When the nazi’s took power, a terrible time started for people that were considered to be Zigeuner or: Gypsy. With this term, the of Roma (or: Romani), Sinti, Lallere and other people are meant. Many of them were deported, worked till death or were gassed by the nazi-regime. Their destiny is remarkably similar to the terrible fate for the jewish population of Europe. The decision to deport all Gypsies out Germany was made already in 1938. It’s no overstatement to say that the Romani, Sinti and others went through an own genocide – called the Porajmos. Somewhere between the 100.000 and the 500.000 did not survive the war.
Discrimination against the Roma and Sinti started as soon as Hitler took power. The people were put in concentration camps in 1933 already. Physical sterilisation programs followed in 1934. By 1936, there were already documents written about Die Endlösung der Zigeunerfrage (“the Final Solution to the Gypsy question”). In that year, the regime hosted the Olympic games in Berlin. The nazi’s wanted no ‘Zigeuner‘ to be visible for tourists, so they planned to build a camp. At first, the camp was planned to be build at the Plötzensee in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Protests of the neighbourhood made that it was eventually build in Marzahn. At the time, Marzahn was still an unpopulated district of Berlin.
The regime would concentrate over a thousand Romani and Sinti in this Zigeunerrastplatz (“Gypsie lay-by”). The police guarded the camp. The Romani and Sinti people were forced to work in agriculture or in the armament factories under bad conditions. Although most of them had German nationalities, the people were not allowed to make contact with ‘not-Gypsie’ Germans. Because of the poor hygienic conditions, more than a hundred Roma and Sinti died. They were given a grave at the nearby cemetry. Most of the Sinti and Roma from the Zigeunerrastplatz were eventually deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in March 1943. Only a few survived the Porajmos.
After the war, Roma and Sinti were at first not recognised as victims. The survivors did not get compensation payments for confiscated property, imprisonment or damaged health. It lasted till 1982, when the West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt held a speech in which he recognised the Porajmos to be a genocide. In East Germany, Roma and Sinti were compensated on an individual basis – not as a collective. For these individual compensations, human rights activist Raimar Gilsenbach (1925-2001) played an key-role.
In 1986, Raimar Gilsenbach and the East German pastor Bruno Schottstädt (1927-2000) placed a memorial stone in remembrance of the Sinti and Roma(ni). It it found at the Marzahner Friedhof – next to the former Zigeneurrastplatz. A few years later (1990), Porajmos-survivor Otto Rosenberg (1927-2001) opted to have a stone added with the text “Atschen Devleha” (“Rest in peace”). To the left, a bronse sign was added to inform people about the Zigeunerrastplatz.
The street and the square where the Zigeunnerrastplatz used to be is named after Otto Rosenberg since 2007. By 2011, eleven information tables are placed at the Otto-Rosenberg-Strasse.
In 1992, the German government agreed to build a monument at a top location: between the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. The design by Dani Karavan (1930-) was finished in 1992 already. Still, it lasted till October 24th (2012) for the monument to be publicly opened. Not only the question how to finance the monument – but also the content of the information delayed the construction. Important debates dealt with the number of victims – and whether the term Zigeuner could be used. At last, the search for a fitting quote delayed its construction. Eventually, the poem “Auschwitz” by Roma poet Santino Spinelli was chosen for the inscription of the monument. The sober but sensitive memorial site shows a pool, surrounded by broken stones. In the middle of the pool, a triangle goes down in the water once a day. The triangle comes up with a fresh flower. A glass wall informs the visitors about the history of the Porajmos.
Only now – more than 67 years after the war’s end – the commemoration of Roma and Sinti victims finally has a place in Berlin’s city centre. When the monument opened to the public, Angela Merkel acknowledged in her speech that the construction of this monument took too long. Minister Bernd Neumann admitted that the Porajmos has been ignored too long after the war. The Sinti survivor of Auschwitz, Zoni Weisz (1937-) concluded in his speech at the opening the monument came too late for the few who survived the Porajmos.
Recommended book: Tilman Zülch, In Auschwitz vergast, bis heute verfolgt. Zur Situation der Roma (Zigeuner) in Deutschland und Europa (Reinbeck 1979)