The Forgotten Holocaust

The Forgotten Holocaust is the term given to the murder of Gypsies by Nazi Germany throughout the tenure of Hitler’s regime. Gypsies often refer to this dark period as ‘The Great Sadness’, ‘Big Fear’ or more commonly; ‘Porrajmos’ (pronounced Por-aim-os) which means the ‘Devouring’.         

It is estimated that between 250,000  to 750,000 Gypsies from all over Europe were murdered.


Europe has a long history of prejudice and persecution towards Gypsies, unfortunately this has not changed. In pre-war Germany for example, the view of Gypsies by the Establishment and many members of the public was one of criminality and of being social outcasts. Gypsies were regularly harassed by Police, checking their papers and evicting them from public land.

A Bavarian Law of 1926 gave measures for ‘Combatting Gypsies, Vagabonds and the Work Shy’. The law banned Gypsies from ‘roaming or camping in bands’ in addition to Gypsies ‘unable to prove regular employment’  being sent into forced labour for a maximum of two years. This law became normal practice a few years later in 1929 and remained in effect when Hitler’s Third Reich took power in 1933.

The Nazi Regime:

New laws affecting Gypsies were soon introduced, in line with the Nazi ideology of creating a German Empire of pure ‘Aryan’ blood. Gypsies, Black’s and Jews were regarded as ‘racially inferior’. The 1933 law for ‘Prevention of Offspring with Heredity Defects’ saw Nazi Doctor’s forcibly sterilize Gypsies, part Gypsies and Gypsies in mixed marriages. Gypsies, along with what the Nazi regime regarded as ‘asocials’; prostitutes, alcoholics, homeless and beggars, were rounded up from 1933 onwards under the ‘Law Against Dangerous Habitual Criminals’ and imprisoned in special annexes of concentration camps. The Courts viewed people arrested under the law as having a ‘hereditary disease’.

The Nuremberg racial laws of 1935 deprived Gypsies and others regarded as ‘racially inferior’ of their civil and basic human rights but the law also regarded them as being ‘racially distinctive’ and possessing ‘alien blood’. Marriage to ‘Aryans' was outlawed. These laws also served to create general hostility from large sections of the German public towards Gypsies. In 1936 a Central Office in Munich was established to ‘Combat the Gypsy Nuisance’, becoming the national data bank on Gypsies.

Later that year with the Reich holding the Olympic Games and not wanting Gypsies to ‘tarnish the image’ of Nazi Germany; 600 Gypsies in Berlin were subject to Police raids and brought to an interment camp built near a sewage dump and cemetery in the suburb of Marzahn. Here, with minimal fresh water and two toilets, disease flourished and many Gypsies of all ages perished. The internment camp or Zigeunerlager was rolled out through many German cities in the following years. In 1937 a ‘Crime Prevention’ measure saw 1,000 German and Austrian Gypsies sent to concentration camps with several thousand a year later being sent to camps such as Buchenwold, Dachau, Mauthausen and Ravensbruck.

Robert Dawson Romany Collection

Robert Dawson Romany Collection

Robert Dawson Romany Collection

Top: Gypsy’s being transported to concentration camps. Middle: Gypsy’s in Thuringen forest, Germany. Bottom: Nazi soldiers with Gypsy kids in Croatia.