The Holocaust – Gypsies, Disabled and Homosexuals?

September 25, 2006 at 12:54 am 3 comments

“Is it proper to commemorate the extermination of Gypsies, Romani, homosexuals and the disabled as part of the Holocaust” 

This essay shall approach the commemoration of the disabled, the Gypsies and the homosexuals as part of the Holocaust.  The Holocaust shall be defined as the Nazi extermination of a group on the basis of Nazi eugenics in an attempt to create a homogenous gene pool.[1]  According to this definition, the disabled and the Gypsies are also victims of the Holocaust, along side the Jews.  However, this definition excludes the homosexuals from such recognition.  This essay shall detail a necessarily brief history of all three groups, justifying the inclusion in the above definition.  However, despite the ease of such an argument, this essay shall explore in its conclusion, the validity of the term ‘the Holocaust”, positing that it is in itself, a deeply problematic term.   

 

The Nazi persecution of the physically and mentally disabled was their first step in their quest for racial purity.[2]  The Nazi attempt to eliminate the disabled population began with the introduction of two laws on 14th July 1933: the Law for Prevention of Progeny With Hereditary Disorders, and the Law for Prevention of Genetically Disabled Offspring.  These two laws enforced sterilisation for those deemed to be disabled: resulting in up to 300, 000 sterilisations being performed in the 1930s.[3]  The second major step, for both the disabled community and the Nazi eugenic program, came with the ‘euthanasia’ of the Knauer child in 1939.[4]  This case became the pretext for the development of the child euthanasia program in 1939.  This program involved the recording of all births which displayed deformity or disease.  These reports were sent to a centralised board, which decided whether or not the child, under the age of three, shall live, or be, “cleaned.”[5]  Initially, the termination of chosen children was carried out by the local hospital.[6]   

However, in 1939, with the expansion of the euthanasia program to include adults and children above the age of three, the Nazi’s first gas chambers were built, “T4”, to perform the exterminations on a larger, and more centralised scale.[7]  T4 was closed in 1941 in relation to public outcry to the killings.  The official death count is 70, 273, however, this is estimated to be low, and does not include the deaths of the disabled that were killed after the official closure of T4.[8] Significantly, the individuals trained for the operations of T4, and the construction of the centre’s mechanics of death, were transferred to the Nazi concentration camps in 1941.  

The Gypsies are another group that was singled out for at first persecution, and then extermination, under the Nazi eugenic program.[9]  The Gypsies, as with the Jews and the disabled, were considered to be a threat to Nazi racial purity.  They were deemed to be: 

“primitive…racially inferior, with particularly inferior intellect and morals…[they pose] a special racial and economic threat.  They are an even greater danger to racial purity.”[10] 

Thus, the Gypsies were sterilised under the Law for Genetically Diseased Offspring of July 14th 1933.  Subsequently, the Gypsies were variously detained in ‘Zigeunlager’, and had their citizenship revoked upon the basis of being defined as, “aliens”.[11]  From 1936-1939, the Nazi’s ‘registered’ the Gypsy population, variously resulting in deportation, incarceration, or to be left alone.  Importantly, as Sybil Milton notes, the Gypsies were among the first to be exterminated after the commencement of the Second World War, whilst in many cases Gypsy deportation preceded Jewish deportation.[12]   

The tension that exists in including the Gypsies in the Holocaust is based on a number of factors.  First, the lower percentage of population killed is considered problematic.  However, establishing the number of Gypsy deaths under the Nazi regime is highly problematic.  Gypsy deaths in the concentration camp system were not always recorded as such, and further to this, Gypsy deaths that occurred outside this system were not recorded.[13]  Furthermore, Brenda and James Lutz point out that the lower percentage can be related to locality and the related degree of Nazi authority: in areas of Nazi dominance, the Gypsies were as likely to be persecuted as the Jews.[14]  However, Lutz states that the majority of Gypsies in occupied
Europe resided in areas that exhibited a, “degree of antipathy towards Nazi policies.”[15]  Another prime point of contention in this debate is that the Nazis did not pursue a policy of extermination against all Gypsies, and that their policies did not exhibit the same aggression as they did with the Jews.[16]  It is clear that a number of Gypsies were left alone by the Nazis.  However, this brief amnesty was not applied coherently.  Whilst at first, ‘pure’ and ‘sedentary’ Gypsies were exempt from deportation and sterilisation, in the later years of the Nazi regime, ‘pure’ and ‘sedentary’ Gypsies were deported, sterilised and exterminated.[17]  Furthermore, the Nazis only classified 10% of the Gypsy population as, “pure.”[18]  Additionally, as Henry Friedlander notes, while Himmler may have attempted to ‘save’ pure Gypsies, it is clear that by the time Himmler announced as such, that many ‘pure’ Gypsies had been deported to Auschwitz.[19] 
 

