The biggest group of Holocaust victims were the Jews, an estimated six million were murdered between 1933 and 1945.
The second biggest group were the Gipsies (Roma and Sinti).
During World War II, it is estimated that more than 500,000 Sinti and Roma from all over Europe were murdered by the Nazis in what has come to be known as the Porajmos. Before the Second World War, approximately 4,500 Sinti and Roma lived in the Netherlands. From July 1943 Sinti and Roma were no longer allowed to travel in the Netherlands. On 16 May 1944, raids took place: 578 Sinti, Roma and were arrested by mainly Dutch police officers and taken to Camp Westerbork.
Three days later, on 19 May 1944, 245 Sinti and Roma were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most had yet to turn 18. Only 31 of them would survive the war.
But as with the Jewish population, the persecution of the Roma and Sinti was gradual.
In addition to the compulsory registration of Jews in 1941, all Roma and Sinti were required to be registered. On 29 March 1943, the situation for the Roma and Sinti changes completely. The head of the SS and German police in the Netherlands, Hans Alvin Reuter, wanted to put an end to ‘nomadic life’ in the Netherlands. About 335 Roma and Sinti horses are confiscated during roundups. The horses come into the ownership of the Wehrmacht or are sold by the Nazis to farmers.
Sinti and Roma had to live in assembly camps outside cities from 22 June 1943, such as near The Hague or Eindhoven. Ordered by the Nazis, the caravans were pulled together here and the Sinti and Roma concentrated. From that moment on, the Sinti and Roma were forced to live in the assembly camps or in a house.
The travel ban for Sinti and Roma, or the towing ban, was introduced on 1 July 1943. The wheels of the caravans were confiscated or had to be removed.
On 14 May, a telegram arrived at the police presidents in the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Arnhem and Groningen. According to the report, “all persons residing in the Netherlands, who possess the characteristic of gipsies, must be immediately be transferred to Camp Westerbork by personnel of the Dutch police”.
The national raid took place on 16 May 1944, carried out by members of the Marechaussee, land guards and the Dutch state police.
From all over the Netherlands, Roma, Sinti and caravan dwellers come by train to the Judendurchgangslager Westerbork. Registration takes place until well into the evening. Of the 578 arrested men, women and children, some are lucky. About 200 Roma and Sinti turn out not to meet the characteristics of a gipsy and are released. Also, 50 Roma and Sinti are allowed to leave the camp, because they are in possession of a neutral passport from Switzerland, Italy or Guatemala.
All property, money, and jewellery were taken under the guise that everything will be returned. Then follows the ‘medical examination,’ ‘delousing,’ and their hair shaved off. About 245 Roma and Sinti, including at least 123 children, were locked up in secluded barracks, destitute, bald and dismayed.
On Friday 19 May 1944 the 96th train transport with overcrowded wagons leaves Westerbork. This outgoing transport, which also includes the Roma and Sinti, was filmed by the Jewish filmmaker Rudolf Breslauer (1903-1945) on behalf of the camp commander Albert Gemmeker (1907-1982) and this recording is known as the ‘Westerbork film’. From this film comes the well-known photo of Settela Steinbach, the girl with the headscarf.
The long train consists of three parts. The front section with Jewish ‘prisoners’ has Bergen-Belsen as its destination, the rest of the train Auschwitz. In the rear carriages, the 245 Sinti and Roma are locked up with one bucket of water and another bucket to relieve themselves.
On 21 May 1944, the train transport arrives in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Dutch Roma and Sinti are registered, tattooed and brought to Lagerabschnitt B II, the Zigeunerlager. It is remarkable that the families in the Zigeunerlager are allowed to stay together. People quickly become aware of the mass murders, because the Zigeunerlager is located next to the crematorium. In the gipsy camp, unimaginable unsanitary conditions prevail and many people died of typhoid fever, diarrhoea or of starvation. Selections take place in the gipsy camp between the end of May and the beginning of July 1944 and many men and women were transferred to other concentration camps.
In connection with the expected arrival of large numbers of Hungarian Jews, all Roma and Sinti who remained behind with their children were taken from the Zigeunerlager on the nights of 2-3 August 1944 and driven into the gas chambers. It is chaotic. The people, including children, understand what awaits them and yell, “murderers” and “traitors” at their German guards. Their dead bodies are burned in the open because the furnaces are out of order.
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