After '45 no end to the persecution

When the gates of the concentration camps finally opened also for the Roma and Sinti, they had been hit so lastingly at their social structures that for the first time in their history they have not been able to recover up until today.

The Families, the most important social points of orientation and the connected grids to protect the individual in an enemy society, they had all been destroyed for most of the survivors. What could not be accomplished in centuries of the most massive attempts of extermination, the bureaucrats and office culprits of the Nazi regime finally managed: The Roma people had been hit almost completely in its structures. The Polish and German Roma were almost completely exterminated, only a small number remained. Many Sinti returned to their hometowns after the so-called freeing. On September 22nd, 1945, about four months after the war had ended, the Hamburg police opened a rather macabre account: “… total number of Gypsian persons living in the greater area of Hamburg before May 20th, 1940: 1628. 551 of these were resettled to the general gouvernement on May 20th, 1940. 328 were brought to Auschwitz on March 11th, 1943; 26 were brought to Auschwitz on April 18th, 1944; 30 moved to somewhere else; 89 were put in a concentration camp for criminal activities; 111 deceased. In total: 1135. According to this, the total number of Gypsian persons living or being present in the greater area of Hamburg should be 439 …”

Continuously, what the Nazis had perfected was kept running – the systematic registration and surveillance of the Sinti and Roma. Only a practical usage for this work was not quite apparent anymore.

But this also changed soon:

·         In 1948, the central criminal department of Baden Wurttemberg issues “guidelines for the fight against the Gypsy menace”. These guidelines should be of use to the policemen as a temporary aid until the “… final solution of the Gypsy problem …” as is stated in the accompanying letter.

·          The former “Reich Central Office for the Fight against the Gypsy Menace” is relocated to Munich and picks up its old work.

·          In the same year, Bavaria issues its “new” Gypsy legislation, the travelling folk laws, based on the old “Law for the fight against Gypsies and Idlers” from 1926.

·          Nazi culprits like Eichberger, Supp and many others, who only a short time ago had sent the Gypsies to the concentration camps, are now made responsible for their further registration and are also hired as experts on questions of compensation. Thus, it is not surprising that the so-called compensation practice was experienced as a second persecution by the Roma and Sinti. Not one of these office culprits was ever held responsible for his part in the genocide of the Roma and Sinti. Even after the war, the victims and survivors were met with distrust.

·          The German Federal Court affirms in 1956 the principal judgement that “their (the Roma and Sinti) deportation to the concentration camps had not been a persecution out of racial reasons, but a pre-emptive criminal measure”. A “compensation” and support for re-integration was denied to them by the argumentation of the court.

Different as for the Jewish victims of the Nazi terror, the Holocaust of the Roma was de facto legitimised afterwards by this judgement. Up until today, no German government has issued serious reparations for the injustice done to the Roma and Sinti.

Within the scope of the forced laborers’ compensation, the German government assigned the “International Organisation for Migration” (IOM) with the handling of the applications in 2001. The IOM also is the organisation responsible for the enactment of the deportation policy against Roma refugees. This example clearly shows how the German policy tries to come to terms with its past.

·          The assets robbed from the Roma and Sinti were incorporated in the Federal Treasury Department and later in the Federal Republic of Germany.

·          Dr. Robert Ritter, the chief ideologist of the “final solution of the Gypsy question” was hired after the war by the City of Frankfurt as a public health officer. He died unharmed in 1951, as a pensioner in Frankfurt.

·          Leo Carstens, head of the Central Gypsy Office in Berlin, worked unharmed for the Criminal Police in Ludwigshafen. Even after his retirement, he was cherished for his “valuable tips on how to handle Gypsies”. Of course, he too was an expert for the compensation authorities. He was never called to account for the deportation of innumerable Gypsies from Berlin and their fate.

·          From 1948 on, a working “Gypsy bureau” was systematically re-established in Germany. To make it adaptable to the constitution, it was called “travelling folk bureau”.