Historians such as Yehuda Bauer have argued for the exemption of the Gypsies from the Holocaust on the basis that the Nazi campaign against them was not as aggressive as the Jewish Final Solution.[20]  However, there are obvious reasons for a lack of fervour against the Gypsies.  They represented a far smaller percentage of the population than the Jews: 0.05, rather than 0.5.[21]  Furthermore, the Gypsies occupied a rather lower socio-economic status than that of the Jews: a campaign against them did not need to deal with politics and influence.  It is clear, that despite discrepancies, the Gypsies were a victim of the Holocaust: they were selected for sterilisation, deportation and extermination on the basis of their racial threat to Aryan blood.   

            The homosexuals are another group that were persecuted under the Nazi regime.  However, the Nazi persecution of homosexuals may not be included in the Holocaust under its current definition.  The Nazi attack on homosexuality began in July 14th 1933 with the introduction of the Law for Prevention of Hereditary Diseases and in November 1933 with the introduction of the Law Against Dangerous Habitual Criminals and Sexual Offenders.[22]  This situation was augmented in 1935 with the introduced subclause A to Paragraph 175, making homosexuality illegal.[23]  Nazi homophobia can be seen to have been drawn from a number of quarters: firstly, homosexuals did not fulfil the procreative responsibilities of the German male; indeed, the stereotyped homosexual man was the antithesis of the Nazi masculine ideal.[24]  Perhaps most motivating was the fear of a homosexual plague: the notion that homosexuality spread.  This was deemed to be a threat of huge proportions to the gender segregation that occurred in the Nazi Youth and SS organisations.   

It is clear that a level of persecution was performed against the homosexual community by the Nazi regime.  175A and other introduced laws saw the incarceration (in prison, psychiatric wards and concentration camps), castration, and extermination of 1000s of men.  Estimates consider between 5000 and 15000 men were killed under the guise of homosexuality by the Nazis.  However, this persecution was neither wholesale, nor systematic.[25]  Further, homosexuality was never fully understood by Nazi Germany, and was not categorised as a genetic problem; thus, it was not deemed a threat to the Aryan gene pool.  This can be exemplified by a consideration of the recorded reasons for castration.  Geoffrey Giles notes two laws that allowed for the castration of homosexuals: the Law for Prevention for Hereditary Diseases and the Law Against Dangerous Habitual Criminals and Sex Offenders.  Castrations were mainly carried out under the second law: according to official records, only 14 castrations were performed under the first, whilst 1 123 were performed under the second.  Whilst these operations are ultimately abhorrent, it is clear that the Nazis did not largely define homosexuality as a eugenic problem.  The Nazi persecution of homosexuals was based on a desire to eradicate homosexuality.  This ultimately, resulted in the incarceration, sterilisation and death of many men.  However, the homosexuals were not singled out on the basis of their race: they could in fact avoid persecution.   

The exclusion of homosexuals from the Holocaust points to the extremely problematic, ethical position that this term inhabits.  Ultimately, a definition of the Holocaust must exclude certain groups that experienced Nazi persecution.  However, in doing so, one robs those groups of recognition, and any commemorative affects.[26]   

Yet, the inclusion of a group whose persecution was less stringent and based on different criteria than those already included, necessarily devalues the initial groups experience. However, one must stop and question the validity of placing such a distinction that is surely, “a qualitative concept carrying moral judgement.”[27]  The persecution of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled resulted in similar classification and designation for death under Nazi eugenic policies.  Yet, for many homosexuals, or even other prisoners, the Nazi regime provided the same treatment: incarceration under extremely inhumane conditions, and death.  Gavriel Rosenfeld notes that increasingly, the Holocaust is coming to designate those who were incarcerated and killed in the mechanics of the Nazi concentration camp system.[28]   Furthermore, Rosenfeld comes to question the validity of the term the Holocaust in its totality, primarily on its matter of devaluation through inclusion and exclusion, and in relation to the wider use of the term in popular culture.[29]  Perhaps terms, such as the shoah, shall come to recognise each groups Holocaust experience, whilst the Holocaust shall come to recognise all groups of Nazi persecution.  As I have demonstrated, the term the Holocaust is deeply problematic, and ultimately devalues a group’s experience. However, the definition as provided initially, does aid one to engage with the genocide of the Jews, Gypsies and the disabled under the Nazi eugenic program.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bauer, Y. &
Milton, S. 1992. “Correspondence: Gypsies and The Holocaust” The History Teacher. vol. 25 no. 4. pp. 513-525
 

Dunk, H. 2002. “The Holocaust: Remembrance and Education” European Review. vol. 10 no. 1. pp. 53-61. 

