Roma and Hamburg during the National-Socialism

The pressure on the Sinti and Roma in Hamburg grew after the National-Socialists came to power. On April 8th, 1935, a standard procedure for the “support” of the gypsies was agreed upon. Special norms were introduced for the social welfare of gypsies. Apartments should no longer be mediated to Roma, and the trade police was instructed not to issue trade licenses to them anymore. All gypsies who received support from welfare had to do “duty work” five days of the week, for which adults received five Marks and children two Marks per week.

All special forms of support which existed for example for families with many children were generally declined “for gypsies because of categorical considerations”.

The idea of uniting all Sinti and Roma living in Hamburg in one collective camp by force already came into being in 1937. On November 4th, 1927, the head mayor of the district Wandsbek wrote “… if it wouldn’t be purposeful to bring all the gypsy families living in the general vicinity of Hamburg to one bigger collective camp, which should be located as far away from the other living areas as possible”. A year earlier, the “Research Center” of Robert Ritter had begun its work in Berlin. In December 1937, the Reich Minister for the Interior issued the so-called “General decree for the pre-emptive criminal combat by the police”. This decree arranged for the pre-emptive incarceration of anybody who “endangers the public by his anti-social behaviour”. The decree further declared that “the pre-emptive incarceration by the police should be enhanced according to the insights gained through the analysis of criminal-biological research and the experiences made before”. The decree paved the way for random arrests of Roma and Sinti and their deportation to concentration camps, where they were supposed to be made available for the “race research” of Ritter and his employees.

While the police began with numerous arrests according to the decree, plans for a collective camp for Roma and Sinti were discussed at the social agency of the city of Hamburg. Not until September 22nd, 1939, though, did the Hamburg Senate finally decide on creating a “Gypsy camp” in the district of Billstedt-Oiendorf. Work their began in October 1939, but was stopped again only a few days later under order of the head police councillor Bierkamp. On October 20th, 1939, he wrote:

“Yesterday we received an express letter from the SS security council, according to which all the gypsies in Germany have to report on the 25th, 26th and 27th of October 1939. All gypsies shall be removed to the East. This decree from Berlin has completely changed the circumstances.”


Mr. Gottfried „Friedel“ Weiß died in March 2003, after a short but fierce disease.
This book is dedicated to him and his brother Helmut, his sister Waltraut and his little nephew Robert. 

“Your suffering, your pains
Are the scars in the flesh of the world”

(Lani “Goldschabi” Rosenberg)


Memorial Day of the first deportation of Roma and Sinti to the extermination camps of National-Socialism
May 16th, 1940

Himmler issued an express letter on April 27th, 1940, that ordered the “resettlement of the gypsies”.

This order went out to the police departments of the cities Hamburg, Bremen, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart.

The order was put into action on May 16th, 1940. Several hundred Roma and Sinti from Hamburg were deported to the extermination camps of the Nazis from the collective camp of the police in the Nöldekestraße in Hamburg.

The first station of the deportation was the fruit warehouse at the Baaken bridge in Hamburg harbour, today at the corner of Kirchenpauerstraße and Baakenwerder. The fruit warehouse does not exist anymore. The Roma and Sinti waited there for five days after they had been rounded up at the police station Nöldekestraße and brought to the fruit warehouse in busses.

The warehouse became the central collective camp for all Roma and Sinti from Northern Germany before their deportation to Poland.

Mr. Gottfried Weiß remembers:

“The whole place was surrounded by the SS men, the Gestapo people and policemen, and we had to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning. We were told that they would resettle us, that we shouldn’t take anything with us and were not allowed to. They told us we would find everything there and didn’t need to pack anything. The adults anticipated nothing good and said: ‘Let’s at least pack the most essential stuff for the children.”

May 16th, 1040, at 4 o’clock in the morning, the square at the Wasmerstraße in Hamburg.

The story of the Weiß family through the concentration and extermination camps of the Nazi regime

On May 20th, 1940, 551 citizens of Hamburg and another 359 Sinti from Northern Germany were deported to Poland in trains without sanitary equipment or food. The trip took three long days before the people arrived in Belzek.

There they were forced to build the work-, collective- and extermination camps for the Jews and themselves.

