Berlin ohne Zigeuner
“Berlin without Gipsies”
Zigeuner – eine Rassische Gefahr!
“The Gipsies – A Racial Threat!”
“Gipsies, suspicious persons, hawkers, etc. + unpleasant foreigners”
The heading of a folder at the Finnish State Police
(1919–1948), the National Archives of Finland
THE VAGABOND’S ROAD
Where this road will lead me,
I do not know,
oh, how I long for a human soul.
From you I go to the land of sorrows
leaving all my loved ones behind.
The vagabond’s road is rough,
a path narrow
With yearning I look at you,
and that is why you won’t let me go.
But when you leave,
do not grieve,
the traveller leaves,
and those who stay will stay.
From you I go to the land of sorrows
leaving all my loved ones behind.
So do not deny the vagabond his path,
let the traveller rest,
so do not trick me,
take care of the hungry!
The wanderer’s road is rough,
a path narrow
MIRANDA grew up in a good family.
She grew up under the guidance of
adults who didn’t expect her to act like
one herself. She was able to live the
life of an innocent girl, and she basked
in the luxury of her parents’ love.
Miranda’s life was guided by the laws
of the Gipsy community as well as the
imagination and dreams of a young
girl. Every girl knew how to dance, but
only a few could interpret the fire of
passionate feelings, the joy of life, and
the Gipsy soul the way Miranda did.
Her skirts flared as she danced on
rocky outcroppings, in the forests,
and by the campfires in Gipsy camps.
She performed on the streets and at
gentlemen’s parties in a Prague dance
theatre. She felt she was on the way into
a faraway and lovely dream. Miranda’s
ability to express herself through dance
was the most important thing in the
world to her. For her, it meant coming
into herself and becoming a woman.
“In addition to the Jews, generally only the Gipsies belong to the foreign races in Europe.”
Document of the German Ministry of the Interior, January 1936
“Poland is the land of the subhuman. Poles, Jews, Gipsies should be mentioned in the same breath.”
Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda at Reich press conference of 24 October 1939
THE GIPSIES have always had a homeland, but never a promised land. As wanderers they have always moved through the lands of others and listened to the world’s heartbeat from their wagons. A tribe that broke off from the Gipsies began to call themselves the Roma. The Roma strove to live a so-called normal life: to live in one place and work like everyone else, so that their Gipsy culture would be accepted as mainstream Roma culture.
Miranda’s family lived in a small brick house, and everyone always worked. Most of their friends belonged to the majority
population and were hardworking laborers from the working class. Miranda’s father had a smithy where he made ploughs and scythes. As was common among Gipsy men, the head of the household was both a blacksmith and a veterinarian. He filed animals’ teeth, treated animals for intestinal issues, colic, injuries to the fetlock, and various boils and lumps. He shoed horses and castrated stallions. He was also a skilled sheet metal worker, and he made pans, baskets, and coffee grinders. He repaired umbrellas, sharpened knives and scissors, and crafted jewelry. His clients were mostly Jews.
“The Reichsführer-SS orders the registration of all persons classified as Gipsies in the area of the Reich […] after which further actions can be carried out.”
State Criminal Police instructions, 1 March 1939
“Put the Gipsies in the ghettoes!”
“Not a single teacher or school place can be given to the use of this scum.”
Letter from government administration to the governor of the Reichsgau-Wien (Vienna) district 13 November 1939
THE GIPSIES have always built their future on the strength of their imagination. While the womenfolk cooked meat over open fires, the men traded stories and tried to top each other’s boasts about their horses and women. The girls made themselves pretty for the boys. Living as they did independent from countries and states and outside of society, the Gipsies were free and had been given a great gift: a rich, collective culture in which people played the central role.
In addition to her parents, there were 12 children in Miranda’s family. Miranda’s mother was a seamstress, and her lace, pillowcases, and tapestries were sought after in village and town markets.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Miranda worked in a wealthy Jewish shopkeeper’s family. Miranda advanced from working as a maid to serving as an office assistant, and finally she became a shop assistant. At the time, shop assistants were considered members of the owner’s family. Miranda was 12 or 13 when she worked for them. Roma girls were humble and did what the Germans asked of them.
