Abstract: A discussion of Nazi anti-Gypsy policy in Estonia
needs to center on local interpretation and implementation of RSHA
and RKO orders. Contradictions between various German instructions,
which often discriminated among sedentary and itinerating Gypsies,
created a state of confusion that increased chances for survival. Since
in Estonia Sonderkommando 1a of the German Security Police exercised
oversight rather than itself carrying out atrocities, the destruction
of the Gypsy community in Estonia proceeded at a pace slower than
elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Interested in exploiting slave labor, the
German Security Police in Estonia did not consider liquidation of the
Gypsies a priority. Acculturated to traditional anti-Gypsy prejudices
and burdened by their own wartime travails, the majority of Estonians
remained indifferent when Estonian police deported Gypsies.
Among all ethnic groups in the Baltic States, the Gypsies are the most
under-studied. So far most research on the Nazi extermination of the
Gypsies in this area has been done in Latvia, with authors including
both survivors and scholars.
Several younger scholars are working on the subject in Lithuania.
The first attempt to summarize the fate of the Estonian Gypsies
under the Nazis was Jüri Viikberg and Roman Lutt's admirable
contribution to a collection dealing with minorities living in the
territory of Estonia.
Some scholars of the Porrajmos (the Gypsy Holocaust) concentrate on
documents of central German agencies, whereas local historians often
stress the importance of regulations issued on the spot, sometimes
shortchanging the broader context. The following attempts to bring the
two currents together, first by introducing the Estonian case into the
discourse on Nazi handling of the "Gypsy Question," and in particular by
investigating whether orders proceeded without impediment down the chain
of command. To what extent did local initiative delay or contradict
the implementation of directives? To put it differently, did central
and peripheral interests intersect, and if not, what were the issues
at stake? On a more general level this article recounts the fate of
the Estonian Gypsies starting with a short overview of their original
settlement in Estonia.
[End Page 31]
The Gypsies in Estonia
The earliest reference to the presence of Gypsies in Estonia dates to
1533. The records of the Town Council of Reval (Tallinn) mention two
Gypsies (Zigeuner), Clawes von Rottenberch and Christoffer Rottenbech. The
document implied that the two came from the town of 'Rottenberg'
(Rothenberg?), in Germany.
Gypsy migrations through Estonia probably occurred even earlier. Thus
according to a sourcebook about medieval Finland, the first Gypsy
settlers came to the Finnish mainland via Estonia, in 1515.
There have been Gypsies in the Baltic continuously since the beginning
of the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, the Gypsies did not settle
permanently in Estonia before the beginning of the seventeenth
century. Having been persecuted in Sweden and Poland, and searching for
a more tolerant environment, some Gypsies traveled to Estonia. But this
influx was paralleled by the eagerness of the authorities—first
Swedish and then Russian—to fight "vagabondage." Russian Senate
decrees of January 24 and November 4, 1784, infringed the freedom of
movement of Gypsies. In accordance with the first, all itinerant Gypsies
from across the border were put under surveillance and eventually sent
back. The November 4 decree forbade Gypsies without passports to travel
outside Riga and Tallinn. We have no precise statistics on the Gypsy
population in the Estonian and Livonian provinces of the Russian Empire
in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The relatively accurate
census of 1897 gives the figure for Estonia and Latvia of 1,750,
of whom 154 were in Estonia.
However insignificant the numbers, the Gypsies did not settle in
Estonia as a homogeneous group. One should distinguish among three main
geographical and linguistic groups: Latvian, Russian, and Laiuse. The
most distinctive and also the oldest were the Gypsies of Laiuse, the
Lajenge Roma as they are known in Romani. In 1841 the authorities
ordered all Gypsies in Estonia to be concentrated in Laiuse Parish,
about twenty-five miles north of Tartu. By the time Estonia became
independent in 1918 the Lajenge Roma had been largely assimilated, and
the dialect they spoke—closely related to that of the Finnish
Gypsies and something of a hybrid of Gypsy and Estonian—was
disappearing. According to the Estonian linguist Paul Ariste, who has
extensively studied Gypsy language, the older groups of Gypsies such as
Lajenge Roma underwent thorough Estonization. No rigid social barriers
separated the latter and the peasants. The majority led a sedentary way
of life. Over time, Estonian was substituted for the Gypsy language;
intermarriages were frequent. The eminent Estonian writer Friedebert
Tuglas is perhaps the best-known example of an Estonian with Gypsy roots.
The question of language is particularly important here. The great
majority of Gypsies who settled in Estonia during the interwar period
of the twentieth century came from Latvia. Another distinctive group,
the so-called Russian Gypsies, was concentrated in the eastern
borderlands. While the Latvian Gypsies generally had a good command
of Estonian, only a few among the Russian Gypsies knew it. Because
of that fact, their movements were limited to the predominantly
Russian-settled areas, that is, the vicinity of Narva, Lake Peipus,
and the Southeast. Each Gypsy group kept largely
[End Page 32]
to its own, which, however, did not completely stop interactions among the
Laiuse, Latvian, and Russian Gypsies. There were cases of intermarriage
and occasionally even itinerating together.
Ariste argues that despite the assimilation of some Estonian Gypsies,
there was no decisive break with tradition. The percentage of illiterates
remained high. Others have found little indication of the religious
indifference that Ariste ascribes to them. Partial evidence suggests
the continuing importance of the traditional Gypsy connection with horses.
According to the 1934 Estonian census, there were 766 Gypsies in
Estonia. Ariste estimates 900 on the eve of World War II (60 Laiuse,
800 "Latvian," and 10 "Russian" families). In the Holocaust literature
the number usually is rounded up to 1,000. In June 1941 the number of
Gypsies who were sedentary amounted to 743.
Shortly after their occupation of the Baltic countries the German
authorities conducted a census to calculate human losses during
the preceding year of Soviet rule; not surprisingly, however, the
census-takers were prohibited from counting Jews and Gypsies.
For that reason the German civil authorities never knew the precise
number of Gypsies in Estonia.
Considering that the overwhelming majority of Gypsies in Estonia were
sedentary, a good estimate would seem to be 800 to 850.
The partial assimilation of the Gypsies into the Estonian majority
in no way eliminated social and racial prejudices against the
"swarthy aliens." The very Estonian word for Gypsies, mustlased
(Finnish, Mustalainen)—"black," "dirty"—has negative
connotations. The scornful "mustlased" may be contrasted with the
Estonian word for "Germans," sakslased (related to "Saxons"). It
is significant that a shortened version of sakslane—"saks"
(master)—was extended in the nineteenth century to include any
educated, non-working-class, German-speaking individual, regardless
of nationality. Thus in the case of the Gypsies, the national was
identified with the racial, while in the case of Germans, national
overlapped with class.
Traditional antisemitism and anti-Gypsy attitudes share certain
characteristics. Most of the popular images and clichés were
created by the Church. This is true in the case of Germany,
but to some degree also Estonia. For example, one story recorded
in 1922 talks explicitly about Gypsy use of Christian blood for
religious purposes. The story starts with the Gypsies, and then
continues—"but Jews have been even worse!" According to the
narrator, a priest mentioned the "blood offerings" in his sermon.
Little research has been done on the images that Jews and Gypsies had
of each other. Some have suggested that Gypsy folklore is bereft of
anti-Jewish sentiments. The following example, which comes from Latgale,
the easternmost province of Latvia, proves the opposite. The Latvian
Gypsies, while wanting to scare their children, used to say "a Jew will
murder you!" (zhid zarezhet, in Russian).
Although this single example does not change the overall picture,
it may testify to the fact that interaction between Gypsies and Jews
in the Baltic states remained minimal. Contacts with the majority
population were, however, more frequent.
[End Page 33]
Estonians during the interwar period usually perceived Gypsies as
outsiders, except for the Lajenge Roma, assimilated by the turn of
the century. Prejudice against the Gypsies was as strong in Estonia as
any other East- or Central European country. A knowledge of both the
Estonian and Russian languages made it possible for Gypsies to maintain
irregular business contacts with the rural population. An indication
of the importance of language is the fact that the Russian Gypsies,
without a proper command of Estonian, were able to itinerate only in
areas with a predominantly Russian population. Despite the Gypsies'
ability to eke out an existence, the majority population seems to
have regarded interaction with them—basically limited to the
marketplace—as a nuisance. Considering the marginal position of
the Russian minority in independent Estonia, anti-Gypsyism was one of
the few attitudes it shared with most Estonians. But everywhere negative
representations of the Gypsies were widespread and usually generalized,
while positive evaluations by and large were based on personal interaction
with one or another specific individual.
Gypsy dress and habits were so exotic that they both alienated
and attracted. A Gypsy woman smoking a pipe aroused particular
consternation. The significant role the Gypsies played in horse trading
rather reinforced social stereotyping. Thefts on market days were often
ascribed to Gypsies, all the more so incidents of the theft of horses. The
belief that Gypsies were dishonest vendors was widespread. For some,
a natural desire to profit was accentuated by the flamboyant desire to
"outwit the Gypsy"; it would be considered particularly commendable
to sell a Gypsy a defective horse. Despite the ongoing process of
nation-building, interwar Estonia remained very much a traditional
rural society, and thus negative attitudes toward Gypsies continued
to be transmitted from generation to generation. Children were warned
away from this "tribe of beggars and thieves." Only a small minority of
Estonians were neutral toward the Gypsies, stressing their "otherness"
without condemning it. Examples of a positive disposition were extremely
rare. As for the Gypsies' attitudes towards Estonians, according to one
observer, those individuals whom the Gypsies accepted as their own would
be treated with hospitality and generosity.
Soviet rule in Estonia in 1940 and 1941 had no strong effect on the
Gypsy community. Secluded from the rest of the population, the Gypsies
were traditionally apolitical, and only a few references to the Roma
during that period have survived. Despite the Soviet authorities'
attempts to press the Gypsies into employment and their children into
school—something the Gypsies did not perceive as a positive
development—the new regime won some support from the Gypsy
population. The fact that the Soviets did not discriminate did not,
however, completely eliminate anti-Soviet sentiment among the assimilated
minority, particularly the students. Some individuals even started looking
favorably upon Nazi Germany as a force that might cast out the communists.
In this the Baltic Gypsies were far from alone: Albanian Gypsies,
for instance, perceived the Serbs as enemies worse than the Nazis.
Among Estonian Jews, too, there were individuals who at first hoped
that life under the Nazi occupation
[End Page 34]
would be better than the miserable existence under the Soviets.
The Gypsies, unlike the Jews, did not become any more visible as a
result of the Soviet occupation. Consequently, there was no reason for
Estonians to blame the Gypsies for their loss of independence. However,
social stereotypes persisted. One of the ways Estonians disparaged the
new regime was to equate its representatives with Gypsy stereotypes
from the past. On June 23, 1940, for instance, the Soviet authorities
organized in the southern town of Tõrva a "march" and a meeting
in support of the new government, to which only twenty-five people
showed up; witnesses referred to the event as the "Gypsy funeral
"Socially Dangerous Elements"
Squeezed between Germany and the Soviet Union, Estonia almost inevitably
was influenced by processes occurring in both countries, including their
handling of the "Gypsy Question." The most recent Western scholarship
demonstrates certain parallels in the treatment of the Gypsies under both
the Nazi and the Stalinist regimes, although substantial differences
characterize the two states. While Nazi anti-Gypsy policy evolved
parallel to the anti-Jewish legislation, in the Soviet judicial system
the Gypsies were never dissociated as a separate category. Throughout the
Third Reich's history, the precise status of the Sinti and Roma remained
unclear. Scholars still cannot reach a consensus on whether they were
defined on a racial basis or as a "socially marginal" group. Early
scholarly accounts drew the parallel between Nazi plans for the Jews
and for the Gypsies; their racialist ideology was considered dominant
over the traditional perception of the Sinti and Roma as criminals. By
branding the Gypsies an "asocial element"—it is argued—the
Nazis disguised their genocidal intent to exterminate them as a race.
