The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies

The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies

The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies

The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies

Synopsis

Roaming the countryside in caravans, earning their living as musicians, peddlers, and fortune-tellers, the Gypsies and their elusive way of life represented an affront to Nazi ideas of social order, hard work, and racial purity. They were branded as "asocials," harassed, and eventually herded into concentration camps where many thousands were killed. But until now the story of their persecution has either been overlooked or distorted. In The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, Guenter Lewy draws upon thousands of documents--many never before used--from German and Austrian archives to provide the most comprehensive and accurate study available of the fate of the Gypsies under the Nazi regime. Lewy traces the escalating vilification of the Gypsies as the Nazis instigated a widespread crackdown on the "work-shy" and "itinerants." But he shows that Nazi policy towards Gypsies was confused and changeable. At first, local officials persecuted gypsies, and those who behaved in gypsy-like fashion, for allegedly anti-social tendencies. Later, with the rise of race obsession, Gypsies were seen as a threat to German racial purity, though Himmler himself wavered, trying to save those he considered "pure Gypsies" descended from Aryan roots in India. Indeed, Lewy contradicts much existing scholarship in showing that, however much the Gypsies were persecuted, there was no general program of extermination analogous to the "final solution" for the Jews. Exploring in heart-rending detail the fates of individual Gypsies and their families, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies makes an important addition to our understanding both of the history of this mysterious people and of all facets of the Nazi terror.

Excerpt

The persecution of the Gypsies by the Nazi regime represents but a chapter in a long history replete with abuse and cruel oppression. Ever since the Gypsies appeared in central Europe in the early fifteenth century, they have been expelled, branded, hanged and subjected to various other kinds of maltreatment. Indeed, in some parts of Europe the vicious tribulations experienced by this minority continue unabated to the present day. As a result of this history, many Gypsies are reluctant to acknowledge their ethnic identity, and statistics about the number of Gypsies in the world are therefore notoriously unreliable.

Gypsies in German Lands: Early Years

The people known today as Gypsies speak a multiplicity of dialects, all derived from Sanskrit with borrowings from Persian, Kurdish and Greek. Analysis of this language, known as Romani, and other evidence have established with considerable certainty that the Gypsies left the Indian subcontinent more than a thousand years ago, probably in several waves, and gradually migrated through Persia, Armenia and Turkey to Europe. We do not know what brought about this exodus; the Gypsies are an unlettered people who have neither written nor oral histories relating their past. For the fourteenth century, their presence is documented in Greece, where they were known as Atsinganoi or Atzinganoi; the German Zigeuner, the French Tsiganes, the Italian Zingari and similar names in other languages derive from this Byzantine appellation. From the year 1417 on, chronicles mention their movement through the Hanseatic towns and other parts of Germany.

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