The Nazi Genocide of the Roma: Reassessment and Commemoration, to be published this month, gives voice to the plight of the lesser-studied but still widely persecuted population of the Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. Below, editor Anton Weiss-Wendt addresses the reception of the collection, which he says begs the question: “Is this scholarship or is it activism?”
This is not a rhetorical statement, not even a thesis, but an observation superimposed by archival records. Many historians who work on the Nazi persecution of Roma originally come from the field of Holocaust studies, and I am not an exception.
When conducting archival research for my dissertation on local collaboration in the Holocaust in Estonia over a decade ago, I came across records documenting the demise of the local Romani community (my findings, specifically the analysis of central and local policies vis-à-vis Baltic Roma, appeared as an article in the 2003 volume of Holocaust and Genocide Studies).
Whether it was security police files, reports on the population’s mood, or postwar war crimes investigation records—insofar as the German-occupied Soviet territories are concerned—Jews and Roma shared the same tragic destiny. Although the rationale for and the pace of mass murder might be different, the end result was the same—the intentional destruction of a group.
Policy variations were manifest throughout occupied Europe, with more conventional forms of forced assimilation attempted, say, in Vichy France, and systematic extermination carried out, for example, in Ustaša Croatia. One thing is clear, though: the Nazis intended to complete the “Final Solution of the Gypsy Question” had they won the war.
Hence, the application of the term genocide to mass destruction of the Roma in 1941-45 is neither sociological nor emotive, but purely legalistic.