Another group of scholars, though admitting the priority of the
biological factor in the Nazi definition of Gypsies, argues that the
conception of racial inferiority and hereditary criminality equally
contributed to discrimination against, and eventually the murder of,
The most persistent view argues that (despite the Nazis' fixation upon
race) in the case of Sinti and Roma, "social adjustment" was considered
more important than racial origin. Leo Lucassen expresses an even more
extreme view, arguing the direct continuity between anti-Gypsy police
measures adopted before and after 1933, and disparaging the racial
factor as strictly secondary.
In the Soviet Union too the concept of Gypsy as social outcast was
endemic. The policing of "marginals" stood apart from the political and
administrative purges of the 1930s. The process of removing "socially
alien" and "socially dangerous elements" started with the round-ups of
prostitutes in the summer of 1929, if not earlier, and culminated in
mass operations that took place during the Great Terror of 1937-38. A
definition of "danger" referring specifically to habitual criminals was
established as early as 1924. With the crash industrialization program
that got underway in the late 1920s, the words "Gypsy" and "criminal"
once again grew close. Gypsies now might be assigned to categories such as
"parasites" and "pests."
The first known legal case against
[End Page 35]
them, when eighteen members of a Gypsy cooperative enterprise were
arrested and tried in early 1932, should be viewed as part of the
gathering campaign against minority cultures in general. The charges
included economic sabotage, conspiracy, and bribe-taking; the authorities
interpreted the maintenance of Gypsy kinship networks as disloyalty
to the state. In the summer of 1933, the OGPU (security police) were
instructed to expel from Moscow all beggars and those with a criminal
past. Around the same time, 5,000 itinerant Gypsies were deported from
the Moscow region to internal exile in remote regions.
It is unlikely, however, that the Soviet authorities intended the
expulsion of Roma as ethnic cleansing; rather, it was more likely part
of a general social purge. But increasing administrative pressure on
petty criminals led in the late 1930s to a redefinition of categories of
"ordinary" versus "political" crime. Gradually, public-order offenses
merged with the category of "counter-revolutionary crimes." During the
period of mass operations a considerable number of Gypsies were picked
up and sent east. Their criminal reputation combined with the regime's
eagerness to settle "backward" nomadic people encouraged local officials
to see the Gypsies as "socially harmful" and therefore a potential threat
to the Soviet system. During the collectivization of agriculture some
Gypsies were arrested as "kulaks."
Nazi segregationist legislation defined Sinti and Roma, despite
their meager numbers (.04% of the population), as a separate
category. Nevertheless, for the first six years of the regime, the
"Gypsy Question" was treated primarily as a social problem. The December
1937 Interior Ministry decree authorizing preventative custody aimed
at "asocial" elements in general. Thus the Gypsies rounded up during
Operation Work-Shy later the following year were detained as "asocials"
without permanent residence. Nevertheless Reichsführer-SS Heinrich
Himmler's December 8, 1938, decree for "Combating the Gypsy Plague"
signaled an important departure from previous practice. From then on
the Criminal Police were advised to treat the Sinti and Roma by racial
criteria. The decree made a distinction between "pure Gypsies," Gypsies
of mixed ancestry (Zigeunermischlinge) and "Gypsy-like itinerants."
Regarding the treatment of the Gypsies, Soviet and German security police
functions bore much in common. Following the abolition of the OGPU in
February 1934, its police functions were incorporated into the newly
established NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs). Several
months later a Special Board of the NKVD was created, with the power
(among others) to exile "socially dangerous" persons for up to five years.
As regards persecution of the Gypsies in Nazi Germany, a similarly
important restructuring took place in 1936. Having embarked on a
campaign to control both political enemies and asocials, Himmler
organized the police into two main components: the Security Police,
which included the Gestapo and the Kripo (Criminal Police); and the
so-called Order (or uniformed) Police. Until the outbreak of war,
the Gypsy Question was handled by the Kripo.
Essential issues such as definition, deportation, and ultimately
killing, however, were later confirmed on the highest level,
[End Page 36]
that is, by Himmler himself or the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, the
security apparatus), into which both Gestapo and Kripo were integrated
in September 1939.
Unfortunately, there has been no proper research on police practice
in interwar Estonia. Thus we cannot substantiate the thesis of Ruth
Bettina Birn, a distinguished authority on indigenous collaboration
with the Nazi occupation: according to Birn, one of the main factors
contributing to Estonian collaborationism lay within Estonian society
itself. The conservatism of the "respectable people" who constituted the
Estonian elite made them view the world as "threatened by the revolt of
the lawless underclass, which was lazy, promiscuous and comprised mainly
of non-Estonian ethnicities."
In order to demonstrate that, however, one would need to identify
continuities in official state policy with regard to the Gypsies,
something about which we can only speculate in the case of Estonia. As
regards the Jews, by way of comparison, there were no such outbursts
of violent antisemitism in Estonia in the late 1930s as occurred
in other East European countries or as would occur under the German
occupation; nor did the Jewish minority suffer any restrictions of
its cultural autonomy during the period of independence. In the case
of the Gypsies the majority of the population certainly continued to
harbor traditional cultural stereotypes, but this did not require any
deliberate encouragement on the part of the state.
The Einsatzgruppen and the First Killings
Did Einsatzgruppe A (one of the four major mobile killing units) start
immediately massacring the Gypsies in the Baltic region as it followed
invading German troops in late June 1941? Historians disagree on the
matter of an explicit order allegedly delivered to Einsatzgruppen
commanders to kill Gypsies. Most tend to credit the 1948 testimony
of Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D: Ohlendorf points to
an order of Bruno Streckenbach, RSHA chief of personnel, delivered at
Pretzsch shortly before the invasion of the USSR; Ohlendorf affirmed
that his unit killed Gypsies on the same grounds as Jews.
Several defendants at Nuremberg confirmed their belief in
a"Führer's order" to liquidate Jews, communist functionaries, and
Gypsies. But this rather shaky evidence is insufficient to prove that
any fundamental order with regard to the Gypsies ever was given. In
any case, Reinhard Heydrich's order to Higher SS and Police Leaders
on July 2, 1941—contrary to what Lewy argues—does not
explicitly mention the Gypsies.
Donald Kenrick arrives at what seems the most probable conclusion,
namely that the latter were not obliged to kill Gypsies. However, in
his most recent work Kenrick altered his views, stressing the logical
nexus between the order that the Einsatzgruppen presumably received
to eliminate "racially undesirable elements," and the large number of
occasions when the Gypsies were mentioned among their victims.
One is entitled to doubt those authors who generalize the fate that
befell the East European Gypsies swept up in the initial phase of
According to Einsatzgruppen reports, the latter did indeed murder many
Gypsiesbut the variation in the way they were categorized indicates
the lack of definite
[End Page 37]
instructions: in some cases the victims were listed along with "asocial
elements," the mentally ill, and saboteurs; at other times they were
included among "asocial elements." Otherwise Gypsies were condemned to
death for "different offenses and crimes."
Judging from the list of execution "motives" in one October 1941
Einsatzgruppe C report, Gypsies most likely were murdered either as
"undesirable elements" or as "asocials."
This assumption is further corroborated by one of the special orders
(Einsatzbefehle) of the chief of the German Security Police and
the Security Service (Sipo); in the guidelines for compiling monthly
reports on the people subjected to "special treatment," Heydrich's
deputy, Heinrich Müller, established five categories of offenders:
partisans, communists and functionaries, Jews, the mentally ill, and
"other state-subversive elements."
Unlike the situation in the Ukraine, where, due to the scope of
anti-German guerrilla activity, many Gypsies were branded as partisans
or spies, the Gypsies captured in the operational area of Einsatzgruppe
A were automatically listed as mere subversive elements.
As regards Einsatzgruppe activities in the Baltic countries generally,
in no case were Gypsies targeted as a blanket category, at least
not officially. Nor, with few exceptions, did the killings start
immediately. In Estonia Sonderkommando 1a was not directly involved
in murdering Gypsies.
Those few Gypsies murdered during the first months of the German
occupation of Estonia were handled nearly exclusively by indigenous
collaborators. The first killing is closely connected with the
establishment of the Tartu concentration camp. It is not clear whether
the camp came into existence on a direct German order or as a result
of local initiative. The German military authorities probably approved
the establishment of the detention facility ex post facto, on July
14, four days after the city was conquered. In any case, it was the
chief of anti-Soviet partisans units in the south of the country who
appointed the first head of the camp. At first the camp operated under
the auspices of the Tartu Self-Defense, or Omakaitse (Estonian
auxiliary police created by the Germans on the base of the anti-Soviet
partisans); thereafter, however, the German Sipo took over, the city
military commandant sending his own representative as overseer. During
the first days of operation some 100 people, including a dozen Jews and
Gypsies, were taken into custody. Arrests were carried out by members of
the Self-Defense, who also guarded the camp. The prisoners were quickly
executed as suspected political enemies.
Itinerant Gypsies families were ordered into a separate building across
the Emajõgi River. There they were kept for about two months,
until October, when the police characterized the Gypsies' complaints as
"rioting" in order to justify sending them to the concentration camp
where they were shot.
During the summer no proper judicial proceedings were observed, court
duties being delegated to a department of the concentration camp. In
the absence of special execution-commandos, guards unassigned to other
duties carried out death sentences. According to witness testimony,
no one had to be forced to take part in the executions, for there were
It appears, however, that the city military commandant adopted a milder
stance with regard to the Gypsies. In the fall the remaining
[End Page 38]
sedentary Gypsies from the Tartu concentration camp were subjected to
compulsory labor outside the city. Gypsies still at liberty were barred
from the city without special permission.
Considering that even those incarcerated itinerant Gypsies were
killed as "criminals" and not as Gypsies, it is rather difficult to
establish the precise number of them who lost their lives during the
summer of 1941. Thus on September 19 the Sipo reported that out of
1,200 cases of arrest in the Tartu area, the total number of executed
communist functionaries and criminals amounted to 405, among them
fifty Jews—but Gypsies were not mentioned.
Sedentary vs. Itinerant Gypsies
The role of the German military in accelerating the destruction of
the Gypsy population in Eastern Europe is controversial. Referring to
instructions of the German military authorities, on September 19, 1941,
the prefect of the Estonian security police in Viljandi requested that
"all" Gypsies be sent to the local prison.
Apparently this order did not apply to the whole of Estonia, but
definitely to the district of Pärnu, to which Viljandi Prefecture
was subordinate. According to a witness, among the (itinerant) Gypsies
incarcerated in Viljandi prison that fall were women, children, and
the elderly. All of them were shot shortly after by the Omakaitse.
It is known that the first Jews had already been arrested in Pärnu
by the end of July. On September 10, the chief of Sonderkommando 1a,
Dr. Martin Sandberger, issued an order authorizing the arrest of all
Jews in Estonia. By September 15, there were eighty-seven Jews and
thirty Gypsies in the Pärnu concentration camp for "political
prisoners." Over the next week, however, the number of incarcerated
Gypsies rose—obviously, as a result of the Wehrmacht order
mentioned above—to forty-nine. As one older Gypsy woman died in
the meantime, the same figure persisted through October 9, 1941.