“All Gipsies and half-Gipsies in the area must be ordered not to leave their own or present locality for the time being.”
Letter from the State Criminal Police to the mayor of Hereford, 19 October 1939
“In the same way that nobody can expect a German person to work together with a Jew, it can also no be demanded of him that he should share his place of work with a Gipsy.”
Letter of the NSDAP, Department of Public Welfare, Hamburg, 12 August 1939
OFFICIALLY nothing had happened. Once the wandering Gipsies disappeared without a trace, the Romas who lived in one place became the next targets. Once the German Shepherd stopped barking, people knew the Gipsies had vanished like a puff of smoke.
Roma patriarchs from other villages visited the Roma in their small brick homes and advised the women to use head scarves so that the officials would mistake them for Muslims. The Roma community found the request odd, but no one objected to the patriarchs’ demands. The Roma elders emphasized that if the police or other officials came to their door, it would be wise for the man of the household to send his wife out into the yard with her head scarf, or better yet completely veiled, to ask the spies to take their business elsewhere.
A Nazi patrol suddenly appeared in the yard of the small brick house and stormed the cabin. Miranda’s family was apprehended and loaded into a black car waiting outside, and then they were taken to the slaughterhouse. The manager of the clothing factory contacted the police and praised everyone in Miranda’s family as good workers and insisted he needed their help. The next day the police received new orders: to send the blacksmith’s family back home. This time they were lucky.
“It hurts me that some of my best friends turned their back on me when I told them that I am Roma. I’m Alina. I’m Romanian and I’m a Roma woman.”
Alina, sociologist, human rights activist
In June, the authorities arrested 600 Roma and placed them in the new so-called Gipsy camp at Marzahn near Berlin. The Roma were to be removed from sight in Berlin because of the Olympic Games. The camp was watched by police with dogs. During 1943 almost all the inmates of the camp were sent upon the orders of Himmler to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
“The Gipsy question… is a racial question for us today. In the same way as the National Socialist state has solved the Jewish question, it will also have to settle the Gipsy question once and for all… The race biological research on Gipsies is an unconditional prerequisite for the final solution of the Gipsy question”.
Dr. Adolf Würth, member of staff of the “Racial Hygiene Research Unit” in a lecture at a meeting of the “German Association for Racial Research”, Sep 1937
IT WAS EARLY MORNING morning in the little brick house. Miranda’s father had left for his smithy. Her mother and older siblings had left for the factory. Miranda and her sister Amanda were at home when they heard a knock on the door. The girls were frightened. A group of police in uniform and one official in civilian clothing stood behind the door. Miranda dragged Amanda out from under the bed and forced her to jump out of the window into the backyard. The girls ran to a haystack behind the house, pushed themselves deep into the hay, and fell asleep.
“When people are in grave danger, they either flee from the truth, don’t sleep at all, or sleep like a log,” Miranda explains. The German family who lived next door had betrayed them. The police dragged the girls out of the hay and bundled them away to the police station. Numb and almost unconscious from exhaustion and fear, Miranda and Amanda languished in the dreary waiting room from the gray light of dawn until the afternoon. There was a reason for this excruciatingly long wait. Hunger, thirst, lack of movement, and the expressionless face of the guard all served to paralyze the girls’ minds and bodies. Panic and nightmares rose from the realm of dreams and were burned in their consciousness.
Miranda and Amanda were brought to the slaughterhouse to await transport to the death camps once again. The girls searched for their family among those who were gathered with them, but they found not one single relative, not even familiar faces. That was a hopeful sign for the girls.
“On the orders given by the Oberwald administration on November 7, 1941, the Gipsies are forbidden to use public transportation”.
In a document by Dr. Hinterlechner
“At the beginning of the present year, the Council of State [government] authorized the Centre for the Maintenance of Karelian Evacuees to organize for experimental purposes a labour camp for Gipsies belonging to the evacuated population and to pay the resulting costs from funds appropriated for the maintenance of evacuees.”
