Slave Labor, Mass Shootings and Gas Chambers: The Roma, World War 2’s Forgotten Genocide

It is the Second World War's "forgotten genocide": Around 500,000 of Europe’s Roma were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during WWII, following the institution of policies aimed at their persecution. Why has the genocide of the Roma been largely forgotten? Why has the even partial recognition of their deaths taken so much time?

What barriers prevent us even now from fully acknowledging the genocide's significance today?

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 57

Hijacking the Holocaust for Putin, politics and powerHaaretz Weekly Ep. 57

London's Wiener Holocaust Library’s current exhibition, Forgotten Victims: The Nazi Genocide of the Sinti and Roma, is dedicated to examining the Nazis' destruction of Roma life, exploring the  policies that predated the mass murder and exposing aspects of this history that have lain hidden and largely unacknowledged for decades.

Roma and Sinti faced prejudice and discrimination in Germany before 1933, but the Nazi accession to power saw an intensification of their persecution.

By the mid-1930s, Roma had been banned from working in certain occupations and many were forced to live in internment camps. By the late 1930s, Nazi racial ideology had been extended to encompass the notion that Roma were of "alien blood" and a threat to the racial strength of the ‘Aryan master race.’ As part of the development of these ideas, Roma were subject to a massive program of pseudo-scientific investigation. They were also targeted for forced sterilization.

During the Second World War, Roma in German-occupied territories experienced deportations to camps and ghettos, slave labor, and murder through starvation, maltreatment, mass shootings and gassing in camps such as Chełmno and Auschwitz. Collaborationist regimes, such as the Ustaše in Croatia, carried out mass murder against their Jewish and Roma populations.

In one account given to The Wiener Library, Dr Max Benjamin, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, describes witnessing the "liquidation" of the "Gypsy camp" on 2-3 August 1944: on this night in "one fell swoop every single one of the gypsies who represented the population of this camp was chased into the gas chambers."