On another occasion some Wehrmacht commanders used their authority to
stop the bloodshed.
One such intervention on the part of the military is closely connected
with the name of Hinrich Lohse, Reich commissioner for the Baltic
states and Belorussia (Reichskommissariat Ostland). On November 15
Lohse, concerned for the economic exploitation of the region, asked
Berlin if the work-fit Jews might be spared. At the same time, however,
he perceived nomadic Gypsies as unnecessary ballast.
As an indirect response, on November 21 the commander of Army
Group North Rear Area, Gen. Franz von Roques, issued an order that
exempted—with certain reservations—sedentary Gypsies
The numerous—and often contradictory—decisions about the
fate of the Baltic Roma evolved around the question of their social
status. The occupied territory of the Soviet Union, including the
Baltic countries, was one of the few areas in Europe where the Nazis
drew a distinction between sedentary and itinerant Gypsies. Since the
Estonian Gypsy population was directly affected by fluctuations in Nazi
policy towards the Gypsies in general, it makes sense to consider the
decision-making process. The incoherence of Nazi policy left space for
local initiative. Past experience taught the Nazis to
[End Page 39]
prepare justifications for their gruesome deeds. Public revulsion
at the execution of Jewish women and children in the Latvian town of
Liepa¯ja (Libau, in German) in late September was still on their
minds. German military opposition to some killings prompted Lohse to take
up the issue with Franz Walter Stahlecker, commander of Einsatzgruppe A.
However it seems unlikely that Lohse objected on principle to the
latter's approach. Moreover, Lohse's decree of December 4, 1941,
which defined anti-Gypsy policy in the Baltic states, most probably
was supposed to provide an after-the-fact justification for the
execution of 100 Libau Gypsies, an event that took place around the
same time. The order dealt with the Gypsies "who wander about in the
countryside." According to Lohse, those Gypsies constituted a twofold
danger. First, they carried disease, especially typhus. Second, they
were unreliable elements who could not be put to useful work. The
essence of the order was formulated in the last paragraph, where
Lohse—branding the Gypsies potential spies—determined that
they should be treated in the same way as the Jews.
The fact that Lohse did not specify what should be done with sedentary
Gypsies permits different interpretations. In the case of Latvia, Lewy
finds it difficult to define whether the individuals murdered were
itinerant or sedentary, concluding that much depended on the whim of
local authorities. In corroboration he cites the rather evasive statement
of Higher SS and Police Leader Ostland Friedrich Jeckeln, according to
whom the Gypsy Question "was being solved by the police in the exercise
of its own jurisdiction."
Zimmermann is more nuanced, insisting that the commander of the
Security Police and the Security Service in Latvia, Rudolf Lange, did
discriminate between nomadic and sedentary Gypsies, exempting the latter
from execution. The SS and Police Leader in Latvia, however—so
Zimmermann argues—did not convey this stipulation further to the
commander of the Order Police. Therefore, the Order Police understood
the term "non-nomadic Gypsies" broadly, which resulted—during
the first months of 1942—in the death of a significant segment
of both categories of Latvian Gypsies.
The absence of a clear differentiation between nomadic and sedentary
Gypsies did indeed give the police a free hand. Contrary to what
Zimmermann argues, however, the commander of the Latvian Order Police
did indeed receive, on January 12, 1942, the SS and Police Leader's
instructions regarding the "Gypsy Question": all nomadic Gypsies were to
be arrested, and of the sedentary Gypsies only those engaged in regular
employment and deemed neither criminal nor politically dangerous might
From Police Surveillance to Compulsory Labor
Despite any confusion in Latvia, things may have been simpler there
than in Estonia. In Latvia the executions went on unimpeded from April
1942 to March 1943, carrying off nearly half of the 3,800 Gypsies; but
in Estonia, as the available empirical data suggest, the situation was
more complex. Although a number of people were in custody by 1941, mass
arrests did not start until Lohse's order was confirmed in January 1942,
[End Page 40]
and even then only in the larger towns. For the most part, however,
only in the winter of 1942 did the police start screening the Gypsy
population. The Tallinn, Haapsalu, Paide, and Saaremaa prefects received
the corresponding order to start screening the Gypsies during the last
week of January 23, 1942.
An order issued by the Tartu office of the German Sipo for the southern
part of Estonia conveyed Lohse's basic wishes regarding the Gypsies.
The Petseri (German, Petschur; Russian, Petchory) police collected
data on Gypsies by February 15, 1942, but did not act on it until a
Two Gypsy children were in fact arrested in Narva in November 1941
(on their father, Vilep Indus, see below), but this took place as part
of a round-up of Russians.
Nevertheless, January-April 1942 Narva security police statistics
indicate diminishing numbers of Gypsies resident there.
Of the forty-two Gypsies living in the territory of the prefecture at
the beginning of 1942, only thirty-three were still registered there
in March, and by April only twenty. There may be a twofold explanation
to that drastic reduction. Considering that the Gypsies were able to
travel within the borders of Estoniathrough 1942, it is not impossible
that some of them might have moved to other districts. Out of the twenty
Gypsies residing there in April, sixteen had Estonian citizenship and
four were "stateless," though probably permanent residents.
The itinerant Gypsies, in accordance with Lohse's regulations, may
have been killed.
Itinerant Gypsies were incarcerated locally. For Gypsies from the
Türi (German, Türgel) District (Paide Prefecture), for example,
the destination was the Paide (German, Weissenstein) Prison. According
to numerous testimonies, by summer 1942 the number of Gypsies in Tallinn
Central Prison reached one hundred. It is likely that all were shot.
Otherwise there is no evidence of any single bigger execution of
Gypsies in Estonia before October 1942. Zimmermann's suggestion that
some Gypsies incarcerated in the Harku camp
had been killed in the fall of 1941 runs contrary to the existing
evidence: The Harku camp, located in Harju Province near Tallinn,
had been in operation since 1922. After the retreat of the Soviets in
September 1941 the detention facility was re-established. Officially,
Harku was a branch of the Tallinn Central Prison. Most of the
Gypsy inmates of the Harku camp probably were rounded up during
theZigeuneraktion of February 19, 1942.
Within the next couple of days, officials of Tallinn-Harju (German,
Reval-Harrien) Security Police—who exercised jurisdiction over
the camp—started interrogating the Gypsies. Shortly, the lists
of Gypsy prisoners were compiled.
As of July 1942, there were altogether 1,133 prisoners in the Harku
camp. It is significant that the Gypsies were listed separately, as
interned persons. According to the head of the Harku camp at that time,
from among 328 Gypsies (170 men and 158 women, 189 of whom were under
the age of eighteen), only forty-two were fit for work. However, even
those few, due to the contagious disease, could not be employed. But
during the period under consideration the Tallinn-Harju Security Police
executed only one Gypsy, a woman.
Only adult Gypsies were kept in Harku. After arrest family members were
immediately separated. Shelters accommodated small children (through
[End Page 41]
while adolescents went to the "work and education colony" for young
criminals in Laitse, also Harju Province. Needless to say, none of some
sixty to seventy-five Gypsy boys incarcerated in Laitse had committed
any "crime" other than being born into an "impure race." Speaking
both Estonian and Russian, the Gypsies very quickly found a common
language with the rest of the colony inmates. The youngest of the
twelve-to-seventeen-year-olds studied at school, while the rest were
set to various types of manual labor. The situation in the colony was
so "idyllic" that the director could mention the existence of a Gypsy
Police kept track of all Gypsies, including those killed. According
to a circular issued by the Estonian Security Police on June 11, 1942,
local branches were to maintain card files on executed Jews, Gypsies,
and POWs, these categories to be listed separately.
This leads back to the question of how Gypsies were categorized
and which particular agency dealt with them in Estonia. The role of
the Estonian Criminal Police was to handle the formalities in each
particular Gypsy case, which was then submitted to the Political Police,
who exercised the highest authority over the Gypsies in Estonia. If a
Gypsy was charged with "political crimes," the material went further
to the German Special Court, or Sondergericht.67
Surveillance was entrusted to the Criminal Police.
The police apparatus had been created immediately after Estonia fell
to the Germans, retaining for convenience much of the prewar Estonian
apparatus. While the Estonian Criminal Police was for the most part
independent in its conduct, the Security Police reported to the German
In 1941, the Security and the Criminal Police (800 people altogether)
were united in an overall structure; yet the most significant
reorganization followed on May 1, 1942, when the Security Police
apparatus was divided into two sections, a German (Group A) and an
Estonian (Group B).
Investigation was carried out by the Estonian Security
Police. The so-called Punishment Planning Commissions
(Strafprojektierungskommissionen) linked the two sections. Those
commissions, consisting of three Estonian Security Police officers,
prepared case summaries and made recommendations that were decided
ultimately upon by the Germans (in the case of execution, exclusively
by the Commander of the German Security Police in Estonia, KdS-Estland).
Dr. Martin Sandberger, commander of the Security Police and Security
Service in Estonia, had always promoted cooperation between the
Estonian and the German branches of the Security Police. Similarly
Obersturmführer Heinrich Bergmann, head of the Criminal Division
of the German Kripo in Estonia (and later Bergmann's successor
Obersturmbannführer Dr. Ullmann) stressed the important role
his Estonian colleagues were to play in the fight against "asocial
elements." Gypsies—along with prostitutes, habitual criminals,
and the work-shy—thus constituted a group defined as "incorrigible
offenders." Instructions from Bergmann concerning the treatment of the
Gypsies in Estonia repeated general Nazi discourse: as asocials who
wander the countryside "like nomads" (nomadenart), the Gypsies
were to be treated like the Jews. Sedentary Gypsies engaged in regular
work, however, should be tolerated, but remain
[End Page 42]
under police supervision. In the fight against habitual criminals,
preventive police custody was considered a particularly effective
means. Bergmann recommended sending such individuals to the Tallinn
concentration camp. In the case of asocials with a significant history
of previous convictions (bei besonders asozialen Personen mit
entsprechenden Vorstrafen), officials could propose execution.
What Bergmann called a "concentration camp" had since July 29, 1942,
borne the euphemistic name of "work and education camp" (Arbeits-
und Erziehungslager, or AEL).
The belief in social utopia found its way as well into AEL
regulations. Through education and work—it was stated—the
individuals confined in AEL would be saved for society. Asocial elements
were just one category among those imprisoned in the camp.
Assignment to the AEL—explained the head of the Estonian Security
Police—was meant as punishment and retribution, but at the same
time the AEL was the place where that individual should be "educated."
In order to facilitate the work of the Estonian Criminal Police, during
1942 central Nazi legislation regarding preventive police custody was
translated into Estonian.
By June 1942, there were no more itinerant Gypsies in Estonia according to
the author of an unidentified commentary on a presentation by Bergmann on
May 27, 1942. According to the compiler, the "Gypsy Problem" in Estonia
had been completely resolved, as all remaining Gypsies by then had been
subjected to compulsory labor service (als sich sämtliche Z. im
geschlossenen Arbeitseinsatz befinden).
Actually police records from winter 1943 show that the statement
reflected wishful thinking rather than established fact, for quite a
few Gypsies, particularly in the southeastern districts, still exercised
freedom of movement. Thus on June 22, 1942, the Valga Province Security
Police filed a report on the Gypsies "who have not yet been confined
to a concentration camp."
