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From: holman@elo.helsinki.fi (Eugene Holman)
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Subject: The Holocaust in Romania: the fate of the Gypsies
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 15:23:39 +0400
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What Happened to the Gypsies
By Tom Gross
01/20/2000
The Wall Street Journal Europe
Page 12

"The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies "
By Guenter Lewy

"The Holocaust in Romania"
By Radu Ioanid

To say that the Gypsy people have been ignored by historians, politicians
and the media would be something of an understatement. The Gypsies -- or
Roma, as they are more properly known -- are to be found in almost every
European country, and in a good many other places too, including the U.S.
Numbering at least eight million in Europe alone, they now constitute the
continent's largest minority without a state of its own. And today they are
arguably the most consistently persecuted minority as well, enduring
everything from segregated schools and ghetto compounds in the Czech
Republic to pogroms in Kosovo. Yet the international community has, for the
most part, turned a blind eye to their plight.

Why should this be so? Well, when outright racism is not a cause, unthinking
hostility and astonishing ignorance often are. Many people still think of "
Gypsies " in crude stereotypes -- as thieving vagrants, fortune-tellers or,
at best, picturesque figures out of Bizet's "Carmen." They are, in fact, a
distinct people who have preserved their own language and culture since
migrating to Europe from India in the 10th century. Even so -- to take but
one example -- the Times Atlas of World History in the early 1990s contained
no entry for Roma (or Gypsies ) in the section charting the movement of
peoples.

This neglect is at its most shocking in regard to the fate of the Roma in
Hitler's holocaust, in which they were the second most populous victims.
Thus Guenter Lewy's "The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies " is especially
welcome. Mr. Lewy's account is the most comprehensive and accurate treatment
of the subject in English to date. (It surpasses Donald Kenrick and Grattan
Puxon's admirable 1972 book, "The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies ," which Mr.
Lewy wrongly denigrates.)

Inevitably, Mr. Lewy takes us back before the Nazi era, since official
modern prejudice against the Roma originates in the 19th century. In 1885,
Bavaria issued measures aimed at controlling Gypsies and gathering
information about them. In 1899, a Central Office for Gypsy Affairs was
established by the Munich police; from 1911 it began fingerprinting any
Gypsies it could lay its hands on. Other states supplied names and photos,
and by 1925 this data bank included more than 14,000 names from all over
Germany.

In the 1920s, states and municipalities throughout Germany approved measures
for combating " Gypsies , Travelers and the Work-Shy." In 1929, the city
council of Frankfurt was the first to set up what was officially called a
"concentration camp for Gypsies ." Yet this did not resemble the deadly
concentration camps of later years. Though fenced in, camp inhabitants could
enter and leave at will, and there was no permanent guard.

When Hitler assumed power in 1933, Germany's Roma constituted a small
minority of about 26,000. They were of no particular interest to the Nazi
leadership, whose racial policies were directed almost exclusively against
the Jews. "Mein Kampf," for example, does not mention the Gypsies , and in
his 12 years as Fuehrer, Hitler mentioned them only twice, in brief remarks
on their military service.

Yet, as Mr. Lewy explains, this indifference changed, largely as a result of
pressure from below. Local communities that regarded Gypsies as asocial and
criminal felt there was little place for them in a new social structure that
placed excessive emphasis on law and order. By 1938, measures of control and
harassment against Roma began to assume an explicitly racial nature. Decrees
"for combating the Gypsy plague" made mention of their alleged racial
inferiority.

>From 1943, persecution turned into partial genocide, and a special "Gypsy
camp" was established at Auschwitz, in which 20,000 Roma would die. Yet, as
Mr. Lewy shows, Nazi policies toward the Gypsies remained inconsistent. Some
types were targeted for extinction; others (though often treated very badly)
were spared death. For this reason Mr. Lewy, like most historians before
him, makes a distinction between the murder of Roma and the Nazi campaign to
kill every single Jew.

Estimates by reliable historians of European Gypsies killed in World War II
range from 90,000 to 196,000, out of a prewar population of several million.
Although Mr. Lewy never gives a figure himself, he is dismissive of a new
generation of Roma activists who, desperate to draw attention to the dire
situation of their people today, vastly exaggerate the number of Roma
victims of the Nazis.

Even so, the actual numbers were bad enough. It is worth noting that the
Roma were the only other group subjected to anything approaching full-scale
genocide, and some Roma -- notably the children on whom Mengele
"experimented" -- were subjected to horrific treatment.

Given the discrepancy in the scale of genocide, Radu Ioanid's "The Holocaust
in Romania" naturally concentrates on the fate of the Jews. Relying on
hitherto inaccessible archives, Mr. Ioanid recounts in chilling detail the
savage persecution of the Jews under the Nazi-allied regime of the heinous
dictator Ion Antonescu. At least 250,000 died.

The book's account of the Roma outlines how almost 25,000 Romanian
Gypsies -- approximately 2.5% of the country's Gypsy population -- were
deported to Transnistria (now in Ukraine). All but 1,500 of these died there
with the Jews.

Mr. Ioanid's book is especially timely since, amazingly, Antonescu is
undergoing a rehabilitation in Romania today: streets are being named for
him, statues erected and minutes of silence observed in his memory. What
this perverse homage does to the memory of his victims is almost beyond
reckoning.

---
Mr. Gross, the Middle East correspondent of the London Sunday Telegraph,
served as a special adviser to the United Nations on Czech Roma from 1992 to
1995.


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