Roma communities within Nazi Germany (and after the start of World War Two in September 1939 throughout Europe) had much to fear from the Nazi regime. According to the Nazis, Roma gypsies were the “carrier of alien blood” who were also workshy and had “criminal tendencies”. Roma were classed as “asocial”, which was enough to lead to time in a concentration camp where they had to wear either a black triangle (as an asocial) of a green triangle (as a criminal). The start of World War Two in the east of Europe gave the Nazis the opportunities they needed to attack Roma communities across occupied Eastern Europe. Prior to the attack on Poland (September 1939) and then ‘Operation Babarossa’ in June 1941, the Nazis had concentrated their energies on persecuting the Roma community in Germany itself.


The task of deciding who was a Roma went to Dr Robert Ritter from the University of Tuebingen. Ritter devised a number of ‘tests’ that suspected Roma had to undertake. His so-called tests were based on pseudo-science and he logged his results in great detail. Ritter believed that criminal behaviour was genetically passed on from one generation to the next. He believed that by the very nature of their birth, Roma were criminals. It was the results that the Nazi hierarchy wanted and gave them the reasons they needed to identify and then isolate the Roma communities in Nazi Germany. However, it was later found out that Ritter’s ‘tests’ were not quite as scientific as he liked to make out. His assistants later stated that once someone had been found out to be Roma, he/she was physical threatened with bodily harm if they did not divulge who other members of their family were and where they lived. As a result of this Ritter estimated that there were 30,000 Roma living in Germany.


Under Nazi ideology, Roma gypsies were people who had neither a regular job nor a regular home. Both of these ‘deficiencies’ marked the Roma community out as non-Aryan and to add to this the Nazis marked the Romas as being “carriers of alien blood” at a time when blood purity underpinned Nazi ideology.


Roma families in Nazi Germany prior to World War Two were subjected to the same racial laws as Jews. To the Nazi government Romani families were non-German. Dr Robert Ritter was given the task of deciding what criteria equated to someone being Roma. Many were arrested and it is known that some of those held in custody were sterilised so that they could not have children. In 1936, Dr Robert Ritter was given specific charge of the Roma community within Nazi Germany. Ritter believed that some Roma gypsies existed in Germany who could be classed as being Aryan. However, Ritter also set about to prove that Roma’s in Nazi Germany exuded criminal characteristics and that their primary danger was marrying into the ‘pure’ German class and diluting the Aryan race. The led to Heinrich Himmler issuing in December 1938 the ‘Decree for the Struggle against Gypsy Nuisance’, which required all Roma’s in Nazi Germany to register with the government. Himmler hoped that the decree would lead to the “physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation” and the “regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies.” Before World War Two, Roma families in Nazi Germany were consigned to live in specific areas. However, the victory in Poland and the attack on the USSR created an environment whereby the SS could start specific attacks against gypsy communities in Eastern Europe. It is thought that as many as 225,000 European gypsies were murdered during World War Two, many in the death camps. However, the figure has been put as high as 500,000.     


July 2012