The Porajmos (also Porrajmos), literally Devouring, is a term considered to be coined by the Romani people to describe attempts by the regime in Nazi Germany to exterminate most of the Romani peoples of Europe as part of the Holocaust.
The phenomenon has been little studied and largely overshadowed by the Shoah (the Hebrew term for the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews). Other aspects of the Holocaust included the Nazi campaign against people with disabilities (see Action T4), and the slavery of Polish people in concentration camps.
Because the Romani communities of Eastern Europe were less organized than the Jewish communities, it is more difficult to assess the actual number of victims, though it is believed to range from 220,000 to 500,000. Only in recent years has the Romani community begun to demand acceptance among the victims of the Nazi regime. The response so far has been mixed.
The term porajmos was introduced into the literature by the Romani scholar and activist Ian Hancock, in the early 1990s, though he did not coin the term. There is also another term, Samudaripen (Mass killing), coined by Marcel Courthiade, but dismissed as not conforming to the Romani language..
Nazi racialist Hans F. K. Günther added a socioeconomic component to the theory of racial purity. While he conceded that the Roma were, in fact, descended from Aryans, they were of poorer classes that had mingled with the various “inferior” races they encountered during their wanderings. This, he explained, accounted for their extreme poverty and nomadic lifestyle. While he conceded that there were some groups that were “purely Aryan,” most Gypsies posed a threat to Aryan homogeneity because of their racial mingling.
To study the problem further, the Nazis established the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit (Rassenhygienische und Bevölkerungsbiologische Forschungsstelle, Department L3 of the Reich Department of Health) in 1936. Headed by Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant Eva Justin, the body was mandated to conduct an in-depth study of the “Gypsy question (Zigeunerfrage)” and to provide data required for formulating a new Reich Gypsy law. After extensive fieldwork in the spring of 1936, consisting of interviews and medical examinations to investigate genealogical and genetic data, it was determined that most Roma posed a danger to German racial purity and should be eliminated. No decision was made regarding the remainder (about 10 percent of the total Romani population of Europe), primarily Sinti and Lalleri tribes living in Germany, though several suggestions were made. At one point Heinrich Himmler even suggested the establishment of a remote reservation, where “pure Gypsies” could continue their nomadic lifestyle unhindered. According to him:
...The aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be the physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation, the prevention of miscegenation, and finally, the regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies.
The sterilization of Gypsies was started as early as 1933, also in 1933, camps were being established by the Nazis to contain Gypsies at Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Mahrzan and Vennhausen.
The vast majority of Jews were to suffer the same indignities as the Roma. Scholarly estimates of deaths in the Sinti and Roma genocide range from 220,000 to 500,000 although Ian Hancock challenges this figure and puts the estimates as 500,000 to 1,500,000. They were herded into ghettos, including the Warsaw Ghetto (April–June, 1942), where they formed a distinct subclass. Ghetto diarist Emmanuel Ringelblum speculated that Roma were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto because the Germans wanted:
...to toss into the Ghetto everything that is characteristically dirty, shabby, bizarre, of which one ought to be frightened, and which anyway has to be destroyed.
Further east, teams of Einsatzgruppen tracked down Romani encampments and murdered the inhabitants on the spot, leaving no records of the victims.
Roma were also victims of the puppet regimes that cooperated with the Third Reich during the war, especially the notorious Ustaše regime in Croatia. In Jasenovac concentration camp, along with Serbs and Jews, tens of thousands of Roma were killed. Serbian Roma are parties to the pending Class action suit against the Vatican Bank and others currently pending in US Federal Court seeking return of wartime loot.
On December 16, 1942, Himmler ordered that the Romani candidates for extermination should be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. To the Romani people of Europe, this order was equivalent to the January 20 decision of that same year, made at the Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi bureaucrats decided on the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem.” Himmler then ordered, on November 15, 1943, that Gypsies and “part-Gypsies” were to be put “on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.”
The governments of some Nazi German allies, namely Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, also contributed to the Nazi plan of Romani extermination, but this was implemented on a smaller scale and most Romani in these countries survived, unlike those in Ustashe Croatia or in areas directly ruled by Nazi Germany (such as Poland). The demographic effect is still noticeable today, with the populations of those countries who did not try to exterminate their Roma now between 7-10% Roma (see Romani people). The Hungarian Arrow Cross government deported between 28,000 and 33,000 Roma out of a population estimated between 70,000 and 100,000.
The Croatian government deported or interred 26,000, and of the Roma killed, about half were murdered at the Jasenovac concentration camp. Similarly, the Romanian government of Ion Antonescu had its own concentration camps in Transnistria to which 25,000 Romani people were deported, of whom 11,000 died. At least one notable Jewish Holocaust victim appears to have seen Gypsies at Auschwitz - Anne Frank .
In the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Romani internees were sent to the Lety and Hodonín concentration camps before being transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau for gassing. What makes the Lety camp unique is that it was staffed by Czech guards, who could be even more brutal than the Germans, as testified in Paul Polansky’s book Black Silence. The genocide was so thorough that the vast majority of Romani in the Czech Republic today are actually descended from migrants from Slovakia who moved there during the post-war years in Czechoslovakia.
Prior to recognizing Romania's role in the Porajmos, Traian Băsescu was widely quoted after an incident on May 19, 2007, in which he insulted a journalist by calling her a "stinky gypsy." The president subsequently apologized.