Book Review: The Nazi Persecution Of The Gypsies

The Nazi Persecution Of The Gypsies, by Guenter Lewy

This is the sort of book that requires a fair amount of moral courage to write.  For one, the book seeks to discuss and openly acknowledge the Nazi persecution of the gypsy people of Germany as well as Nazi-occupied Europe, itself a somewhat obscure and often neglected task.  For another, though, the book avoids the easy comparison between the treatment of the Jews and Gypsies, and engages the complexity both of prejudice within Germany (and the Nazi Party) against Gypsies and the fact that unlike with the Jews, there was no coherent final solution to the Gypsies that imagined their complete destruction from the earth, even if Nazi policies of concerning vagabondage and racial mixing and the way that imprisoned Gypsies were viewed (not without reason) as highly prone to typhus meant that many Gypsies ended up being killed in an incoherent way.  The author also demonstrates the various ways that Gypsies were viewed in a fragmentary fashion, not exactly a highly desired minority, but neither as an existential threat to the well-being of the Nazi regime.  There were, in other words, both similarities and differences in the treatment of Jews and Gypsies under Nazi rule, and the author does a good job at untangling them for the reader.

This book of a bit more than 200 pages is divided into four parts and fourteen chapters.  The author begins with a preface and a discussion of the history of oppression and maltreatment faced by the Gypsies in Germany and other places before World War II.  After that the author looks at the three-track policy of German behavior towards the Gypsies in the period before the beginning of World War II (I), the increase of harassment (1), efforts at crime prevention that targeted Gypsies (2), and the view that Germans were confronting an alien race (3), along with the special case of Austrian Gypsies who were concentrated in backwards Bergenland (4).  After that the author looks at the tightened net faced by Gypsies in the beginning of World War II (II), with security measures and expulsions in some areas (5), the creation of the Gypsies as a particular sort of social outcast (6), detention and deportation from Austria (7), and the killing of “spies” and hostages in German-occupied Eastern Europe (8).  The author turns his attention to the attempts to destroy the community of European/German Gypsies (III) in looking at deportation to Auschwitz (9), life and death in the family camp there (10), gypsies in other concentration camps (11), and those gypsies who were exempt from deportation efforts (12).  The author then closes with a discussion of German gypsies after the disaster (IV) looking at survivors and perpetrators (13), the course of persecution assessed (14), as well as abbreviations and a glossary, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

In recognizing the reality of the Nazi persecution of the Gypsies, it is important both to recognize the reality of the suffering of the Gypsies without engaging in any false equivalences between the treatment of Gypsies and that of the Jews, even if there were some similarities in that both were considered to be undesirable populations whose right to life was not something that the Nazis were going to in any way guarantee.  Gypsies were viewed as more dangerous with mixing, and settled, “pure” Gypsies were viewed with some degree of protective instincts on the part of some Nazis not unlike the way that Schindler was protective towards “his” Jews.  Admittedly, this is a rather complicated viewpoint that does not make for easy solutions, but the author is willing to discuss the complexity of Nazi treatment of the Gypsies, which was pretty horrifying even if it does not quite qualify as the exact level of genocidal hatred that the Germans felt towards Jews.  It takes a special kind of bravery to take on writing about such a subject in such an honest and thoughtful fashion as the author does.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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