Increased interest in the "solution of the Gypsy problem" on the part
of German police officials in Estonia paralleled that of the Ostland
Ministry in Berlin. On June 11, 1942, Dr. Otto Bräutigam, head of
the General Politics Department of the Ministry of the Occupied Eastern
Territories, for the first time asked Lohse for information on the
Gypsies. Bräutigam was particularly concerned whether the Gypsies
in the Baltic States were sedentary; he also asked which occupations
they practiced, and whether the number of Zigeunermischlinge
was substantial. Keeping in mind the establishment of a unified policy,
he inquired about the Ostland Reich Commissioner's opinion on whether
the Gypsies were to be treated "like the Jews." The reply of the Reich
Commissariat Ostland implied that the sedentary Gypsies should be
shot as well. This suggestion served as the basis for drafting (during
July) of a decree on "the treatment of Gypsies in the Occupied Eastern
Territories." It was affirmed that, unlike foreign citizens who might
be permitted to remain temporarily in the Ostland, the Gypsies should
be treated as the Jews. This, as a rule, included the Mischlinge.
No distinction was to be made between sedentary and itinerant Gypsies.
Even though the July draft did not materialize in a fully fledged decree
[End Page 43]
1943—and at that time with completely opposite provisions—it
provides the context in which the mass murder of a significant proportion
of the Estonian Gypsy population took place. The scarcity of documentary
evidence does not allow us far-reaching conclusions regarding the origin
of the order to kill the Gypsy inmates of the Harku concentration
camp. However, one is inclined to see local initiative behind the
decision. In the search for immediate culprits the figure of Heinrich
Bergmann inevitably appears. Bergmann, who advocated the imprisonment of
Gypsies on the grounds that they were a nuisance to the general populace,
should have been the most interested in the disappearance of the Gypsies
from the territory he was in charge of. On October 30, 1942, Ervin Viks,
the head of the Tallinn-Harju Security Police, informed Bergmann of the
execution of the Gypsies imprisoned at Harku three days before. The list
of executed consisted of 243 names—91 men and 152 women.
In his desire to accelerate the pace of elimination of "socially
undesirable elements" (at his 1960s trial he claimed that hehad signed
the execution order only "ex post facto"), Bergmann might have been
prompted by both incoming communications from the Ostland Ministry,
and participation in, or knowledge of, an infamous meeting between the
Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Dr. Otto Thierack of the
The latter had proposed on September 14, 1942, that "Gypsies should
be exterminated unconditionally." It should be noted that in any
case the October executions, and others that followed, could always
have been explained as "necessary security measures": the mere fact
that Estonia was close to the front and therefore belonged to a
combat area—actually it was under dual military and civilian
control—made explanations optional.
The Winter 1943 Deportation
The year 1943 became fateful for the Estonian Gypsies. During the
last week of January and the first week of February, all remaining
Gypsies without discrimination were concentrated in Tallinn and its
vicinity. The order had been issued by Sandberger as commander of the
German Security Police in Estonia (Department A-V) on January 22,
though we don't know whether on the basis of superior instructions
or his own initiative. "Superior instructions" might mean Himmler's
Auschwitz Decree of December 16, 1942, which led to the deportation
of 23,000 Gypsies from the Reich and occupied countries, although
several categories of Sinti and Roma, including "socially adjusted
Gypsies who had regular jobs and permanent residences" were—at
least officially—exempted. Even though Sandberger's order went
into effect before the deportation instructions were issued (January
29), it is rather doubtful he was unaware of Himmler's order. It would
seem that KdS-Estland deliberately misinterpreted Himmler's Decree in
order to crack down on still-free sedentary Gypsies of the Commissariat
General. The entire process, including identification and expropriation,
is best documented for the southeastern district of Estonia, Petserimaa.
During the first week of January the Petseri Criminal Police requested
from the local administration information on the Gypsies living
there. According to the statistical
[End Page 44]
data provided by parish elders, as of January 13, 1943, there were
altogether eighty-seven Gypsies (thirty-three men and fifty-four women)
living in the province. The information included name, birthdate,
place of residence, and occupation. The authorities were particularly
interested in "work-fit" Gypsies. Usually one or several extended
families made up the entire Gypsy population of a particular parish;
the ratio of children to adults was one to two. Civil authorities claimed
that all Gypsies then in the area were free, and that as of summer 1942
all work-capable adults (twenty-six) had been employed. The statistics
reveal only an insignificant number of "asocials." In six parishes in
which the Gypsies were registered the great majority were employed in
agriculture. Only a few individuals were listed as "vagabonds" and/or
The next stage involved the expropriation of the Gypsies' property. Only
in rare cases did the number of requisitioned items exceed twenty or
thirty. Virtually the entire operation was carried out in one day,
February 7. Both Criminal Police officials and the "elder" of each
respective parish were present. Customarily, the property—mostly
harnesses and other equipment for horses—was left in the care of
the latter, their final disposition to be decided subsequently. Sometimes,
as for instance in the case with Evgenii Ivanov, illiterate owners could
not even verify the compiled list.
What was going to happen next to the Gypsies was clear from the outset:
the very lists referred to the "deported" (väljasaadetud)
Gypsies. The concentration of the Gypsies started on February 8 and
continued through the next day, when forty-seven were taken to the
Petseri prison. This measure was temporary though, and two days later
an order followed to send the Petseri Gypsies to Tallinn, where they
would be at the Security Police's disposal. The transport departed
Petseri at 5 A.M. on February 12.
With later additions, the total number of Gypsies deported from Petseri
Province during the month of February amounted to seventy-three.
In the rest of Estonia a similar pattern was followed, except that the
deportation was supposed to be accomplished by February 8. Not later than
10 A.M. on February 8, the police prefects had to inform
the Sipo authorities in Tallinn of the numbers to be removed. In response
the former would announce the exact timing for the deportations, by train
(Rakvere, Petseri) or truck (Haapsalu; German, Hapsal) depending on the
distance from the destination. The February 1943 Zigeuneraktion was
the first and the only all-Estonian police operation aimed specifically
at Gypsies. At the time it was not yet clear to which particular camp
the incoming Gypsies would be transferred. Apparently, the Harku camp
was not a destination. Eventually, all remaining Estonian Gypsies, with
the exception of a group of Gypsy teenagers temporarily imprisoned in
the Laitse colony, ended up either in Tallinn AEL or in Tallinn Central
Prison. The most significant departure from all previous, selective,
regulations was that the KdS-Estland Order of January 22 did not
discriminate between sedentary and itinerant Gypsies. All of them,
regardless if already in custody or still at liberty, were subjected
Confusion ensued among some local police officials, who failed to
[End Page 45]
the order correctly. Thus the Rakvere Security Police inquired whether
it was not a mistake on the part of the local district commissioner
(Gebietskommissar) to remove forty Gypsies employed at the Kunda
Cement Plant. Otherwise, the Rakvere Police assistant went on, because
of the limited amount of manpower available, the plant might meet severe
difficulties. A reply from the German Security Police (via the Narva
office) was short and unequivocal—the train with interned Rakvere
Gypsies was scheduled for 12:45 on February 8.
The deportation order included all working Gypsies. The representatives
of a construction company in Püssi, near Rakvere, sent a complaint
that the three Gypsy workers removed from the power station construction
site had failed to return the overalls, gloves, and boots the employer
Except for sixty-nine deported from Haapsalu and seventy-three from
Petseri, we do not know the total number of Gypsies concentrated in
Tallinn. However, it is clear that the purge was complete. The question
is what happened to those Gypsies transferred to Tallinn. Considering
the indirect evidence available, it would seem that the majority of
those fit to work survived the summer of 1943. Let us first check if,
following Himmler's decree, any Estonian Gypsies had been sent to their
death in Auschwitz. The main deportation of Gypsies from the territory
of the Third Reich, the Protectorate, Austria, Hungary, Holland, and
Belgium, took place in March-April 1943. However only small, irregular
transports from east or north of Poland, including those from Grodno
and Orel on November 28, ever arrived in Auschwitz.
Of all Gypsies registered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, only twenty-seven
were from Russia (pre-1939 Soviet Union?), and twenty-two (all
females) from Lithuania. It is true that among the Gypsy prisoners
were listed thirty-year-old Hanna Gorbanowitcz, a worker from Narva,
and nine-year-old Edmund Böhmer, whose place of birth was indicated
as Tallinn. The latter, it is said, arrived in the camp on February 15,
while the entry for Gorbanowitcz was made in June.
However, considering that we do not know the circumstances under
which these individuals entered Auschwitz, both cases seem rather
accidental. The same accidental element may apply to a man from Riga
listed among the inmates of the Gypsy Camp. Altogether, some scholars
have argued recently that Himmler's Auschwitz-Erlass applied
to the German Gypsies only.
If not sent to die at Auschwitz, were the Estonian Gypsies murdered
on the spot, immediately after arriving in Tallinn in February
1943? Apparently not. In order to trace the fate of the remaining
Gypsies in Estonia, we need to return to the Ostland Ministry decree,
originally proposed in July 1942 though not adopted until May 1943.
The Final Chapter
The decree finally adopted in May 1943 varied greatly from the previous
summer's draft. This time it was proposed to keep the Gypsies in special
camps instead of shooting them. The treatment of Gypsies was not to
be on the same basis as that of the Jews (i.e., murder) anymore, but
nevertheless from now on no distinction would be made between sedentary
and itinerant Gypsies:
one recalls in this regard the resentment of
[End Page 46]
managers at the removal of their Gypsy workers, as well as the emphasis
the KdS-Estland put on counting the "work-fit" Gypsies. During the spring
of 1943, the Gypsies had been used continuously as laborers.
There seems to have been a desire to mobilize and centralize control
over Gypsy labor in Estonia. Those unfit for work, however, were doomed.
We have very little information on who was still alive, and in most cases
even their last journey remains an untold story. The fate of work-unfit
Gypsies sent to Tallinn Central Prison is an exception. Their path ended
in Jagala. Established in September 1942 by the German Sipo as a "work
and education camp," Jagala soon came to play its role in the Nazi plan
to exterminate European Jewry. After having received during the month of
September two Judentransporte from the Theresienstadt ghetto and
from the Reich territory, the camp was to have been dissolved. Nearly
all the Jews from the two echelons were liquidated upon arrival. Not
more than fifty young women remained to sort the clothes of the victims
or work in the fields.
It was still cold in early March 1943; the freshly dug pit in
Kalevi-Liiva—the usual place for executions at the Jagala
camp—was full of snow. After having received instructions from
the Estonian Sipo in Tallinn, Alexander Laak, the commandant, notified
his subordinates about the forthcoming execution of Gypsies. A group of
Gypsies under escort of Sipo officials arrived earlier than scheduled:
a small bus with some twenty-five Gypsy women and the elderly from
Tallinn Central Prison, and on a truck about the same number of "five- and
six-year-olds" from Vasalemma. The bus stopped in front of a pit already
surrounded by guards from the Jagala camp—all of the personnel of
the camp, including Commandant Laak, were Estonians. Ralf Gerrets, the
deputy commandant, directed the arrivals toward the pit. After realizing
what was going on, the women started crying hysterically. Insensitive to
their cries, the guards drove them, one by one, to the pit, where Laak
dispatched them with a single shot to the back of the head. The last one
was an old woman without legs. Only after she had handed over to the
guards—by then well drunk—her last money and a gold ring,
was she carried, instead of being dragged, toward the mass grave. After
the bus drove away, the truck pulled up. Gerrets threw the children,
shivering in the cold and screaming in terror, onto the ground. Guards
took two children each to the pit. This time—a departure from the
usual practice—the children were not even ordered to remove their
clothes, dirty and full of holes as they were. And another departure:
Laak, whose seemingly limitless ability to kill was restrained only by
the size of the pit he had to fill, could not bring himself to start
shooting. The guard Ian Viik saved everyone's face by opening fire first.
