Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The forgotten victims
Leyna Krow • Assistant Editor, JTNews
Posted: March 11, 2010 font:
It’s easy to forget that Jews were not the only victims of the Holocaust. As the single largest group targeted by the Nazis, the Jewish story is the most frequently told, and the best documented. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only story worth telling.
On Feb. 24, educators from a variety of Western Washington schools as well as a half-dozen students from a class on social justice at South Seattle Community College got a chance to learn about the fate of a far less studied ethnic group.
At an event hosted by the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, Morgan Ahern, founder of Lolo Diklo/Red Bandanna: Roma Against Racism, gave a talk called “Roma/Sinti During the Holocaust and in Today’s World.” Ahern’s lecture focused on the wartime experiences the Roma and Sinti, who are more commonly known as Gypsies.
“‘Gypsy’ is a term that’s loaded with stereotypes,” Ahern said.
The names Sinti and Roma refer to the largest tribes found in Europe, and are less racially charged words. However, they refer to specific groups, so Ahern continues to use the word “Gypsy” for general reference.
Ahern began with a brief characterization and history of the Gypsies.
“I always have to assume people don’t know who we really are,” she said.
The Gypsies originated from the Punjab region of India and are thought to have left India to escape the Indo-Persian wars, ending up in Europe by the beginning of the 12th century. Since then, they lived a predominantly nomadic lifestyle and can be found in almost every country in Europe, as well as other places around the world.
Gypsy life has not changed much over the centuries. They had no written language and, therefore, no self-recorded history.
“We are one of the only people to say we’ve never waged a war,” Ahern said. “I think that’s because we’ve never had a homeland and we’ve never wanted a homeland.”
That’s not to say that violence hasn’t been inflicted upon the Gypsies, however.
Alongside Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists, homosexuals, the disabled, and others, upwards of 500,000 Gypsies were killed during the Holocaust, 65-70 percent of the entire European Gypsy population.
Like the Jews, the trouble for the Gypsies in Germany actually began long before the rise of the Third Reich. The first anti-Gypsy laws in Germany were written in the early 1400s.
By the mid-1930s, as the Nazis were making life difficult for Jews, so too were Gypsies picked out for scrutiny and harassment. German anthologist Eva Justin and psychiatrist Robert Ritter took special interest in the Gypsies and spent the years leading up to the Holocaust studying Gypsy genealogy, hoping to prove that they are inherently asocial criminals. Ahern blames Justin and Ritter for much of the attention paid to the Gypsies by the Nazis.
Germany began its deportation of Gypsies to concentration camps in 1940.
The final blow came in 1942, when Heinrich Himmler signed a decree condemning all Gypsies to death.
“Himmler had reservations about this,” Ahern said. “Not because he felt remorse, but because he wanted to keep a few ‘purebreds’ and open up a zoo for the education and entertainment of the German people. But he was told this was impractical.”
Ahern’s grandparents were living in Germany when Hitler came to power. In 1932, sensing that things would not end well for the Gypsies, they decided to gather up the family and leave the country. At the time, however, no other nations were accepting Gypsy refugees. Ahern’s grandmother scraped together all the money she had and bought Italian passports for as many family members as possible.
Even those who survived the Holocaust were far from being able to return to a normal life.
“Many Gypsies remained in camps until 1948 because they were considered stateless,” Ahern said. No country would take the refugees.
Today, Gypsies continue to face persecution in almost every part of the world.
(Kosovo, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy..........)
Even in the U.S., there were laws preventing Gypsies from entering the states of New Jersey and Mississippi until the late 1970s. Although these laws are no longer on the books, Gypsies remain second-class citizen in many areas of the United States because their style of life often appears in conflict with American norms.
Posted by Morgan at 5:05 PM