Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Roma Struggle for Compensation in Post-War Germany

Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Roma Struggle for Compensation in Post-War Germany

Article excerpt

The Roma Struggle for Compensation in Post-War Germany. Julia von dem Knesebeck. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press. 2011. ISBN 978-1907396-11-3, prices: £20/US$40 (paperback), pp. 288.

Reviewed by Yaron Matras

Deriving from the author's PhD thesis at the University of Oxford, this book joins a series of works that are devoted to the Nazi persecution of Gypsies and the treatment of victims-survivors in its aftermath (e.g. Zimmermann 1996, Lewy 2000, Margalit 2002, Sparing 2011). Quite a few other descriptions of the events leading to the Nazi genocide against Roma exist already; but I found the summary provided by von dem Knesebek useful and easy to foUow. The author surveys individual key items of legislation and administrative measures. She dweUs on the relevance of the historical interpretation of each of these measures for the administrative and judicial review of compensation claims that foUowed the war.

One of the first laws affecting Gypsies which was passed by the Nazis was the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Disease, effective from January 1934. This legalised the enforced sterilisation of sociaUy 'undesirable' persons. Von dem Knesebeck points out the difficulties that the AUies encountered after the war in recognising sterilisation as part of a policy of racial genocide, given that enforced steriUsation poUcies were practised in various American states as weU as in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, inspired by social-Darwinist eugenic ideologies. The next law that affected Roma was the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which forbade relations between German and 'members of aUen races'. Although the Roma were not mentioned explicitly in the law, a leading commentary to the law from 1936 specified that the only people in Europe who had always been considered racial aliens were Jews and Gypsies. Here again we see the relevance of archive research and the interpretation of a wide range of sources for an accurate understanding of Nazi poUcy measures.

From an early stage, before the National Socialist regime, German authorities' poUcies toward Gypsies combined a law-and-order approach with one designated as concern for public health and welfare. An example was the Bavarian Law for the Combat of Gypsies, TraveUers and the Workshy from 1926. The images of Gypsies expressed by this law are partly reflected in the changes in the implementation of measures against Roma under the Third Reich. Until 1937 it was the Gestapo that had the primary responsibility for arresting Roma and taking them into 'protective custody' in concentration camps, as part of the campaign to improve the gene pool. From 1937 it became the task of the Criminal Police to put Roma in 'preventive arrest' as part of the campaign against criminality. The rounding up and incarceration of Roma began in 1936, when some 800 Roma were sent to the Marzahn camp in the outskirts of Berlin. A camp for Roma in Cologne, surrounded by a two-meter fence with barbed wire, had been completed in April 1935 and accommodated up to 600 people by 1937.

In 1938 Himmler was put in charge of the 'Gyspy question', and initiated the Decree for Combating the Gypsy Plague. At that point coUaboration was already underway with a group of researchers led by Dr Robert Ritter, who

sought 'scientific proof that Roma belonged to an inferior race, and who introduced the distinction between 'pure' and 'mixed Gypsies'. The fact that Himmler's own proposals for a more favourable treatment of so-caUed 'pure Gypsies' were turned down, testifies according to von dem Knesebeck to the rigour with which the Criminal PoUce chose to implement anti-Gypsy decrees. Deportations of Roma increased with the beginning of the war. The 'Gypsy camp' in Auschwitz-Birkenau was set up in 1941, and its records testify to the murder of some 21,000 Roma there. The 'final solution of the 'Gypsy question reached its decisive moment with the so-caUed 'Auschwitz Decree', issued by Himmler in December 1942, which ordered the deportation directly to Auschwitz of some 10,000 Roma remaining in the Reich. …

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