Indirect evidence that the Final Solution of the Gypsy Question had not
been completed in Estonia before early October 1943 comes from Robert
Ritter's Institute for Criminal Biology.
In September 1943 Georg Wagner, a former staff member of that institute,
went on a field trip to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland to
investigate the Indo-Germanic roots of the Gypsies on behalf of Himmler.
[End Page 47]
the Institute for Criminal Biology had been operating under the auspices
of Himmler's security apparatus, one can suppose that Wagner had been
supplied with information regarding the Gypsies of the Baltic region
before departing on his trip. A "racial biologist" under the special
patronage of Himmler likely would not have gone on this journey if the
subjects of his study already had been destroyed. On September 24, 1943,
the Office of Estonian Security Police in Haapsalu notified the Tallinn
authorities about the arrest of Otto Koslovsky, a nineteen-year-old
Gypsy. Koslovsky claimed to have been traveling all over Lääne
as a casual farm laborer. He apparently had been jailed first in the
Haapsalu prison, whence he was supposed to be transferred to Tallinn
AEL and then to "an appropriate camp" (edasisaatmiseks Tallinna TKL'I
teie korraldusse, tema paigutamiseks vastavasse laagrisse).
Thus, as late as September and even October 1943 at least some Estonian
Gypsies were still alive. In October, however, in response to a
request from the Department of Labor and Social Welfare (Abteilung
Arbeitspolitik und Sozialverwaltung) of the Ostland Ministry, High
Commissioner for Estonia Karl Litzmann reported that all Gypsies had
long been apprehended by the Security Police.
According to Friedrich Jeckeln's subsequent testimony, in mid-1943
Friedrich Panziger, commander of the Security Police and the Security
Service Ostland from September 1943 to May 1944, conveyed to him (via
Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Reinhard Heydrich's successor as head of the RSHA)
Himmler's order regarding the liquidation of the Gypsy population (why
Kaltenbrunner would have been delivering messages for Panziger is a
mystery). Jeckeln sanctioned the order.
We do not know the date on which the remaining Estonian Gypsies
were shot, but we do know the place, the town of Hargla, near
Tallinn. Kenrick and Puxon mention Hargla, adding that those killed
included the Mitrowski, Kozlowski, and Burkewiecz families.
All three names appear on the list of those deported from the district
of Petseri in February 1943. By March 24, 1944, out of the original
2,867 inmates, only some sixty-one Jews and thirty-one Gypsies remained
at the Tallinn concentration camp.
Among the last Gypsy victims on Estonian soil were the teenagers from
the Laitse colony. Alfred Rosenberg's circular of December 16, 1943,
equating sedentary Gypsies with the rest of the populace
did not spare the lives of the colony's wards. In early spring 1944 (the
exact date is unknown), the director of the institution was ordered
by the Sipo to deliver the children. They were told that they were
going to meet their parents, and they were issued holiday clothing. To
maintain this fiction, the Sipo officials said they would return in
a week, and those who were sick (perhaps fifteen, perhaps seventeen)
were not sent (we don't know their subsequent fate). Upon request of
the director regarding the clothing (or so interrogators were told), it
turned out that the teenagers in Kalevi-Liiva had been executed as well.
How many Gypsies perished in Estonia? An estimate of 1,000 appeared
for the first time in Kenrick and Puxon's study, based on the number of
Estonian Gypsies prior to World War II.
Their figure later appeared in numerous popular publications.
[End Page 48]
should be noted that, because of the lack of documentary evidence,
no figure can be anything more than an intelligent guess. Actually the
calculation may be accomplished in two ways. First we can add all Gypsy
victims listed in German documents to those mentioned by witnesses. This
rather uncritical method would produce a conclusion that the entire
Gypsy population of between 800 and 850 was exterminated. The second
figure can be derived by deducting the latest known number of Gypsies
still alive in 1944 (thirty-one in Tallinn and fifteen in Laitse) from
the total Gypsy population on the eve of the war: about 850. That makes
the percentage of survivors not higher than five or six—close to
the estimate offered by Lutt and Viikberg.
What Estonians Thought
So far we have concentrated on official German policy regarding
the Gypsies. Estonians' negative attitude toward the Gypsies did not
disappear under wartime conditions, but on the contrary changed for the
worse. We should nevertheless distinguish between popular opinion and
the attitude of Estonian Police officials. The February 1943 deportation
of Gypsies was met with indifference bordering on public approval. It is
significant that the expulsion of Gypsies was one of the few questions
on which the Estonian and Russian communities—though for different
reasons—saw eye to eye. Among the rural population it was no secret
that the Gypsies were going to be sent away. Vassily Gremov, the Sokolovo
village elder, knew that Nikandr Kozlovsky's family had been taken to
"some compulsory camp" (kuhugi sundlaagrisse).
Nevertheless, the local Russian and Estonian population by and large
approved of the deportation. The local police reported that the people
were positive about the removal of "such elements."
To many Estonians, the Gypsies seemed a nuisance—asocials who
could not be tolerated at a time of mobilization against "the Bolshevik
enemy." In the case of the Russians, however, other factors applied. The
Russian minority, particularly in the eastern districts, had been living
under constant fear that they might also be deported or subjected to
compulsory labor. Nor were rumors that the Estonians wanted to get
rid of their Russian neighbors without basis. Thus, in August 1941,
Kasepää Parish Omakaitse undertook the deportation of the
Russian population from the Lake Peipus area. It was not until the German
authorities interfered that the villagers were allowed to return.
Russians' approval of Gypsy deportations may have reflected
a psychological defense mechanism: if it sated the cruelty of the
Germans and Estonians it might lessen the likelihood that the latter
would turn on the Russians.
On the other hand, it should be re-emphasized that neither Estonians
nor Russians hoped for the extermination of the Gypsies, but for
The majority of Gypsies spoke Estonian. Unlike the Jews, the Gypsies
eschewed politics and therefore did not seem pro-Soviet: even a
vivid imagination could not transform the Judeo-Bolshevik into a
As the Soviet partisan movement was nearly nonexistent in Estonia, no
connection between Gypsies and pro-Soviet guerillas could be conjured
up. Estonians might have been annoyed by Gypsies, but not to the
[End Page 49]
point of demanding their extermination. This may be fairly well
illustrated by the following example. One of the members of Pärnu
District Self-Defense was reprimanded for loudly conversing in the middle
of the sidewalk with a group of Gypsies he was conveying. As a result,
ordinary pedestrians had had to use the road. Needless to say, the guard
himself was drunk.
But the point is that people got annoyed—that's all.
As a rule, in regular police reports, Gypsies were listed under
the category "Russians, Other Foreigners, and Individuals of Alien
Origin." Those rare cases when racial categorization was employed may
be attributed to aping the Germans rather than local tradition. It
is notorious, however, that Lohse's December 1941 decree was written
on the letterhead of the Department of Health and People's Welfare
(Gesundheit und Volkspflege), while the Estonian Security Police
advised its local offices to report on the population's attitude toward
the Jews and the Gypsies under the rubric "Race and Public Health"
(Rasse- und Volksgesundheit).
Those most imbued with racist hatred were primarily, but not only,
officials of the Estonian Security Police. An official of the Estonian
Sipo in Haapsalu, the Tartu University Law School graduate Roland Rand,
had been active in the Haapsalu Punishment Planning Commission. On
November 3, 1941, he signed a death sentence against Karl Ernst Siimann
for alleged participation in the Shock Battalion movement (Soviet
paramilitary units operating in the Baltics during the summer months of
1941). Across the file of the accused was written "Gypsy."
The officers of the Estonian Sipo were often characterized as "openly
antisemitic" and made no effort to disguise their anti-Jewish sentiment.
Combined with persistent social stereotyping, sometimes racist hatred
found its way into Gypsies' files of the Estonian Security Police,
too. Thus in January 1943 (after a year-long investigation) the
Punishment Planning Commission condemned to death Vilep Indus, a Gypsy
from Narva. The statement read: "Gypsy by nationality. Taking into
consideration that he has not hitherto acquired permanent residence
and job, it is doubtful that he may become a useful citizen of the
state in the future either."
As we have seen, confusion in Berlin regarding the treatment of the
Gypsies in Berlin affected the experience of the Gypsies in the Baltic
states. Anti-Gypsy regulations issued either by the Reich Security Main
Office or by the civil administration of the Ostland (in Berlin and
Riga) were applied in Estonia. Unlike in Latvia and Lithuania, where the
Einsatzgruppen were directly engaged in atrocities against the Gypsies,
Sonderkommando 1a, assigned to Estonia, took a rather wait-and-see
attitude. No "Final Solution of the Gypsy Question" was among the
priorities of the German Security Police there. By the same token,
the RSHA authorities in Berlin did not press to hasten completion of
this murderous task, as distinct from what was planned for Jews. This
lack of direction left the Gypsies—particularly the sedentary
Gypsies, who were the majority in Estonia and who were needed as slave
laborers—an illusory chance for survival.
[End Page 50]
Given this, the fate of individual Gypsies depended on the whim of
local German authorities. As regards the extermination of the Gypsies,
Kripo Chief Heinrich Bergman played by far the most crucial role in
the decision-making process. Eventually, the Estonian Gypsies lost the
right to remain alive: of their 850-strong community, virtually no one
survived the war.
The archival research for this article was made possible through grants
from the Center for German and European Studies at Brandeis University
and the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis
University. I am grateful to Alexander Gribanov, Andres Kasekamp, Guenter
Lewy, the late Sybil Milton, and particularly to Michael Zimmermann for
their valuable comments on an initial draft.
Anton Weiss-Wendt studied modern European history at Tartu
University, Estonia. In 1997 Mr. Weiss-Wendt received his M.A. in Judaic
studies from New York University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at
Brandeis University, where he is writing a dissertation on the Holocaust
in Estonia. Mr. Weiss-Wendt has worked on comparative genocide studies
and Stalin's terror. He has published in Holocaust and Genocide
Studies, the Journal of Baltic Studies, and Nationalities
Vanya Kochanovski, "Some Notes on the Gypsies of Latvia by One of the
Survivors" in Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society 25, No. 3-4,
July-October 1946, pp.112-16; Margers Vestermanis, "Ciganu genocids
vacu okupacija Latvija (1941-1945)" in Latvijas Vesture 4, 1993,
pp.37-40; Janis Nielands, "Lo Stermimo Dei Roma in Lettonia" in Lacio
Drom 1, 1995.
Vytautas Toleikis is doing archival research on the extermination of
the Gypsies in Lithuania. Ausra Simoniukstyte is preparing to defend
her dissertation in the field of social anthropology. Simoniukstyte's
research is based on interviews with Romani survivors.
Roman Lutt, Lembit Vaba, and Jüri Viikberg, "Mustlased" in Eesti
Rahvaste Raamat: Rahvusvähemused, -rühmad ja -killud / The
Book of Estonian Nationalities: National Minorities and Ethnic Groups:
From the Largest to the Smallest (Tallinn: Eesti Entsüklopeedia
Kirjastus, 1999), pp.334-39.
