Australasian Union of Jewish Students



Even before the Nazis' rise to power, Romani all over Europe were targeted due to their nomadic lifestyle and different culture. Romani were forced to live only in certain parts of the countries through which they travelled, often in the terrible conditions.

In Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) it was permissible to cut off the left ear of all Gypsy women. No crime or reason was needed to justify this cruel branding. At one time, marriage between Gypsies was outlawed in Spain. In 1830, German authorities tried to take away by force all the children of Gypsy families and place them in an institution. Norway initiated a similar action in the early 20th Century on the basis that it was unhealthy for children to live in tents and wagons.

With such a backdrop, the Romani were naturally seen as being racially inferior to the Third Reich. Romani were ordered to stop travelling and to give up their nomadic ways and settle.

As part of the Nuremberg Laws, "The Reich Citizenship Law," stripped "non-Aryans" of their citizenship. Romani, like Jews, lost their right to vote on 7th March, 1936.


The Romani people were herded into ghettos and were formedinto a distinct subclass of prisoners. Romani were then largely deported to Auchwitz-Birkenau where they were housed in a special compound known as the “Gypsy family camp”. Over 23,000 Roma Sinti and Lalleri (different Romani groups) were deported to Auschwitz. They were forced to wear inverted brown triangles on their prison uniforms.

The Romani people did try to resist Nazi extermination. In May 1944, at Auschwitz, SS guards tried to liquidate the “Gypsy Family Camp” and were "met with unexpected resistance –the Roma fought back with crude weapons – and retreated". A few months later the SS succeeded in liquidating the camp, and ultimately murdered 20,000 of the Roma kept there.

The total death toll of Romani from 1939-1945 ranges in estimates from 220,000 to 1,500,000 – 25 percent of the population of European Romani. The Romani people refer to the extermination of their people during this time as “Porajmos” (“destruction”) and “Samudaripen” (“mass killing”).

In 1982, West Germany formally recognised that genocide had been committed against the Romani. In 2011, the Polish Government passed a resolution for the official recognition of the 2nd August as a day of commemoration of the genocide.

 The Gypsy

The gypsy could already tell

Our lives were blocked by night on night

We said farewell to her and right away

Hope hurtled from the well


Love heavy as a hungry bear

Did dance with our two wills for tethers

The bluebird shuffled off its feathers

The beggars lost the will to prayer


We're bound for hell and know full well

But on the way in hope of love

We hand in hand go thinking of

All that the gypsy's words foretell

- Cecilia Woloch