Finnish Police Gazette, No 22, 1943
”THE LAPPAJÄRVI LABOUR CAMP FOR GIPSIES”
“If you as Germans don’t want to become the gravediggers of Nordic blood in the Burgenland, do not overlook the threat that the Gipsies pose to it!”
In the memorandum ”The Gipsy question” by the provincial governor of Burgenland, Tobias Portschy, Aug 1938
THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE cargo was then crammed into crates on trucks, and the girls were brought to the city of Olomouc. A long line of freight cars was ready for the Roma, and they were quickly filled. Gipsies were brought to the train station from all corners of Europe to wait for the mass transports that continued non-stop. Still, there were so many people at the train station that it was full to overflowing. Gipsy families were loaded into the freight cars in alphabetical order, and Miranda and Amanda should have been on the first transport. But the girls stood on the loading platform and held on tightly to each other.“But our hope, it finally came true on that platform. Our dear uncle on our mother’s side picked us up from the station in his car.”
Their uncle never told them how much he paid for them, but it must have been quite a bit of gold. As if by a miracle, the sisters were set free once again.
“Transportation of all Gipsies from Moravia to a concentration camp”
Brno, Czech Republic, State Police letter, 9 February 1943
“Rats, bedbugs and fleas are also natural occurrences in the same way as the Jews and Gipsies. All existence is a struggle. We must therefore gradually biologically eradicate all these vermin”.
Dr. Karl Hannemann in the journal of the German Association of National Socialist Physicians, Aug 1938
“…If the transportation of the Gipsies is still delayed, the city of Berlin will have to set up a camp for them, which can only be done at great cost and with great difficulty.”
Letter from the Gestapo to SS-Hauptsturmführer Captain Eichmann, 13 October 1939
MIRANDA and Amanda were brought home. But the house stood empty. Everything that could be taken from the house had been stolen. Only the walls of the house were left, and all of the people had disappeared.
The girls’ oldest brother Bukva had established a Gipsy partisan movement with other young Roma in the forest. The Gipsies were forced to become masters of deception and hiding. Under the cover of darkness, the partisan leader led his sisters to safety.
In the mountains where the partisans hid, a woman from Montenegro took Miranda and another partisan woman to a spring. They gathered green leaves and ate them. The woman was a healer. She knew the herbs and used them to protect the partisans from illness. Miranda remembers that she was a good woman. One day out of many, that is on many days, Miranda and the healer walked from village to village to ask for food many, many times.
Miranda and Amanda fought alongside the men to defend Gipsy life. “Amanda didn’t know anything about guns, but the partisan brothers and sisters introduced them to us, and she hung around with us,” Miranda shares.
The Gipsy partisan movement ended unexpectedly. Someone set a trap for them – a Roma man betrayed them. After that Bukva was constantly on his guard and afraid that he would be captured. One early morning the police came to take him away. Bukva accompanied the police in his finest suit and shiny patent-leather shoes.
Miranda and Amanda saw their brother one more time on the loading platform at the train station. Guarded by soldiers, their brother stood proudly in his black suit on one side of the platform while Amanda and Miranda were waiting yet again to be transported on the other side. This time the girls were boarded on a train that took them to Jasenovac, a Croatian concentration camp.
Just a few weeks later, the Germans once again returned the girls to their village. They knew why they were sent back. Miranda and Amanda were tasked with encouraging the Roma and the Gipsies to work in the weapons factories. But Amanda and Miranda signaled the Gipsies and Roma to avoid them and sent their brothers and sisters in the opposite direction from the one the Third Reich had intended.
“Discharges of Gipsies and Gipsies of mixed race from active military service.”
Heading, Berlin Magazine, 21 Feb 1941
“The aforementioned person was sent to the concentration camp of Auschwitz on 29.7.1943 by means of a collective transport of prisoners.”
Duisburg Criminal Police dossier on Christine Lehmann, born 18 December 1920 in Duisburg
SCOUTS appeared in Miranda’s village in July 1941. Kilometers of empty freight cars arrived at the village’s train station. It was a sign that the transports would soon begin. Their hopes for a better future had ended tragically. In the end almost everyone was selected to go to the Hodonín concentration camp; the village was emptied of everyone who represented the wrong race and all traitors and their protectors. Miranda and Amanda were picked up at three in the morning from their father’s mother’s home. And unlike their earlier experiences, the girls weren’t taken to the train station in a black car. Instead, they were forced to join a line of prisoners who had to march through the village to the train station as a warning to others.
