Photo Credit: Screenshot
Nazi church bell in Thuringia, Germany

*Editor’s Note: This is Part V in the author’s second series with JPRESS ONLINE, dealing with Nazi persecution of Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities.

A number of leading Holocaust historians refute the notion the Germans dealt with the Gypsies in the same manner they did with the Jews. Historian Lucy S. Dawidowicz said, when we refer “to the murder of the Six Million Jews as a distinctive, as unique, [it] is not an attempt to magnify the catastrophe that befell them nor to beg tears and pity for them. It is not intended to minimize the deaths of the millions of non-Jews that the Germans brought about, or to underplay the immeasurable and unendurable suffering of the Russians, Poles, Gypsies and other victims of the German murder machine.” By rejecting “the particularity of the Jewish experience under the German dictatorship , and still more, the enormity of the Jewish loses, by equating the destruction of European Jews with other events, they succeed in obscuring the role of antisemitism in accomplishing that murder. ” [1]

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The Holocaust is the first time, she noted, “where murdering was not an end by itself, but a means to an end, even if those involved did not agree if the results were good or evil. In the destruction of European Jewry, the ends and the means were the same. The Germans assumed the right to decide who deserved to live on this earth, and who did not.” In doing so, the “parameters of the Holocaust have been defined the universe of evil and of good, have marked the limits of human bestiality and human arrogance, set the measure of human endurance and courage.” [2]

Historian Saul Friedländer agreed with this analysis when he observed that the Gypsies, who were not viewed as “enemies,” but as “asocial” elements, and a member of an “inferior” racial group, who even

served in the German army until July 1942. and their execution was “planned only after many hesitations.” [3] The Nazis, he said, viewed the Gypsies as “essentially passive threats,” whereas “The Jew was a lethal and active threat to all nations, to the Aryan race and to the German Volk (people ). [4]

“The Romany [Gypsy] experience under the Nazis” observed Robert Rozett, a Senior Historian in the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem, “most closely parallels that of the Jews. The testimonies of Romany survivors often sound nearly identical to individual victims. Yet despite the experiences of the individual victims, one must recognize that Nazi policies toward the Romanies and the Jews differed on two very central points.” The Romanies were not persecuted because they were regarded as a racial threat to the German nation, as were the Jews; but because they were deemed to be “a social problem.” In addition, the Germans never planned to annihilate every Romany, just the ones they conserved most dangerous, “as was the case with most of the other groups they decimated.” [5]

Historian Richard Breitman added, “The Nazis are not known to have spoken of the Final Solution of the Polish problem or of the gypsy problem.” The term “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” (die Endlösung der Judenfrage) applied “to a single, specific group defined by descent.” Nazi officials used this phrase to “avoid dirtying their lips with words like ‘mass murder’ or ‘extermination.’” The Final Solution was an attempt to exterminate the entire the Jewish “race” from the face of the earth. Throughout the war, Breitman concluded, the Jews continued to be “the most important target, the arch-enemy.” [6]

“There were profound differences between Nazi treatment of Jews and Gypsies, though the fate of the latter has often been compared to that of the Jews.” asserted Jacob Robinson. At the Nuremberg trials, Robinson, a distinguished international lawyer, served as Advisor for Jewish Matters to Judge Robert H. Jackson, who headed the Prosecution for the United States. After Adolf Eichmann was captured by Israel, Robinson joined the prosecution team headed by Gideon Hausner.

“The Nazi attitude toward the Gypsies vacillated between two extremes,” he said. At one extreme, Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi theorist and ideologue, held a certain fascination with the alleged Aryan purity of the Gypsies. An opposing opinion maintained the Gypsies were subhuman and should be annihilated. Even as early as 1935, elements within the SS office of racial policy discussed the possibility of congregating them on board ships and drowning them. “In the case of the Jews,” Robinson, noted, “there was never vacillation and never an alternative extreme.” [7]

Actions regarding the Gypsies were always intended only for those in Germany or in German-occupied territory, especially Poland, Robinson pointed out. No attempts were made to implement any anti-Gypsy campaigns throughout Europe. Even in Romania and Hungary, which were German satellites, containing considerable numbers of Gypsies, the Germans did not request them to initiate any measures against these residents. [8]