Its duties were assigned as follows:

1)       execution of actions to assess a person’s civil status

2)       Administration of the following files:

a)       personal files

b)       photograph files

c)       Gypsy name files

d)       Characteristc traits files

e)       Vehicle files

3)       Administration of personal and family files

4)       Co-operation with other authorities

5)       Tracing of searched “travelling folk”

6)       Control of caravan camping spots


·          The former Central Office of the Reich for the “fight against the Gypsy menace”, that was called “travelling folk bureau” after the war, was kept in business until 1970 as the officially responsible authority and surveillance institution for Gypsy questions.

·          After 1970, this business was decentralised. Among others, the “travelling folk bureau” in Hamburg occupied a key position in the “federal fight against the Gypsy menace”.

Typical for these intentions of a complete registration of the Sinti and Roma was the unrestricted pragmatism endeavouring to compile all possible information about the Gypsies. Besides the name and photograph files, so-called “characteristic traits files” were kept to record among other things the concentration camp numbers that had been tattooed on the lower arms of the Sinti and Roma (on the thighs for the children) by the Nazis.


Every contact to this group of persons was subject to registration.

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Special forms designed for the control of the travelling folk dealed with details like pregnancies, sex and colour of animals brought along, jewelry, car antennas and so forth.

The regular realisation of identification procedures was recommended to make the Gypsies identifiable also by photographs and finger prints.

With the start of the federal German civil rights work of the Sinti and Roma, the authoritative measures began not to refer directly to the group of the Roma and Sinti. Instead, measures were labelled as

·          “Check of frequently changing place of residence” and

·          “Report service of daily apartment burglary”

These new procedures were part of a well-organised and continuous “fight against the Gypsy menace” by the authorities.

In the files of the afore mentioned “Report service”, especially camping groups of Sinti and Roma were registered by the various federal states of Germany or their central criminal authorities, respectively.

Since 1981, the federal criminal office maintains a special file system for Roma and Sinti to record all vehicles and their owners.

All this information was collected in the so-called “travelling folk files”. Their existence, despite authoritative denial, can be proven without doubt for the federal states of Hamburg, Hessia, Baden Wurttemberg and Bavaria. Special laws served the easier enactment of the assignments.

For example the Registry Office Decree 103, according to which all marriages, deceases and births of so-called unsettled individuals had to be reported regularly to the criminal police. This decree remained until 1985 and was only suspended after protests by the Rom and Cinti Union.


The “Caravan Law” of Hamburg, however, is still effective.

There is an attitude of principal suspicion on the side of the authorities concerning the Sinti and Roma and their supposed characteristic of permanent travelling, leading to the belief of an immanent danger of criminal activities that calls for police measures. From this results the practice of immediately tightening controls when Sinti and Roma appear in a district.

The police measures enacted by the authorities are considered as a pre-emptive action. Through disciplining and deterrence, a supposed refraining from criminal offences shall be caused, but the main target is to make the Roma and Sinti move on.

Measures like identity controls or age checks by public health officers are probate means of fighting the Gypsies, according to the responsible authorities. At the same time, welfare and social authorities do everything within their abilities to make residence for groups of Roma difficult if not impossible.

The preferred strategies to expel such people are the denial of social welfare and the complication of settlement by not assigning living space to those concerned. Exemplary deterrence measures against individuals are also supposed to deter other Sinti and Roma groups to move to a certain region.

By way of summarizing, it can be said that the Gypsy persecution in Germany has been continuously kept up until the present day. Always more or less covered by legislation, according to the Zeitgeist and the political mood. Furthermore, it can be noted that the so-called “Gypsy problem” has not been satisfyingly solved in the eyes of the responsible authorities. The aim, in any case, is a solution by causing expulsion. Preferred strategy for expelling camping groups is a flexible position, informally allowing a “short residence” of the groups while at the same time threatening them with forced measures in the case of violation of the deadline.

Exemplary executions against individual groups are also supposed to impress other Sinti and Roma. Most of the time, the authorities are afraid that a prolonged residence or even a settlement of these groups will result in financial expenses for the municipality.

   While the Gypsy persecution in its early phase was dictated by irrational and paranoid ideas, the modern-age persecution from the Third Reich up to the present day is carried by a pseudo-objective, racist argumentation. Similar to the blacks in America, the centuries-long persecution has left its marks on the Roma and Sinti in Germany: missing education, unemployment and an increasing exclusion from all fields of social life.