Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day” and I would like to dedicate the article this week to the Gypsy’s. Are you aware that the Gypsy were some of the very first to be placed in camps, back before they were even called concentration camps, but were instead labor camps. Also not all of the gypsy were nomadic or traveling. Sure those that were, were easier to relocate because it could take longer to know they were “not in the next town” performing or working.
Truth is many of them actually lived in homes, in communities and were not traveling. Families were simply taken, men, women and children; and put into camps. Then these groups of people, these camps were easier to load and move the people in them, to the extermination camps.
Perhaps you have heard of Auschwitz? That is where the gypsies were sent. At one point the young and healthy were taken away and moved to Sachsenhausen; leaving the ill and elderly at Auschwitz; separating the families. We tend often to hear only of the Jews, but it is important to remember that the Nazi’s wanted to exterminate not just the Jews, but also the Gypsy, the homosexuals and mentally and physically disabled people. More than 90% of the Roma/Gypsy were murdered or died as the result of starvation and the conditions they were forced into and the torture and treatment received.
When prisoners arrived at the camps they were separated men to one side, women and children to the other. Any valuables that had made it this far, were taken. A Nazi physician then gave everyone the once over deciding if the person was “of value” could they entertain or work, were they healthy enough and needed. If the answer was no, then they were sent to the gas chambers. The disabled, pregnant, small children, elderly or ill had a very slim chance - most were sent immediately to the death chambers.
In order to try to prevent panic, they were told they were going to the “showers” to get rid of lice and dirt, possible disease. They were moved naked into the chambers, the doors bolted and they were killed. Sometimes by carbon monoxide and sometimes with a toxic gas; it would take about 20 minutes to murder them all.
The bodies were then moved to the cremation ovens, or were buried in mass graves, that were dug like ditches. When the crematorium was down they would often take the bodies, fill the ditches with the corpses and then light them on fire. Closing the dirt back on top of them when the work of the fire was done.
Those that were allowed to live were given “badges” to help know where they belonged and what the crime or reason was for them to be at the camp. A black triangle was for Gypsy, a red one for a political prisoner, yellow star or triangle was Jewish, purple for the Jehovah Witness, green for criminals, pink for gay men.
Is it a hard story to be reminded of, and to hear the details of - yes. And this quick telling, tells too little of the suffering. But we must always learn from our history, so that one day we can stop repeating it.
This year there will be, for the first time ever, a Gypsy delegation from Europe traveling to stand with the Jews in Israel for the ceremonies and remembrances. The delegation will include family members from communities in Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia.
My family comes from survivors and I promise to never forget, and to always be willing to tell the stories.