- The Nazi Genocide of the Roma: Reassessment and Commemoration ed. by Anton Weiss-Wendt
An earlier book edited by Anton Weiss-Wendt was Murder Without Hatred: Estonians and the Holocaust (Syracuse, 2009), but he omits the H-word from the title under review here, referring instead to the Romani Genocide.
This was a considered move; there are still a number of Holocaust scholars who acknowledge that the fate of the Romani victims constituted genocide, but who balk at including them in the Holocaust. And there are some too who deny that their treatment even qualified as genocide. Guenther Lewy claimed that “the various deportations of Gypsies to the East and their deadly consequences do not constitute acts of genocide” (The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, Oxford, 2000, p. 223). Steven Katz denied that Romanies were the victims of genocide: “in comparison to the ruthless, monolithic, meta-political, genocidal design of Nazism vis-à-vis Jews, nothing similar… existed in the case of the Gypsies… In the end, it was only Jews and the Jews alone who were the victims of a total genocidal onslaught in both intent and practice at the hands of the Nazi murderers” (“Quantity and interpretation: Issues in the comparative historical analysis of the Holocaust,” Remembering for the Future, Oxford, 1988, p. 213). And Yehuda Bauer argued that for the Nazis, Roma were “only a minor irritant” (Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994, p. 446).
Weiss-Wendt makes it clear that “[t]he new archival evidence presented in this anthology confirms the earlier findings that placed the victimization of the Roma within the definition of genocide” — a confirmation rather than a reassessment (p. 1). This theme unites the collection of chapters Weiss-Wendt has assembled. Each presents new interpretations of, and sometimes new material for, the growing body of research on Romani Holocaust historiography. The related question, whether Romanies were targeted for racial reasons, denied for so long by the Federal Republic of Germany’s judiciary in connection with reparation for survivors — is also addressed in the chapter by Gilad Margalit.
That it needed to be addressed at all when Nazi documentation abounds with references to Romani “race” reflects the impotence of the Romani voice during the years following 1945. Roma are still not speaking for themselves loudly enough to be heard. The number of Romani intellectuals investigating the fate of the Romanies in the Holocaust remains small, surely accounting in part for the slow progress in bringing it to world attention.
While the lack of Romani scholars is certainly a factor, another is discussed by Sławomir Kapralski, who calls “false” (p. 236) the position made by its main proponent Michael Stewart who argues that there is “a [End Page 585] general lack of interest in matters past among Roma,” (p. 579) — some kind of (genetic? cultural?) Romani selective memory at work that sets the Holocaust to one side. In addressing the commemoration that forms part of the book’s title Kapralski makes it clear that there are in fact a number of memorials to the Romani victims throughout Europe. This is an excellent addition to the existing literature on the Porrajmos; the more that is assembled, the harder it becomes to push the Romani experience to one side and the greater the accountability those that do so must confront.
Weiss-Wendt’s collection, then, is a turning point. To complete the turn, perhaps Dr. Weiss-Wendt can be persuaded to edit a companion volume with chapters dealing with Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, and other countries not examined in this volume.
I question the editor’s use of “lifestyle” to refer to the centuries-old Romani culture, there is nothing stylish about it, except in the “gypsy” stereotype. I question too the statement that Jews “were defined strictly in racial terms while [Romanies were defined] in both racial and social terms” (p. 9). Focusing upon the “racial” aspects of Jews developed slowly. Their social and political involvement...