Friedlander, H. 1994. “Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941” German Studies Review. vol. 17 no. 3. pp. 495-507. 

Giles, G. 1992. “The Most Unkindest Cut of All: Castration, Homosexuality and Nazi Justice” Journal of Contemporary History. vol. 27 no. 1. pp. 41-56. 

Jenson, E. 2002. “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians and the Memory of Persecution” Journal of the History of Sexuality. vol. 11. no. 1. pp. 319-349. 

Lewy, G. 1999. “Gypsies and the Jews Under the Nazis” Holocaust and Genocide Studies. vol. 13 no. 3. pp. 383-404. 

Lutz, B. & Lutz, J. 2002. “Gypsies as Victims of the Holocaust” Holocaust and Genocide Studies. vol. 9 no. 3. pp. 346-359. 

Micheler, S. 2002. “Homophobic Propaganda and the Denunciation of Same-Sex Desiring Men Under National Socialism” Journal of the History of Sexuality. vol. 11 no. ½. pp. 95-130. 

 

Milton, S. 1991.  “Gypsies and the Holocaust” The History Teacher. vol. 24 no. 4. pp. 375-387.  

Mostert, M. 2002. “Useless Eaters: Disability as a Genocidal Marker in Nazi Germany” The Journal of Special Education. vol. 36 no. 2. pp. 155-168. 

Muller-Hill, B. 1988. Murderous Science: Elimination By Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in Germany. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 

 

Oosterhuis, H. 1997. “Medicine, Male Bonding and Homosexuality in Nazi Germany” Journal of Contemporary History. vol. 32 no. 2. pp. 187-205. 

Rosenfeld, G. 1999. “The Politics of Uniqueness: Reflections of the Recent Polemical Turn in Holocaust and Genocide Scholarship” Holocaust and Genocide Studies. vol. 13 no 1. pp. 28-61. 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]
Milton, S. 1991.  “Gypsies and the Holocaust” The History Teacher. vol. 24 no. 4. pp. 375-387. p. 378; Milton, S. 1992. “Correspondence: Gypsies and The Holocaust” The History Teacher. vol. 25 no. 4. pp. 513-525. p. 516; Friedlander, H. 1994. “Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941” German Studies Review. vol. 17 no. 3. pp. 495-507. p. 497. 

[2] From this point on, I shall refer to those whom the Nazi regime persecuted and killed on the basis of physical or mental disability as simply, ‘disabled’.  However, it must be noted that the Nazi’s definition of ‘disabled’ was incredibly wide; it included: “congenital mental defect, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, chorea, blindness, deafness, severe physical deformity, alcoholism.” Muller-Hill, B. 1988. Murderous Science: Elimination By Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in
Germany.

Oxford
University Press,
Oxford. p. 28

[3] Friedlander, p. 496

[4] The euthanasia of the Knauer child would seem to be one of those cataclysmic accidents of history.  The case which is widely argued to be the basis for the following ‘euthanasia’ program was petitioned for, on a number of occasions, by the child’s father.  See: Mostert, M. 2002. “Useless Eaters: Disability as a Genocidal Marker in Nazi
Germany” The Journal of Special Education. vol. 36 no. 2. pp. 155-168. pp.159-160.  Others also consider the Knauer child to be the pretext for the child euthanasia program.  Fiedlander. “Step by Step” p. 497

[5] Mostert. “Useless Eaters” p. 498.

[6] Mostert. “Useless Eaters” Mostert lists various methods of termination by local hospitals.  See

[7] T4 housed the first extermination performed by carbon monoxide poisoning in Nazi Germany.  However, the first mass killing of disabled adults was performed by the SS in Pomeria and
West Prussia in 1939. Mostert. “Useless Eaters” p. 163; Muller-Hill. Murderous Science. p. 41. 

[8] Friedlander. Step by Step. p. 498;

[9] I refer to the ‘Gypsies’ here with all due recognition of the Roma and the Sinti.  The term, ‘Gypsies’ is used for literary ease. 

[10]
Milton, S. 1991.  “Gypsies and the Holocaust” p. 380.  Quoting:
Nuremberg Document NG 684. File 4942. 5/2/1940. Letter: Senior State Attorney, Dr. Meissner of the Gratz Circuit Court to the Reich Minister of Justice,
Berlin. 

