The road to genocide

Deportation of the Sinti and Roma of Remscheid to Auschwitz in March 1943 (Historical Centre Remscheid)

At a conference of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamts - RSHA) on 21st September 1939, it was decided that all the 30,000 Sinti and Roma living in the Reich territory were to be deported to occupied Poland. Poland's western part was to be incorporated in the German Reich and "Germanized". The other part of Poland, referred to as the "General Gouvernement", was going to be used as a giant reservoir of forced labourers for the German armaments industry. Thousands of people who were considered to be "racially inferior" were deported to ghettos and concentration camps, where they existed crowded together in extremely cramped conditions. From there they were subsequently transported to the extermination camps.

As a preparatory measure for the deportation, Heinrich Himmler ordered the "confinement" of all Sinti and Roma on the 17th October 1939. They were forbidden to leave their places of residence on threat of imprisonment in concentration camps. Even those who visited out-of-town relatives ran the risk of being deported to a concentration camp. At a conference on 30th January 1940, the head of the RSHA, Reinhard Heydrich, reiterated the intention of the National Socialist leadership to deport all the Sinti and Roma from the Reich to the "General Gouvernement".

"After the two mass movements
a) of 40,000 Poles and Jews in the interest of the Baltic Germans and
b) of approximately 120,000 Poles in the interest of the Volhynia Germans, the deportation of all Jews from the new Ostgaue (eastern regions) and 30,000 gypsies from the Reich territory to the General Gouvernement will take place as the last mass movement. Since it has been decided that the clearance of 120,000 Poles will start around March, the evacuation of Jews and gypsies will have to be postponed until the completion of the above-mentioned actions. However, the distribution basis will be announced by the General Gouvernement, so that planning can start."
(From the minutes of a discussion of the SS leadership chaired by Reinhard Heydrich on 30th January 1940)

Three months later, on 27th April 1940, Himmler ordered the deportation of 2,500 Sinti and Roma to the "General Gouvernement". Special assembly camps were set up in Hamburg, Cologne and the castle of Hohenasperg near Stuttgart. The people were photographed and their names entered in lists. Their valuables and papers were confiscated, instead they received so-called "gypsy identity cards". Dr. Würth, a member of the "Racial Hygiene Research Unit" specially sent from Berlin, carried out follow-up examinations on approximately 200 people in the Hohenasperg assembly camp, since the "race opinions" required in the Himmler decree were not available for them. He classified twenty people as "non-gypsies", which saved them from deportation.

The deportation trains with the Sinti and Roma families left the provisional assembly camps in May 1940. The Reichsbahn readily made special trains available. The ghettos and concentration camps in occupied Poland were their destination. It was a journey which took the majority of the deported men, women and children to their deaths. The property left behind was confiscated as being "hostile to the people and the state".

Chronology 1939 - 1940

1939
21st September: At a conference convened by Heydrich, it is decided to deport the approximately 30,000 "gypsies" living in the "Greater German Reich" to the "General Gouvernement of Poland".
13th October: SS-Oberführer Nebe asks Eichmann "when he can send the Berlin gypsies."
16th October: Nebe is informed that three to four wagons of gypsies "can be attached to the first Jew transport leaving on 20th October 1939."
17th October: Himmler decrees that "gypsies" are no longer allowed to leave their home district ("Confinement Decree").
November: Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger, the head of the Higher Section of the SS and the police in Cracow, calls for forced resettlement of all "Jews and gypsies from the Reich territory to the General Gouvernement of Poland."
25th November: In a memorandum, the "Racial Policy Office" of the NSDAP demands the deportation of all "gypsies" from the German Reich.

1940
30th January: At a conference chaired by Heydrich, it is decided that all Jews in the "new Ostgaue" (eastern regions) and all Sinti and Roma from the Reich territory should be deported to the "General Gouvernement" as the "last mass movement".
27th April: Himmler orders the deportation of 2,500 German Sinti and Roma to occupied Poland in family groups.