Module F: The Genocide of the Roma and Sinti by the Nazis: Past and Present Forms of Anti-Ziganism

Kathrin Herold


Target group
People working in public service (especially public administration and the police) as well as other groups of people who are interested in social processes of marginalisation and discrimination


Themes and goals
As a rule, seminar participants are completely unfamiliar with anti-Ziganism, both as a term and as a long-standing phenomenon, unlike anti-Semitism. Instead of being curious, people often do not want to talk about antipathy toward Sinti and Roma. Relevant studies have also confirmed that there are serious prejudices against these social groups both in Germany and the rest of Europe.


The Sinti and Roma who were persecuted and killed by the Nazis as “gypsies” continued to be stigmatised even after 1945. For example, in 1956, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled that Sinti and Roma demonstrated deviant behaviour and argued that Nazi persecution based on “racial criteria” did not start until 1943. The result of this was that not only was the majority of Sinti and Roma who had suffered injustices excluded from compensation, but by condoning the rampant racism practised within public administration before 1933 that was continued by the Nazis, the ruling also served to legitimise ongoing discrimination. Because part of the blame had been legally placed on the victims of persecution, the offenses were not officially recognised for more than four decades. As a rule, members of the social majority and government agencies refused to empathise with or support these survivors. Instead, the wide-scale marginalisation and persecution of Sinti and Roma continued. The police created criminal files on them, and in their everyday lives they were subjected to antipathy and discrimination regarding education, work and accommodation.


Although these victims are also remembered at official commemorative events today, the people and structures involved in their persecution and extermination are still largely ignored. Thus, while vague appeals to take responsibility and to respect human rights are made at such occasions, those who were actively involved are still left unnamed.


We begin this module by looking at the actions of public administration and criminal investigators from a historical point of view. This module is thus especially suitable for groups of public administration officials and police officers in training. The goal of the module is to clarify any uncertainties regarding responsibilities while encouraging employees of public institutions to critically examine their own actions and daily work lives. We also raise their awareness of the living conditions of Sinti and Roma and forms of state discrimination against them. In this approach, which is used in the political education of civil servants, we attempt to establish connections between the past and present while looking at these connections within the context of society as a whole. Special focus is also placed here on the historical and current role of public administration in the treatment of Sinti and Roma.


The seminar demonstrates how the treatment of Sinti and Roma could have been, and still can be, changed. We look at how this treatment has been closely tied to how the public perceives them. We also discuss how structural marginalisation is connected to cycles of poverty in the areas of responsibility of compensation offices and immigration offices, and how the deportation of Roma refugees from Kosovo living in Germany for many years with a “Duldung” status (“temporary suspension of deportation”) reflects the current discourse on immigration and integration. Also, regarding their own work place, public administration trainees learn to identify how the administrative implementation of legislative directives can present problems that can be connected to real or imagined dilemmas, as the following quote from a seminar participant: “We, the mid-level civil servants, have no ability to act differently. We have sworn an oath to obey the laws of Germany. Due to our profession, we have to trust in the correctness of these decisions and assessments. We cannot decide differently based on mercy or humanity (…) if our guidelines dictate something different.” Being obligated to obey the law and trust in official guidelines is thus interpreted as having no ability to act differently. Thus, because participants accept existing regulations without question, it has not always been easy to encourage them to apply their critical judgement and to question customary conduct. Social taboos have also been a topic of discussion in previous seminars, with several participants claiming they are expected to use politically correct language when dealing with Sinti and Roma: “You aren’t allowed to say gypsy, although they say it themselves.”


In light of these factors, the question arises as to how participants can be sensitised to anti-Ziganism and its historical and current aspects in a way that has a long-term effect on their thinking. Discussing historical and current prejudices in society against Sinti and Roma enables us to question the status quo and to shape our own points of view and conduct.