“The women cried, everyone cried, and imagine, the children didn’t know why they themselves were crying, but because their mothers were crying, they cried, too. My sister and I weren’t children anymore, or maybe my sister still was, but because I cried for our mother, she cried, too, even though she still didn’t believe in the ultimate evil that was to come.”
The wretched prisoners were marched to the center of the Gipsy camp where the police immediately surrounded them. The police dogs jumped at the children who were clinging to their mothers’ skirts. The women begged the men to protect their children from the dogs in the Roma language.
There were shortages of everything. It was easiest to remember and talk about the constant hunger, which was the least of their suffering.
Miranda’s sister was very beautiful. She became a German officer’s mistress. Amanda lived for some time in the German’s house and took care of his garden. When she became the so-called cook for the officer’s family, the food was divine. Like her sister, Miranda made the difficult choice to become a mistress.
“Of course everyone condemned us for our actions,” Miranda says unhesitatingly. “In spite of everything, it was a crime which would have torn the Roma community apart in the free world. People who are oppressed have no other way to preserve their independence and their community than to protect their honor, I know that now.”
Eva Justin (1909 – 1966) was a German anthropologist and nurse. She was specialized in Romani studies and studied Gipsies in the name of eugenics. In her dissertation, she concluded that the Roma were an inferior race, and so she advocated the forced sterilization of Gipsy women, among other things. A number of Roma children whom Justin studied were sent to Auschwitz, and there they became the victims of cruel medical experiments before their death.
Justin spoke the Romani language. Some researchers contend that Justin was able to win the trust of many Gipsies and get close to them for this reason, but this is controversial: for the wandering Gipsies, their language has always been their most important refuge. A person from the majority culture who knew the Gipsy language inspired great fear and insecurity.
Eva Justin was never tried for her crimes, and after the war she worked as a psychologist at the University of Frankfurt’s clinic.
THE SISTERS were tightly packed into the freight cars with an untold number of other Roma. The train left the station, its wheels screeching under the load, and it left behind a black trail of smoke. No deed, sacrifice, or good behavior had saved them from the transports.
The train arrived in Auschwitz as it had already many times before, with terror, dread, and suffering as its load. As the freight cars turned into the railyard, the monotonous sound of the train sharpened into a rhythmic clattering and clacking. When the train finally stopped, the sliding doors on the freight cars opened. Men with cold, expressionless faces were there to greet the people who still didn’t believe in the ultimate evil that was about to come.
“The human mind is like that, it believes and thinks that it can avoid the last stroke of death,” Miranda explains. God knew, or did he know what would happen? Were people given a chance? Were they shown mercy, or were they to be treated like animals to be slaughtered? Had the Roma reached the end of the road? When they heard the command: “Out of the cars!” the victims’ hopes for freedom were dashed immediately.
Their heads were immediately shaved in Auschwitz’s infirmary. The weak and the sick were usually the first to taste the drink of misery. The guards beat the prisoners with batons and sticks. But even that didn’t do the trick. Even with the threat of beatings, the victims stayed together in their family clans.
The sisters were exceedingly anxious about their loved ones; it tortured them day and night as they were unable to comfort one another. Their thoughts were running in circles, and there didn’t seem to be any diversion or any way out. Finally all of their waiting was over, and they found themselves in death’s waiting room.
“I request that special shopping hours and shops be specified for Gipsies”
Minden, 30 July 1942
“Gipsies are not allowed on this playground”
Signs in Minden, 1943
ACCORDING to Gipsy beliefs, the gods came to baptize some to live and to condemn others to die. Like everyone else, Miranda stood in line with her sister Amanda.
“They decided: whoever wasn’t considered fit was sent to the gas chamber. We were told that we would be taken home to work in the factories. When dawn broke, we all knew that our brothers and sisters had disappeared with the smoke into the wind.”