“Limited Importance of Gypsies”

Significantly, there is no mention in Mein Kampf about the Gypsies, because it seems that Hitler had “no interest” in them asserts historian Guenther Lewy. “At most,” Hitler considered them to be “a minor irritant.” Throughout his 12-year reign, Hitler referred to Gypsies just two times in reference to serving in the military. Hitler’s basic “lack concern” in the “Gypsy problem,” helps us understand why the Jews and Gypsies were “ultimately treated no differently.” The Jews were the incarnation of evil, who

unquestionably posed an existential threat to humanity. Gypsies, however, were a “plague and a nuisance,” who could be managed through conventional methods. [9]

The “limited importance of the Gypsy issue,” is also apparent that when the Nazis issued the first two crucial racial laws (The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor on September 15, 1935) and the Law for the Protection of the Hereditary Health of the German People of October 18, 1935), no mention is made of Gypsies. In 1933, there were approximately 523,000 German Jews living in Germany, many of whom held substantial positions in German society. In contrast, there were about 26,000 Gypsies, who were merely a “marginal element” at best.

In a quasi-official essay published in 1938, two officials in the Ministry of the Interior, made this fact quite clear: “The racial problem for the German people is the Jewish Question, since only the Jews are numerically significant as members of an alien race in Germany.” They concluded that in comparison to the Jews, other foreign races in Germany “are of little significance.” Furthermore, as other have affirmed, Gypsies were considered “mentally inferior,” and therefore “were unable to penetrate the leading strata of society.” [10]

In October 1939, the Germans planned the ‘cleansing’ of all Gypsies in ‘Greater Germany,’ which was partially begun a year later. When German Gypsies were deported to Auschwitz in early 1943, they were not subjected to the selection process of determining who was fit for work and who was not, which meant no one was sent to the gas chambers upon arrival. Two years after the gassing of the Jews began, the gassing of Gypsy children and adults began, which continued for only one month. [11]

“In the Jewish case alone,” Robinson concluded, “there was an absence of inhibitions, conflicting purposes, and compromises, and a complete disregard for rational considerations, which did have a part in Nazi persecution of non-Jews.” [12]

Footnotes

[1] Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The Holocaust and the Historians (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1997), 13-14,17.

[2] Lucy S. Dawidowicz, “The Holocaust in Historical Record,” in Dimensions of the Holocaust (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1977): 28, 32.

[3] Saul Friedländer, “On the Possibility of the Holocaust: an Approach to a Historical Synthesis,” in The Holocaust As a Historical Experience: Essays and a Discussion, Yehuda Bauer and Nathan Rotenstreich, Ed.(New York: Holmes & Meier, Inc., 19871), 2; Despite the order prohibiting Gypsies from serving in the German military, “not a few continued to serve in the armed forces.” They “were protected by their commanding officers, probably more as a matter of soldier solidarity than because of a conscious rejection of racism.” Guenther Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 94-97.

[4] Saul Friedländer, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), xix; The term Volk, Mosse explains, is a difficult German term to define, because it means more than just people. It connotes a “union of people with a transcendental ‘essence’…which might be called ‘nature,’ or ‘cosmos,’ or ‘mythos.’” In each case, “it was fused to man’s innermost nature, and represented the source of his creativity, his depth of feeling, his individuality, and

his unity with other member of the Volk;” George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964),4-5.

[5] Robert Rozett, Approaching the Holocaust: Texts and Contexts (Portland, Oregon: Vallentine Mitchell, 2005), 2.

[6] Richard Breitman, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf:1991),19-20, 181.

[7] Jacob Robinson, And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight: a New Look at the Eichmann Trial (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1965),97; Race and Race History and Other Essays by Alfred Rosenberg, Robert Pois, Ed.(New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1974),175-190.

[8] Ibid. 97-98.

[9] Lewy, op.cit. 38; Robinson, op.cit. 98.

[10] Lewy, op.cit. 43, 50.

[11] Robinson, op.cit.98.

[12] Ibid. 100.

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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.