Paul Ariste, "Supplementary Review (Concerning the Baltic Gypsies and
Their Dialects)" in Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society 43:3 (July
Cited by Angus Fraser, The Gypsies (Oxford, MA: Blackwell,
David M. Crowe, A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and
Russia (New York: St. Martin's, 1994), pp.156, 170.
Ariste, "Supplementary Review," pp.59, 60; Ariste, "Mida onTeada
Mustlastest ja Nende Keelest?" / What Do We Know About Gypsies and Their
Language? in Küsimused ja Vastused 6 (1966), pp.36-37.
Paul Ariste, "Mustlastest" / On Gypsies in Eesti Loodus 1 (1959),
Ariste, "Mustlastest," pp.26-27. List of property of the Gypsies Nikolai
Koslovsky, Nikandr Koslovsky, and Konstantin Ivanov, February 7, 1943,
Estonian State Archives (ERA), R-63/1/8, pp.110, 112, 113. According to
the list, Ivanov owned altogether thirteen items: a horse, two carriages,
two horse collars, two pairs of hip straps, a saddle, two reins, and three
"gods," most likely Christian figurines.
Lutt, Vaba, and Viikberg, "Mustlased," p.335. The original source is
[End Page 51]
Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941-1944: The Missing
Center (Riga: Historical Institute of Latvia, in association with
the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1996), pp.200f.
RKO to RMO, July 2, 1942, Bundesarchiv (BA) (Dahlwitz-Hoppegarten),
R-90/147, pp.716-18. The absence of exact numbers of Gypsies in Estonia
and Belorussia implied that the figures were insignificant. In any
event, that the main Gypsy residence area in the Ostland—the
Reichskommissar's office reported —was in Courland (German Kurland;
On the conception of sakslane see Gershon Shafir, Immigrants and
Nationalists: Ethnic Conflicts and Accommodation in Catalonia, the Basque
Country, Latvia, and Estonia (State University of New York Press,
1995), p.132; Aleksander Loit, "Nation-Building in the Baltic Countries
(1850-1918)" in Justo G. Beramendi et al., Nationalism in Europe: Past
and Present (Universitade de Santiago de Compostela, 1994), p.493.
Daniel Strauss, "Anti-Gypsyism in German Society and Literature"; Wilhelm
Sehns, "On the Demonizing of Jews and Gypsies in Fairy Tales" in Susan
Tebbutt, Sinti and Roma: Gypsies in German-Speaking Society and
Literature (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1998), pp.82-83, 105.
Paul Ariste, "Juut eesti rahvasuus," in Eesti Kirjandus 1, 3, 4
(1932), pp.9, 132, 220-21, 227.
Terje Anepaio, Laat see Ilmarahva pulm (Tartu: Ajaloo
Instituut/Studia Ethnologica 2, 1996), pp.114-20.
David Crowe and John Kolsti, eds., The Gypsies of Eastern Europe
(Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1991), p.154.
Files for Salmon Epstein and Leib Lipelis in Eugenia Gurin-Loov, Eesti
juutide katastroof 1941 / Holocaust of the Estonian Jews, 1941
(Tallinn: Estonian Jewish Community, 1994), pp.115, 122.
Valga Province Self Defense (Omakaitse), Activity Survey, January
30, 1943, ERA, R-358/1/19, p.20.
Philip Friedman, "The Extermination of the Gypsies: Nazi Genocide of an
Aryan People" in Roads to Extinction: Essays on the Holocaust
(New York; Philadelphia: Conference on Jewish Social Studies and the
Jewish Publication Society, 1980 <1951>), pp.381-86; Dora E. Yates,
"Hitler and the Gypsies: The Fate of Europe's Oldest Aryans," in Jack
Nusan Porter, ed., Genocide and Human Rights. A Global Anthology
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1982), p.160; Ian Hancock,
The Pariah Syndrome: An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution
(Ann Arbor: Karoma, 1987), p.65.
Sybil Milton, "The Context of the Holocaust" in German Studies
Review 13:2 (May 1990), pp.271, 272, 276; Michael Burleigh and
Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State: Germany, 1933-1945
(Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp.119, 126, 167, 180; Gabrielle
Tyrnauer, "The Fate of the Gypsies in the Holocaust," in Genocide:
A Critical Bibliographical Review, vol. 3, The Widening Circle
of Genocide, Israel W. Charny, ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction
Publishers, 1994), pp.217-28.
[End Page 52]
Leo Lucassen, "'Harmful Tramps': Police Professionalization and Gypsies
in Germany, 1700-1945," in Leo Lucass et al., eds., Gypsies and
Other Itinerant Groups: A Socio-Historical Approach (University
of Amsterdam, 1998), pp.91, 92. Lucassen differentiates between five
consecutive stages in governmental policy: categorization; emergence
of a negative image; formation of a negative-group characterization;
labeling; and stigmatization. Wolfgang Ayass, "Asoziale" im
Nationalsozialismus (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1995), pp.196-97; Guenter
Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies (Oxford University Press,
2000), pp.16, 36, 128, 195, 219.
Michael Zimmermann, "Zigeunerpolitik im Stalinismus, im 'realen
Sozialismus' und unter dem Nationalsozialismus: Ein Vergleich," in Dittmar
Dahlmann and Gerhard Hirschfeld, eds., Lager, Zwangsarbeit, Vertreibung
und Deportation: Dimensionen der Massenverbrechen in der Sowjetunion
und in Deutschland 1933 bis 1945 (Essen: Klartext, 1999), p.116.
Alaina M. Lemon, Between Two Fires: Gypsy Performance and Romany
Memory from Pushkin to Postsocialism (Durham: Duke University Press,
2000), pp.169-78; Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism. Ordinary
Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1999), pp.126-27; Paul M. Hagenloh, "'Socially
Harmful Elements' and the Great Terror," in Sheila Fitzpatrick, ed.,
Stalinism: New Directions (London; New York: Routledge, 2000),
pp.287, 289, 291, 298-301.
Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, pp.24-26, 35, 36, 52-55.
Decree on the Establishment of the NKVD, February 20, 1934; and NKVD
Special Board Regulations, October 28, 1934, in J. Arch Getty and Oleg
Naumov, eds., The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction
of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, pp.26-27, 53. For a
detailed account on the Kripo see, Patrick Wagner, Volksgemeinschaft
ohne Verbrecher: Konzeptionen und Praxis der Kriminalpolizeiin der
Zeit der Weimarer Republik und des Nationalsozialismus (Hamburg:
Ruth Bettina Birn, "Collaboration with Nazi Germany in Eastern Europe:
The Case of the Estonian Security Police," Contemporary European
History 10:2 (2001), pp.197-98.
It became clear subsequently that much of Ohlendorf's testimony at
Nuremberg had been false. See Ralf Ogorreck, Die Einsatzgruppen und
die "Genesis der Endlösung" (Berlin: Metropol, 1996), pp.13,
Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, pp.117, 118. Heydrich's
communication, also known as the Shooting Order, listed several categories
of people who, with certain reservations, should be executed. The Gypsies
were not specifically mentioned; although the category of "other radical
elements (saboteurs, propagandists, snipers, assassins, instigators,
etc.)" did indeed allow a broader interpretation.
Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon, The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies
(London: Sussex University Press, 1972), pp.143, 144; Kenrick,
Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies) (Lanham, MD:
Scarecrow Press, 1998), p.76. The mention of "killing of all seized
racially and politically undesirable elements" (die Tötung aller
erfassten rassisch und politisch unerwünschten Elementen) comes,
again, from the affidavit of Otto Ohlendorf.
[End Page 53]
Friedman, "The Extermination of the Gypsies," p.365; Henry R. Huttenbach,
"The Nazi Genocide of the Gypsies in Germany and Eastern Europe" in
The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, p.42; Burleigh and Wippermann,
The Racial State, p.125; Tyrnauer, "The Fate of the Gypsies
in the Holocaust," p.230; Romani Rose, ed., 'DenRauch hatten wir
täglich vor Augen': Der nationalsozialistische Völkermord an
den Sinti und Roma (Heidelberg: Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum
Deutscher Sinti und Roma, 1999), pp.178-79, 361; Zimmermann, "Die
nationalsozialistische Lösung der Zigeunerfrage," in Ulrich
Hebert, ed., Nationalsozialistische Vernichtungspolitik 1939-1945:
Neue Forschungen und Kontroversen (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer,
Crowe, A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia,
Helmut Krausnick, Hitlers Einsatzgruppen: Die Truppe des
Weltanschauungskrieges 1938-1942 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1998),
Einsatzbefehl No. 20 of the Chief of the Security Police and the
Security Service, July 4, 1942, in Die Einsatzgruppen in der besetzten
Sowjetunion 1941/4: Die Tätigkeits- und Lageberichten des Chefs der
Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, Peter Klein, ed. (Berlin: Hentrich,
In the case of Estonia, only one witness had ever mentioned Gypsies having
been executed on pretext of partisan activities. Although considering the
scope of the partisan movement in Pskov area, the Sipo was particularly
concerned about uprooting the Roma population there. At one point, a
Sonderkommando was dispatched from Tallinn with the particular mission
of hunting the Gypsies in the vicinity of Pskov. Kurovskii, September 19,
1960, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, USHMM/RG-06.026. (original
documents related to the Mere-Gerrets-Viik trial held in Tallinn,
in 1960-61, are to be found in Estonian State Archives-Party Archives
branch—ERA PA, Collection 129, boxes 63 through 70).
Jan Tints, October 26, 1960; Juhan Jüriste, November 25, 1960,
and February 21, 1961; Leonhard Ivask, December 23, 1960; Leidu Ohu,
December 24, 1960; Ingrid Aksel, January 9, 1961; Hans Laats, February 22,
1961; Bruno Eugen Pletenberg, March 14, 1961; Alexander Kroon, March 15,
1961; Voldemar Simo, March 22, 1961; Elfrida Rein, July 12, 1961, USHMM/
RG.06.026.11; RG-06.026.12. The camp inmates emphasize that the criterion
for the arrest of Jews and Gypsies was their racial origin.
Juhan Jüriste, December 13, 1960; Woldemar Oppar, January 26, 1961;
Hans Laats, February 27, 1961; Pavel Migachev, March 26, 1961 USHMM,
Anton Lihtas, October 29, 1960; Endla Taska, May 5, 1961, USHMM,
Tartu Prefecture to Gendarmerie, Kripo and Sipo Commissars, January 27,
1942, ERA, R-60/1/29, p.100. Although the prefect prohibited begging and
roaming, police commissars were advised not to overdo it by assigning
all Gypsies—per harsher German directives—to concentration
camps. Otherwise, stressed the Prefect, good workers might be arrested.
Einsatzgruppen Activity and Situation Report No. 5, September 15-30,
1941, in Die Einsatzgruppen in der besetzten Sowjetunion, p.202;
Operational Situation Report USSR No. 88, September 19, 1941, in Yitzhak
Arad et al., eds., The Einsatzgruppen Reports: Selections from the
Dispatches of the Nazi Death Squads' Campaign Against the Jews, July
1941-January 1943 (New York: Holocaust Library, 1989), p.139.
[End Page 54]
Prefect of Viljandi Security Police to Police Commissars, September 19,
1941, ERA, R-62/1/1, p.7.