[11] The designation of “Gypsies” as “alien” parallels the Jews classification. Lutz, B. & Lutz, J. 2002. “Gypsies as Victims of the Holocaust” Holocaust and Genocide Studies. vol. 9 no. 3. pp. 346-359. p. 347. Another significant parallel between the Gypsies and the Jews in terms of Nazi classification is the dual designation as group ‘4’, under the division of territories: those under group 4 were to be exterminated.  Muller-Hill. Murderous Science. p. 55. 

[12]
Milton. “Gypsies” p. 375. 

[13]
Milton. “Gypsies” p. 378; Lutz. “Gypsies as victims” p. 351. 

[14] Lutz. “Gypsies as victims” p. 354.

[15] Lutz. “Gypsies as victims” p. 368.

[16] See Bauer, Y. 1992. “Correspondence: Gypsies and the Holocaust” The History Teacher. vol. 25 no.  4. pp. 513-525; Lewy, G. 1999. “Gypsies and the Jews Under the Nazis” Holocaust and Genocide Studies. vol. 13 no. 3. pp. 383-404. Guenter Lewy is vitally concerned that the Gypsies are not included in the Holocaust.  However, his analysis proves to be based on a number of historical omissions.  For example. Lewy states that Gypsies were only persecuted in the last three years of the war.

[17]
Milton,. S. 1992. “Correspondence: Gypsies and the Holocaust” pp. 513-525. p. 519.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Friedlander. “Step by Step” p. 500.  

[20] Bauer. “Corresspondence” p. 512

[21] Friedlander. “Step by Step” p. 498. 

[22] Giles, G. 1992. “The Most Unkindest Cut of All: Castration, Homosexuality and Nazi Justice” Journal of Contemporary History. vol. 27 no. 1. pp. 41-56. p. 47.  As with all groups that faced Nazi persecution, the introduction of laws merely represents the first official decree of persecution against such a group.  All groups underwent varying forms of persecution and marginalisation prior to the implementation of Nazi ideology in Nazi Germany. 

[23] Micheler, S. 2002. “Homophobic Propaganda and the Denunciation of Same-Sex Desiring Men Under National Socialism” Journal of the History of Sexuality. vol. 11 no. ½. pp. 95-130. p. 95

[24] Micheler. “Homophobic” p. 96. 

[25] Oosterhuis, H. 1997. “Medicine, Male Bonding and Homosexuality in Nazi
Germany” Journal of Contemporary History. vol. 32 no. 2. pp. 187-205. p. 189.

[26] Herman Von Ver Dunk notes that commemoration results in both a strengthening of bonds amongst survivors and helps prevent the reoccurrence of the initial events.  Dunk, H. 2002. “The Holocaust: Remembrance and Education” European Review. vol. 10 no. 1. pp. 53-61. pp. 61-62.  Erik Jensen notes the importance of the “Gay Holocaust” to the current GLBT political community.  However, Jensen also notes that the Gay community, “has remembered the Gay Holocaust often independently of historical research.” Jenson, E. 2002. “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians and the Memory of Persecution” Journal of the History of Sexuality. vol. 11. no. 1. pp. 319-349. p. 320.  The politics of ‘collective memory’ are deeply embedded in the study of the Holocaust.  Rosenfeld notes that the notion of ‘uniqueness’ developed out of attempts to include others in the Holocaust, and in the rise of arguments concerning the place of the Holocaust in contemporary American life.  Rosenfeld, G. 1999. “The Politics of Uniqueness: Reflections of the Recent Polemical Turn in Holocaust and Genocide Scholarship” Holocaust and Genocide Studies. vol. 13 no 1. pp. 28-61. p. 35. 

[27] Rosenfeld. “The Politics of Uniqueness”. p. 47. 

[28] Rosenfeld. “The Politics of Uniqueness” p. 48. 

[29] See Rosenfeld. “The Politics of Uniqueness” for a detailed discussion. 

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Entry filed under: Gypsies - The Holocaust, Gypsy, Handicapped, Handicapped - The Holocaust, Holocaust, Romani - The Holocaust, The Holocaust.

Galatians 3: 28

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. JHONIKWA  |  March 9, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    this okay it needs more info

    Reply
  • 2. Fernando  |  September 21, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    The rationale used for not legitimizing the persecution of homosexuals astounds me. One does not need to devalue one group to boast the importance of persecution of another group. Oppression is oppression is oppresion. I cannot respect the opinion of those who utilize the same tactics of the oppressor to devalue others.

    Reply
  • 3. Spysie  |  April 3, 2014 at 6:44 am

    California is leading the way in current day oppression of disabled, by slashing programs that keep disabled people ALIVE by providing them with needed services. Governor Brown has not taken a stand to help the disabled by providing the funding needed to help vulnerable adults. His idea of painful cuts really means, cutting the lifeline of funding to disabled people……

    Reply

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