the Disillusioned kid: Thieving Gypos?
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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thieving Gypos?

The last few weeks has seen travellers targetted by the tabloid press and an increasingly populist (if not exactly popular) Conservative Party. There is much which could be said about this persecution and the fact that what problems there are actually largely the product of government policies, many of them implemented during Michael Howard's watch. That, however, isn't what I want to focus on here. Instead I hope this post will offer a brief - but important - history lesson and help to contextualise modern treatment of travellers.

Nazi treatment of the Jews is well known and almost universally regarded as worse than contemptible. The treatment of of the Roma people's is a tragedy with which people have less familiarity. Like the Jews, many Roma were massacred by the Nazis, an effort they have describe as the Porajmos (also Porrajmos) literally Devouring. While there is some dispute about the numbers killed, Wikipedia puts the figure at beween 200 and 800,000.

The Nazis attempt to exterminate the Roma was driven by the same racial ideology as the Holocaust, which sought "racial purity." Like the Jews the Roma were herded into the ghettoes including the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. On Nvember 15, 1943 Himmler ordered that Gypsies and "part-Gypsies" were to be put "on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps." In fact, Wikipedia suggests that in some case Roma may have been treated even worse than the Jews:
According to testimonies of Jewish and Nazi witnesses, Gypsies sent to the death camps often suffered even worse than Jews. In some instances, the Nazis were so appalled by the sight of Roma arriving in the transports that they would not even let them in the gates of the camps for selection and simply murdered them by the railway platforms. In one remarkable instance, the victims were so terrified that they would be killed on the spot that they actually stormed the gates of the death camp, demanding to be allowed in—they were promptly led to the gas chambers, all the while believing that they would find sanctuary there.
The intention of this brief excursus is not to suggest that Michael Howard is the same as the Nazis, nor to underplay the very real suffering inflicted on millions of Jews. Rather it is to remind people of the depravities which can potentially result from the targetting of ethnic groups.

Those interested in finding out more about the plight of travellers today should check out the European Roma Rights Centre. Oh, and whatever you do don't buy the Sun.

A group of Romani prisoners, awaiting instructions from their German captors, sit in an open area near the fence in the Belzec concentration camp.

A Gypsy couple at the Belzec concentration camp.

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