Miranda’s eyes reveal the fighter she has been all her life. But is she also a victor? In any case, Gipsies are survivors. By bringing a message from the past to the present day and moment, Miranda is living proof of this.
“Do this good thing for me. Give this world, the new generation, beautiful memories of our past, our soul, our way of thinking and our way of life so that the world will remember the suffering of the Roma during the Second World War.”
Trains arrived in Auschwitz in endless succession, and the camp blocks were emptied accordingly. “It was rushed, but they always found space,” Miranda sighs. “The children naturally resisted death, while the adults were instead more resigned to it.”
Miranda saw innocent people intentionally infected with diseases who then subsequently died. Even some butterflies die overnight. Other butterflies live through the night and even longer and then pass away quietly by the morning. That’s what happened to the Roma in the concentration camp infirmaries. The doctors served as the executioners’ assistants in the Third Reich.
“There’s no point in asking what the difference was between godless and godly procedures.”
23,000 Roma were sent to the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Approximately 21,000 of them died.
“Gipsies are of foreign blood pursuant to German racial legislation… Their political, biological, cultural and vocational separation from the German race has been now effected by means of the elimination …”
Document: “Maintenance of the race and the genotype in German law”, 1943
”After the war hardly anybody knew about the Roma Holocaust. It took a very long time before I dared to speak about Auschwitz.”
Lily Franz, a German survivor of Auschwitz
IN JANUARY 1943, Miranda’s and Amanda’s uncle was executed after attempting to escape. A few months after his death, his foster son wrote to his cousins, attaching a photograph with the dedication:
“When one’s father is shot, one cannot think like a human being. On the other hand, you defend yourself like a child: innocent people aren’t killed. And so the one who was shot wasn’t my father, but had to be someone else. Then the idea comes to mind that humans are not animals and go about killing other people. My dog is not Aryan, it’s of mixed breed, but it has never bitten a living thing… I know as little about my mother as you or the others. Of you, my cousins, I can imagine, to myself but not to others for life is precarious in these conditions, that you are living in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. I wonder how your parents, brothers and sisters are doing. I have received mail only about you and Amanda.
Miranda, I ask you since you are, as you know, my closest cousin, how are you. Do you remember having a photograph taken of yourself especially for me? You had such a smile. Guess if that smile went all the way to my heart. Your smile will remain a living image in my eyes. And what happened to you and your dear sister about a month after the picture was taken? There is no way to understand it, even though we must endure all things. I think of you all the time – of your burning desire to dance, and maybe you will dance again and enjoy with me the life of a Gipsy just the way you are: I promise it will be your fate! That is how I remember you, a living icon, and when you said goodbye to me in the haystack I knew that we would soon meet again, though I could not say where. Goodbye for a while, I will write to you soon, send messages continuously so you will not forget me and we will be happy when you come back to me, and we will give each other a big hug.
I love you two, little Amanda and you.
10th January 1943. Jonas.”
“Since the Gipsies are now Finnish citizens according to our constitution, which does not make any distinctions in matters of race, the Association of Local Police Chiefs has not been able to make any direct proposals for legislation to solve the Gipsy problem with radical means. In any case, however, the Association feels that it will be outright harmful at least for a long while to assimilate this suspicious ethnic group with its predominantly bad traits.”
The Finnish Police Gazette. [Concerning the Gipsies]. N:o 20, 1942
to speak about Auschwitz.”
WHEN THE SCARS sof the Second World War had healed, the Roma were told: “You’re outsiders!” Rejected from the work of reconstruction, the Gipsies realized that begging, if anything, is an art for the purposes of survival. But as the structures of society changed, begging was no longer possible.
The mainstream population took over even this last means of livelihood from the Gipsies. “I wonder when this change took place?” Miranda asked. “Are today’s modern societies more tolerant? Is there less persecution? Why, they’ve completely stopped”, Miranda laughed heartily for the first time during the whole interview. “It’s such a good world, today we don’t suffer at all.”
”WE COULD STILL feel Auschwitz when we were free […] The suffering whose horrors outsider can only guess, has a real presence for us to this very day. It is due to a strong will to live that my family survived and can still be in contact with the mainstream population. I relive all this in my memories, as if these experiences had only taken place yesterday. I can’t forget, the suffering continues in my nightmares.