To keep the Roma and Sinti calm during the transport, it was constantly spoken about “resettlement” and each family was promised a house and land in Poland.

The Roma and Sinti had nothing left except for the clothes on their bodies. Their entire property was confiscated by the Nazis.

In the first two weeks, 75 children died of exhaustion or epidemics.

Gottfried Weiß recalls:

„At one point of time, we were given water and a Sinto standing right next to me was shoved against one of the guards. The guard turned around, took his gun and shot the prisoner in the stomach. Shortly after, another SS man came, saw the prisoner holding his stomach, and said: ‘Did you shoot that guy? Can’t you do it right? I’ll show you how to do it!” Then he shot him two more times, into the back of the neck. The man had seven children and just wanted to get some water for them. He had to die for that!”

After the extermination camp Belzek

 The Weiß family was lucky: before the camp was enlarged to an extermination camp in the winter of 1941/42, the Roma and Sinti were moved by the SS to Krychow, close to Hansk. There, Mr. Weiß had to witness how children suffering from typhus were shot dead in their hospital beds by guards.

Krchow was closed in February 1941 and the Roma and Sinti were moved to Siedlce. Executions happened daily. At one time, Mr. Weiß had to witness how the SS executed parent couples of Roma and Sinti and then knocked the heads of their children against walls until they were dead. Every day, the people were filled with fear if they would live to see the evening.

The next station of their ordeal was the ghetto in Warsaw. Up to half a million Roma, Sinti, Jews and other political prisoners lived there cramped together. All prisoners had to wear emblems, the Jews the star of David and the Sinti and Roma a red “Z”.

The Weiß family was separated here for the first time since May 16th, 1940, the day of their deportation from Hamburg.

The time in the Warsaw ghetto cost the lives of Gottfried’s brother Helmut, his sister Waltraut and of his little nephew Robert. This book shall hereby be dedicated again to these people who lost their lives in the German concentration camps. May they finally rest in peace with their brother and uncle, Gottfried “Friedel” Weiß, and may their suffering never be forgotten, so that nothing like it will ever happen again.

Every year on May 16th, a commemoration ceremony is held at the police station in the Nöldeckestraße in Hamburg-Harburg (Rot-Schwarz umrandet)

Shortly before the Warsaw ghetto was „liquidated“ in May 1943, the Weiß family managed to escape. Only a short time after, the family was caught by a police troop. Thanks to their ability to speak German, they were able to prevent the policemen from shooting them, a fate suffered by tens of thousands of Roma and Sinti in the forests of Poland, but were instead incarcerated in another camp. Thus, they came to Bergen-Belsen.

In 1944, the Germans began to move thousands of prisoners to the west. The Russians were getting closer and closer. Bergen-Belsen was a nightmare. More corpses that living persons, almost nothing to eat, this led to cannibalism. In the following months, the situation became even more dramatic. Ever more transports from the Eastern territories arrived because the Russian army was closing in. From January to April 1945, at least 35,000 people of different ethnicity and religion died, most of them of exhaustion, epidemics or undernourishment.

In March the corpses were piled up metres high, doused with Diesel fuel and then lit, but the forest management protested against that. After that, the corpses just kept piling up.

Gottfried Weiß remembers:

“When we woke up in the morning, there were certainly another ten dead lying in each barracks. I can’t imagine that the people in the surrounding area didn’t smell that stench, and I don’t believe them when they say that they didn’t know about the concentration camp. The stench was unbearable. We carried that smell in our noses for months afterwards


On April 15th, 1945, the camp was freed by the English. Gottfried Weiß immediately started searching after his parents, his sister Maria and his brother Heinrich. All the more the relief when they found each other, he had almost given up. The family was reunited, close to starving and completely exhausted, but they had survived.

 Gottfried Weiß recalls:

„Many were overwhelmingly hungry and ate as much as they could. They died because their stomachs couldn’t take that anymore. Others were cleverer and more careful – they ate slower and not so much at a time."


The British troops were facing the problem of feeding 60,000 people and treat them medically as well, a problem enlarged by the epidemics. Many were forced to remain for weeks in Bergen-Belsen because of the epidemic danger. After the camp had been cleared, all barracks were burnt down to prevent the epidemics from spreading.