Sillandi, September 14, 1960, USHMM, RG.006.026.12. (The figure of 200
in the testimony seems too high. According to another source the shooting
took place in spring 1942, Viljandi District KGB to the Head of Estonian
KGB in Tallinn, February 16, 1965, USHMM, RG.006.026.)
Commandant of Pärnu concentration camp to the Head of Pärnu
Security Police, September 15-October 9, 1941, ERA, R-932/1/1, pp.8, 16,
34, 57, 67. On the Gypsy inmates in Pärnu "prison" see also testimony
of Atka, October 10, 1960, USHMM, RG-06.026. The Pärnu Gypsies'
ultimate fate, due to scarcity of evidential sources, remains unknown.
In accordance with the order, the Wehrmacht was supposed to hand over
all Jews and Gypsies in the operational area to the Einsatzgruppen. On
the other hand the order emphasized that the armed forces should refrain
from participating in the extermination of these groups; Security Division
No. 281 to Field Commandant Office No. 822, March 24, 1943, in Wolfgang
Benz et al., eds., Einsatz im 'Reichskommissariat Ostland': Dokumente
zum Völkermord im Baltikum und in Weissrussland 1941-1944
(Berlin: Metropol, 1998), p.231. There is reference in the document
to the corresponding order of November 21, 1941. Sandberger—who
claimed at Nuremberg that he had received the Führerbefehl
to kill the Gypsies along with the Jews and Sovietfunctionaries while
he was in Pretzch—swore that he had not been aware of the
above-mentioned order. At his trial he denied any responsibility of the
Sipo for killing the Estonian Gypsies: United States National Archives and
Records Administration (NARA), United States of America v. Otto Ohlendorf,
et al. (Case IX), microfilm publication M895, rolls 15 and 16 (Transcript
of Proceedings, Sandberger, November 13 and 14, 1947, pp.2361, 2434-35).
RkO Lohse to HSSPF Jeckeln, December 24, 1941, BA (Dahlwitz-Hoppegarten),
Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, pp.124-25.
Michael Zimmermann, Rassenutopie und Genozid: Die
nationalsozialistische "Lösung der Zigeunerfrage" (Hamburg:
Christians, 1996), pp.270, 271.
BdO-Latvia (?) to SSPF-Latvia, March 11, 1942, in Einsatz im
"Reichskommissariat Ostland," p. 98. Zimmermann argues that the
document in question was issued by the KdS and not BdO-Latvia.
Gendarmerie and District Chief to Tallinn, Haapsalu, Paide, and Saaremaa
prefects, January 23, 1942, USHMM, RG-06.026.12. The registration results
were to be reported by February 1, 1942.
KdS-Estland, Tartu office to Viljandi, Valga, Võru, Paide, and
Pärnu Sipo, February 14, 1942, USHMM, RG-06.025.12.
Estonian Security Police in Petseri, List of Gypsies in the Province of
Petseri, no date, ERA, R-63/1/8, pp.94, 94r. Out of fifty-six Gypsies
ten were listed as "vagabonds" and ten as "beggars."
[End Page 55]
Correspondence between Estonian Security Police in Narva and SK 1a,
Narva branch, November 11 and December 3, 1941, ERA, R-59/1/40, pp.50,
53. The extensive round-up was carried out by a force of the local
Sipo on November 1 and 2. Some 260 of those arrested were shortly
thereafter released: Ereignismeldung UdSSR No. 150, January 2, 1941,
BA, R-58/219, p.366. Despite the lack of incriminating evidence, the
Russians were detained as "subversive to the existing state order"
(need venelased kes praegusele riigikorrale vaenulikud, kuid
konkreetsed süütõendid puuduvad).
The Narva Prefecture of the Estonian Security Police ranked fourth
after Tallinn-Harju, Tartu, and Pärnu, and included branches in
Jõhvi (Jewe), Kiviõli, and Rakvere (Wesenberg).
Estonian Security Police in Narva, Reports on activities, December 28,
1941-April 18, 1942, ERA, R-59/1/88, pp.2, 165, 258, 290, 318.
Isup, April 5, 1945; Ant, September 19, 1960; Sammalkivi, October 3, 1960;
Jehe, October 10, 1960; Orissaar, October 11, 1960, USHMM, RG-06.026.12.
The authority of the Inspector of Concentration Camps did not extend
over Harku. In that respect, Harku belonged to the same category of
concentration camps as Murru in Estonia, and Liepaja, Salaspils, and
Frauenburg in Latvia. Gudrun Schwarz, Die nationalsozialistischen
Kamp (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1997), p.172.
Birn, "Collaboration With Nazi Germany," p.196. The other two big
round-ups were carried out in Tallinn on 17 and 25 January. While the
former aimed at black marketeers, the latter targetted individuals on
the Sipo wanted list, Ereignismeldung UdSSR, Nos. 160, 161, January 26
and 28, 1942, BA, R-58/220, pp.234, 243.
Estonian Security Police in Tallinn, Second Precinct weekly reports,
February 15-28, 1942, ERA, R-64/1/64, pp.72, 78.
Head of Harku Camp to the Commander of Estonian Security Police,
July 18, 1942, ERA, R-64/1/70, pp.7, 7r; Estonian Security Police in
Tallinn-Harju, Activity Report through July 1, 1942, ERA, R-64/1/70,
p.109. The practice of internment was employed against the Jews, too,
but for unlimited duration.
Kurol, October 19, 1960; Georgii Rents, January 9, 1961,
USHMM, RG-06.026.12. Laitse was defined as a KZ-type detention
facility. According to Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, by mid-October 1941,
the Laitse colony was as yet unsettled: Die Einsatzgruppe A, der
Sicherheitspolizei und das SD (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang,
Circular of the Estonian Security Police, June 11, 1942, ERA, R-64/1/47,
Toone, September 28, 1960; Ranne, March 7, 1961, USHMM, RG-06.026.
Until September 23, 1941, when the office of the Commander of the Security
Police and theSecurity Service for the General District of Estonia
(KdS-Estland) was introduced, its functions remained in the hands of
the leader of Sonderkommando 1a. It was basically a structural change;
SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Martin Sandberger retained his position
as the KdS-Estland through September 1943, when he was transferred to
For the structure of the Estonian Security Police see ERA, R-64/1/32,
p.19, and R-819/1/1, p.36.
[End Page 56]
Bergmann's presentation, May 27, 1942, ERA, R-819/1/11, pp.23-25. The
document is reproduced in part in Einsatz im Reichskommissariat
Ostland, but the archival reference is incorrect. Surprisingly,
Bergmann, who proposed such harsh measures against the asocials, served
at the same time as the Head of Referat I-B—Education and
Training—of the German Security Police. On a personal level, the
difference between Sandberger and Bergmann was obvious. While the latter
praised the Estonians' contribution in the building of "the new Europe,"
the Head of Kripo ranked Estonians low, considering them mere manpower
(ERA, R-64/1/21, p.65).
Circular of the Estonian Security Police, July 22, 1942, ERA, R-64/1/740,
Labor and Education Camps Regulations, no date, ERA, R-64/1/46, p.55. One
wonders why it took so long to introduce the system in Estonia. The
purpose of such camps was substantiated in Himmler's corresponding
decree of May 28, 1941. A year's delay might have been caused by the
very nature of the decree. Considering the ever-growing number of slave
laborers in the Reich, the idea was to fight sabotage. At the same time,
Himmler truly believed in the educational mission of AEL. In any event,
the duration of imprisonment in AEL was not to exceed fifty-six days. The
establishment of and commitment to the camps were entrusted solely
to the Chief of Sipo, BA, R-58/1027, pp.142-50. Concentration camps
such as that in Tartu were oriented toward extermination rather than
education. For general information on AEL, see Wolfgang Franz Werner, "Die
Arbeitserziehungslager als Mittel nationalsozialistischer 'Sozialpolitik'
gegen deutsche Arbeiter" in W. Dlugoborski, ed., Zweiter Weltkrieg
und sozialer Wandel (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht,
1981) and Gabriele Lofti, KZ der Gestapo: Arbeitserziehungslager im
Dritten Reich (Stuttgart, Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2000).
The Head of the Estonian Security Police to the Head of B-IV Department,
July 27, 1943, ERA, R-60/1/4, pp.41, 41r.
Decree on Preventive Police Custody, December 14, 1937; Reich Criminal
Police Office to the Reich Commissioner for the Saar District, April
4, 1938; form for assignment to police custody, July 28, 1938, ERA,
R-59/1/3. The pattern followed the one already experienced in occupied
Czechoslovakia, Poland, Alsace-Lorraine, and the Netherlands. Preparations
for the introduction of a sweeping "preventive anti-crime campaign"
(vorbeugende Verbrechensbekämmpfung) started as early as
June 1941. It was recommended to use the same system of card-files on
professional and habitual criminals that already had been introduced in
the Reich. A particularly alarming situation regarding labor discipline
was noted in Narva. However, after an agreement between the Employment
Office and the Sipo on the introduction of warnings into workers'
personal files, the situation improved: Meldungen von den besetzten
Ostgebiete, No. 6, Juni 5, 1942, and No. 15, August 7, 1942, BA,
R-58/697, p.113; and R-58/698, p.126.
Suggestions regarding Bergmann's presentation of May 27, 1942, no date,
ERA, R-819/1/1, p.28. First page missing in original.
Zimmermann, Rassenutopie, pp.273, 274; idem., Verfolgt,
vertieben, vernichtet: Die nationalsozialistische Vernichtungspolitik
gegen Sinti und Roma (Essen: Klartext, 1989), p.55.
Viks to Bergmann, October 27, 1942, ERA, R-64/1/101, pp.404-6. Copy
available at both the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich
(Institut für Zeitgeschichte München, Fb. 104/2), and the Yad
Vashem Archives (YVA, 068/558); the document is also reproduced in both
[End Page 57]
Romani Rose, ed., Der nationalsozialistische Völkermord an
der Sinti und Roma (Heidelberg: Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum
Deutscher Sinti und Roma, 1995) p.116 (the place of execution is
mistakenly referred to as the Narva camp); and idem, 'Der Rauch
hatten wir täglich von Augen,' p. 185. The list of the executed
was preceded by four separate lists of Gypsy inmates of the Harku camp,
ERA, R-64/1/101, pp.400-3. One should note the difference in numbers for
July and October 1942: the October number was eighty-five less than that
During the KGB trials (the major trials took place in 1961/62 in Tartu
and Tallinn) quite a few witnesses pointed out Heinrich Bergmann as the
key-figure behind the persecution of the Gypsies. Bergmann's (b. 1902)
police career began in his hometown of Kassel in 1933. A member of the
NSDAP from 1937, in May 1940 Bergmann completed a nine-month training
course at the RSHA School in Berlin-Charlottenburg. His subsequent
posting as Commissar of Criminal Police in Stuttgart was considered
sufficiently responsible to appoint him KdS-Estland in December
1941. Bergmann became Chief of Dept. V (Kripo) there on January 11,
1942. Except for brief assignments as Head of Teilkommando-Pskov and of
one of the Estonian Police battalions, Bergmann remained in charge of
Estonia, and he was among the last German Sipo officials to withdraw
from Estonia in fall 1944. At the war's end Bergmann—by then an
Abwehr officer—found himself in Innsbruck. In 1955 Bergmann was
able to resume his career in the German Criminal Police. Bergmann's
testimony at Hessisches Landeskriminalamt, Wiesbaden, June 1, 1960,
Yad Vashem Archives, TR-10/1196, pp.303-306.