They took everything that I valued: I no longer had a past or present, and even less hope for a future. We lost not only our families but also those who carried on our culture and protected it. It is terrible that for a long while the mainstream population knew nothing about the genocide of the Roma.”
After the war, the young Ceija Stojka (1933–2013) of the Lovara Roma tribe of Austria, her three siblings, mother and aunt were the only survivors of this large Roma tribe. A visual artist and musician, Ceija Stojka published several books of her memoirs of the war years.
“Identity…it’s a very complex thing. Mine has many different sides. I’m Ostalinda. I’m Spanish and Mexican. I’m also European… and a Roma woman.”
Ostalinda, anthropologist, lawyer, human rights activist
“My mother was the first from her village who got to University. Today, there are 42 members of my family who got University degrees. My name is Katalin. I’m Hungarian and I’m a Roma woman.”
Katalin, sociologist, film maker, human rights activist
“In October 1992, pogroms had already started in the whole of Romania. When I heard voices and the banging on the door, I thought that me and my family were going to get killed. I was only 14. My name is Isabela. I’m Romanian and I’m a Romani woman.”
Isabela, philologist, sociologist, human rights activist
BY THE END of the war, Miranda had suffered setbacks, becoming closely involved with Germans, and asking for help when necessary. In return, she let herself be interrogated by researchers and told about the persecution and suffering of the Roma during the Second World War at events arranged by academics and others.
Miranda knew about the Roma ghettos in Slovakia. Especially near the town of Košice in the eastern part of the country there were whole villages that could be called “Gipsy ghettos”. But it was also a surprise for her that her sister lived in a ghetto. Amanda had not mentioned that in her letter. Historians have claimed that the Second World War was the worst time for the wagon people, but not all Roma agree.
“Those who have lived as Roma in Eastern Europe know who the Communists were and what they did to us. You might think this is an exaggeration, but after the collapse of socialism, the Gipsies have suffered more setbacks and pain than they ever did during the Second World War.”
OH, HOW I WEPT
Grief in my mind,
sorrow deep in my heart,
my wounds torn open.
Oh, the tears I’ve shed
over the evil of this world,
lying on cold stone oven benches.
The children of the sun are weeping,
on the wagons of the East,
across the Asian mountains,
All I asked was to love.
Today I bought locks of black hair,
silks are sold in a Persian market.
My people sing of
a filly with golden hooves.
Tears flood my soul,
into my mother’s pale stream.
You laughed with me,
and shared your few coins,
you bought a play,
and musicians, too.
In a mourning procession,
women in black veils walked past,
hands asking for alms,
begging for freedom,
and three times they did it.
Oh, the tears I’ve shed,
lying on cold stone oven benches,
Oh the tears I’ve shed.
A SCARLET GARDEN
Still I want to recall,
still I want to drown in
the garden of your hair
Like silently falling waters,
like a scarlet river streaming,
a red garden
You’ve tied ribbons in your locks,
strings and tufts in your tresses,
in the garden of your hair
Still I want to remember,
still I yearn to touch,
your black curls,
the scarlet garden
But life flowed away,
in hues red as blood,
down the flower garden of your curls.
“The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial mania, with the same premeditation, with the same wish for the systematic and total extermination as the genocide of the Jews. Complete families from the very young to the very old were systematically murdered within the entire sphere of influence of the National Socialists”.
The former Federal President of Germany, Roman Herzog, 16 Mar 1997
THE GIPSY’S DREAM
I journey through the time of dreams,
play on, my boys, play on,
sing, women, sing.
Yesterday my soul was still a young dream,
today my mind churns like the sea,
And joy ran away with my brothers on the roads of yearning.
I journey through the time of dreams,
play on, my boys, play on,
sing, women, sing.
Yesterday I sang like a Gipsy from my heart,
today my voice is as rough as rusted iron,
carried by the storms,
my sisters grew tired in the night.
I journey through the time of dreams,
play on, my boys, play on,
sing, women, sing.
Yesterday I danced with a young bride’s heart,
today my soul is sour like wine,
into the darkness of night the caravans have gone.