Concentration Camps

In addition to the concentration camps mentioned, Gypsies were also sent to concentration camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau where a special section in Birkenau called BII was created. The journey to concentration camps involved being herded like animals onto trains of cattle trucks. The overcrowding, long journey, no sanitation and no access to food or water led to many dying ; especially the very young and old, before they reached the camps. On arrival, people were mercilessly shouted at, insulted and violently assaulted by guards, where they would then be sorted for ‘selection’. This meant either being chosen to be worked to death or killed immediately

Gypsy prisoners were forced to carry a yellow card with with a black ‘Z’ for Zigeuner on it. Other means for guards to identify the category they were classed in was the wearing of black triangular patches on their clothing which was the symbol for ‘asocial's’ or a green one, the category for professional criminals.

Life inside the camps were a living hell. Brutality by guards, lack of food, water or sometimes shelter, led to illness and eventual death. Others were worked to death, whilst disease such as small pox, typhus and Noma, killed many.

In 1939 Himmler referred to 'the Gypsy Plague' and '..the final solution of the Gypsy question must be approached with the basic nature of this race in mind'. This usually meant gassing on an industrial scale, with the cyanide based crystal which reacts to water; Zyklon B. It should also be noted that thousands of Gypsies were sent to the Polish Ghettos of  Lublin, Lodi, Cracow, Chelmno, Bialystok and Radom where amongst the first to be killed by gassing in mobile vans.

Racial Experiments

Other prisoners were subjected to medical experiments by Dr Robert Ritter a psychiatrist who hoped to determine the links between heredity and criminality. Ritter studied German Gypsies imprisoned in the various concentration camps and developed detailed family histories in order to distinguish ‘pure’ Gypsies from those of ‘mixed blood’ with the aim of removing those incorporated into the German general population. Ritter classified Gypsies as a danger to society and someone as Gypsy with as little as one-eighth Gypsy blood.

The 'Angel of Death'; Dr Josef Mengele also played a leading role in the Porraimos. Many Gypsies; including children died from the experiments conducted by Mengele. Mengele, named Auschwitz SS Garrison Physician in 1943, was responsible for the selection of those fit to work, those not fit for work and for medical experiments, which particularly involved the research of eye pigmentation; where he collected the eyes of his victims for further r’esearch’, the documentation of the progression of the disease; Noma a gangrene/leprosy type disease and for experiments on twins.

Mengele fled Auschwitz in 1945 when the Soviet Red Army advanced through Western Poland and made his way west to avoid capture by Soviet troops.

Nazi Racial Categorization

When the Nazi’s categorised people they deemed as racially inferior and began conducting experiments on them to try and prove their theory of an Ayran race as being scientifically superior over other races, a major source of embarrassment for them was the fact that Gypsies were more Aryan than them. Himmler once attempted to keep a small number of ‘pure’ Gypsies for this reason on a reservation so more detailed ‘ethnic study’ of these ‘enemies of the state’ could be conducted. Senior Nazi’s rejected this idea.

Some have claimed that the mass murder of Gypsies was not racial; which is simply incorrect, as the racial categorisation of Gypsies and ‘experiments’ prove this.


Robert Dawson Romany Collection

Robert Dawson Romany Collection

Top: Einsatzgruppen soldiers with Gypsy females in Croatia before they were murdered. Middle: German Soldier poses in front of Gypsy prisoners in 1942. Bottom: Dr Josef Mengele; The ‘Angel of Death’.