RMO, Dept. III to Dept I (Politics), October 23, 1943, BA
(Dahlwitz-Hoppegarten), R-90/147, p.754.
Lists of Gypsies residing in the Province of Petseri, January 13-20,
1943, ERA, R-68/1/8, pp.93-98, 102-3, 105-7.
Lists of Gypsies' belongings, February 7, 1943, ERA, R-68/1/8, pp.110-13,
Correspondence between Estonian Security Police in Petseri and the Head
of Petseri prison, February 11, 12, 1943, ERA, R-63/1/8, pp.123, 125,
126. The deportees were provided with food for five days.
Estonian Security Police in Petseri, Report on Population's Mood,
February 1943, ERA, R-64/1/14, p.58.
Circular of KdS-Estland, January 22, 1943, ERA, R-59/1/70, pp.2, 2r.
Correspondence between Estonian Security Police in Rakvere and Narva,
February 2 and 9, 1943, ERA, R-59/1/70, pp.4-7.
P. Teder and B. Pratka Construction Company to Estonian Security Police
in Rakvere, February 15, 1943, ERA, R-59/1/70, pp.8, 8r.
Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, 1939-1945 (New York: Henry
Holt, 1990), passim. Minor deportations involving Gypsies from Germany,
Austria, Bohemia/Moravia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France,
lasted through June 1944 (Zimmermann, Rassenutopie, pp.291-92,
State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Memorial Book: The Gypsies
of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Munich: K. G. Saur, 1993), vols. 2 and 3,
pp.580-81, 936-37, 1469-71.
Zimmermann, "Zigeunerpolitik," p.127; Zimmermann, Die
nationalsozialistische "Lösung," p.254; Yehuda Bauer, "The
Holocaust and Comparative Genocide," paper presented at
[End Page 58]
the international conference "The Impact of the Holocaust on Contemporary
Society" at Brandeis University, March 26-29, 2000.
RMO Rosenberg to GK-Reval, -Riga, -Kauen, and -Minsk, May 23, 1943, BA
(Dahlwitz-Hoppegarten), R-90/147, p.723.
Thus on April 9, 1943, the commandant of the Tallinn concentration camp
was instructed by the Security Police to employ in peat-cutting neither
Gypsy nor Jewish prisoners; the rationale: the job required only assiduous
workers. ERA, R-294/1/10, p.1r.
Madar, July 11, 1960; Mälk, September 6 and December 8, 1960,
and March 7, 1961; Palm, September 13, 1960; Udam, November 30, 1960;
Ralf Gerrets, June 14, 16, and 28, July 29, September 16 and 23, and
October 27, 1960; Viik, July 22, September 23, 1960 and January 6, 1961;
confrontation between Gerrets and Viik, July 23, 1960; Laak-Gerrets-Viik
trial proceedings, March 6, 1961; USHMM, RG-06.026.12.
The Research Institute, headed by physician Robert Ritter, was
established in 1941. As regards the Gypsies, the functions of the
Institute for Criminal Biology to some degree overlapped with those
of the Research Institute for Racial Hygiene and Population Biology,
created in 1936. The latter provided criteria for determining who was
to be counted as Gypsies. Both institutions worked in close cooperation
with the Reich Criminal Police Office (RKPA, Office V of the RSHA).
Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, p.139. Although
originally a member of Ritter's staff, in September 1943 Wagner joined the
SS Ahnenerbe Office. For the personality of Georg Wagner see Joachim
S. Hohmann, Robert Ritter und die Erben der Kriminalbiologie:
'Zigeunerforschung' im Nationalsozialismus und in Westdeutschland im
Zeichen des Rassismus (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1991), pp.281-86.
Estonian Security Police in Haapsalu to the Head of Department B-IV,
September 24, 1943, ERA, R-64/1/189, p.150.
RMO, Dept. III to Dept. I (Politics), October 23, 1943, BA
(Dahlwitz-Hoppegarten), R-90/147, p.754. We should not put too much
trust in the words "for some time" (seit längeren).
Friedrich Jeckeln trial proceedings, December 22, 1945, and January 27,
1946, USHMM, RG-06.025.01 (original documents on Riga trial in 1945/46
reside in Central Archives of the Federal Security Service of the
Russian Federation, Collection N-18313); USHMM, RG-06.026.12. Jeckeln
corroborated the central role of the Sipo in the extermination of the
Gypsies. According to the defendant, the Latvian Gypsies were locked in
Salaspils camp and thereafter executed, while Lithuanian Gypsies usually
were shot on the spot. It seems that, apparently without deliberately
trying to mislead the court, Jeckeln lumped several consecutive orders
into one. For him, limitation of freedom of movement, concentration,
and eventually extermination appear as a chain of events. Leaving aside
the question of actors' personal interest in interpreting Himmler's order
in a radical way (in citing superior orders Jeckeln obviously was trying
to justify himself), it is nevertheless clear that the muddle created by
conflicting regulations regarding the "Gypsy Question" did not exclude
murdering Gypsies either. Himmler's particular order to which Jeckeln
referred may be attributed to some later date in fall 1943, when Panziger
occupied the position of BdS Ostland (September 4) and therefore might
have had authority to communicate with the HSSPF directly.
Kenrick and Puxon, Gypsies under the Swastika (University of
Hertfordshire Press, 1995), p.94; idem., The Destiny of Europe's
Gypsies, pp.142, 229f.
[End Page 59]
Commandant of Tallinn AEL to the Sipo, Dept. B-II, March 1944, ERA,
RMO to GK-Riga, Reval, Kauen, December 16, 1943, Latvian State Historical
Archives (LVVA), P-69/1a/6, pp.249-51. In his circular Rosenberg
reiterated the Nazi Party concept of Gypsies as an "asocial element." In
the case of the Latvian Gypsies—argued the Reich Commissioner for
the Ostland—their Indian ancestry was significantly damaged by
Oriental, Mongoloid, and primitive East European crossbreeding.
Gerrets, October 27, 1960; Andrei Kurol, October 19, 1960; Georgii Rents,
January 9, 1961; Laak-Geerets-Viik trial proceedings, March 7, 1961;
USHMM, RG-06.026.11 and RG-06.026.12. Rents and Kurol differ in their
testimonies as to when the Gypsy teenagers were shot. Rents dated the
removal of Gypsies from Laitse as fall 1942; Kurol is self-contradictory:
once he argued that the Gypsies had been in Laitse for one and a half
years, but then, however, he insisted they were sent away in spring
1944. The latter date seems more plausible; the Germans might simply
have forgotten about the existence of under-age Gypsies outside the
KZ-system. Kurol also did not mention any young Gypsies surviving the
war at Laitse.
Kenrick and Puxon, The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies, p.183.
Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust: A Record of the Destruction of Jewish
Life in Europe during the Dark Years of Nazi Rule (London: Board of
Deputies of British Jews, 1978), p.22; idem, The Holocaust: Maps and
Photographs (New York: Braun Center for Holocaust Studies, 1992),
p.22; Yehuda Bauer, A History of the Holocaust (Danbury, CT:
Franklin Watts, 1982), p.202; Richard Overy, The Penguin Historical
Atlas of the Third Reich (London: Pengiun 1996), p.92; Kenrick,
Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies, p.77.
Lutt, Vaba, and Viikberg, "Mustlased," p.335. There is no evidence
whatsoever that Estonian Gypsies ever were deported to Polish or German
labor camps as the authors argue. On the other hand nothing corroborates
testimony (witness Kova, December 7, 1960, and March 7, 1961, USHMM,
RG-06.026.12) at the Laak-Gerrets-Viik trial regarding the imprisonment
in Tallinn Central Prison in fall 1942 of a group of Hungarian
Gypsies. Viik's testimony that some 200 Gypsies were sent in the summer
of 1944 to Vasalemma should also be regarded as self-exculpatory (Viik,
December 29, 1960, USHMM, RG-06.026.12). As discussed above, not even
Himmler's deportation decree directly affected Estonia's Gypsies. Another
rather absurd figure of 90,000 Gypsies murdered in Estonia was recently
suggested by Miranda Vuolasranta, adviser on Gypsy affairs of the Finnish
Ministry of Health. See polemics between Göteborgs-Posten
(Göteborg, January 29, 2000) and Postimees (Tartu, February 3,
2000). The author is indebted to Riho Västrik for this information.
Vassily Gremov statement, February 8, 1943, ERA, R-63/1/8, p.123.
Estonian Security Police in Petseri, Report on Population's Mood,
February 1943, ERA, R-64/1/14, p.58.
Tartu Province Self-Defense, Report on Activities, ERA, R-358/1/17,
p.129; ERA, R-358/2/17, p.8. The fact that the report mentioned both
the Russians and the Estonians as supportive of the deportation attests
to its reliability: given the increased hostility between the two
communities, the police usually would not miss a chance to stress their
differences. This tendency was particularly strong in the southeastern
provinces, densely populated by Russians.
Virtually nothing had been published on the attitudes of the
population of the Nazi-occupied territories toward Gypsies. The German
population—concludes Guenter Lewy—had
[End Page 60]
on the whole been deeply hostile. According to Lewy, the idea of
sterilization enjoyed general support. Popular sentiment contributed
to the radicalization of the Nazis' anti-Gypsy policy. Among other
authors, Sybil Milton studied German popular opinion on the Gypsies
during andafter World War II (Sybil Milton, "Persecuting the Survivors:
The Continuity of 'Anti-Gypsyism' in Postwar Germany and Austria," in
Tebbutt, ed., Sinti and Roma, pp.35-47; idem., "Gypsies as Social
Outsiders in Nazi Germany," in Robert Gellately and Nathan Stoltzfus,
eds., Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany(Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2001) Another important study—one heavily based
on archival sources—was published in Hebrew by Gilad Margalit,
Postwar Germany and the Gypsies: The Treatment of Sinti and Roma in
the Aftermath of the Third Reich (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press; The
Hebrew University, 1998). The best summary of the latest publications
on the Nazi persecution of Gypsies was compiled by Michael Zimmermann,
"Zigeunerbilder und Zigeunerpolitik in Deutschland: Eine Übersicht
über neuere historische Studien," WerkstattGeschichte 25
(May 2000), pp.35-58. I am indebted to Michael Zimmermann for a copy of
See Anton Weiss-Wendt, "Preconditions for the Holocaust: Estonian Jews and
the Judeobolshevik Myth" in Proceedings of the Third Conference
on Baltic Studies in Europe (Stockholm: Stockholm University Press,
forthcoming). This is equally true in the case of Nazi Germany. In
this respect, the stance of Dr. Tobias Portchy, Head of the Nazi Party
in Burgenland, appears rather exceptional. In his 1938 memorandum
"The Gypsy Question" Portchy stated that, among other ills, Gypsies
were also the bearers of social democracy and Bolshevism (Zimmermann,
"Die nationalsozialistische 'Lösung,'" p.248).
Pärnu District Self-Defense, July 28, 1942, ERA, R-210/1/1, p.160.
Circular of the Estonian Security Police, June 10, 1942, ERA, R-59/1/88,
Avasaar, December 13, 1966, and February 15, 1967; concluding Indictment
of Roland Rand, May 23, 1967, USHMM, RG-06.026.13.
Hannu Rautkallio, Finland and the Holocaust: The Rescue of Finland's
Jews (New York: Holocaust Library, 1987), pp.135, 137.
Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, Die Einsatzgruppe A, pp.219-20f. Apparently
this is the very same case Birn describes in her article (p. 196).