The objective of the policy of mass murder organized by the National Socialist state was the complete extermination of the minority from the very young to the very old. The implementation of this genocide was only possible in the context of the National Socialist racial ideology and under the conditions of totalitarian rule as well as of the unforeseen unleashing of violence in the Second World War. According to estimates, 500,000 Sinti and Roma fell victim to the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Europe - a crime which defies any historical comparison and is inconceivable in its scale.

The historic break of the Holocaust has buried itself deeply in the collective memory of the minority and will shape the identity of future generations, also because the genocide of the Sinti and Roma has so far still not been completely dealt with in the historical account.