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Holocaust expert: Roma people are forgotten victims

It's all too common to categorize the Roma as criminals, which has caused many to forget that they too were victims of the Holocaust, Nadine Blumer told students Wednesday at the Tempe campus.

“These themes tie into the Roma holocaust,” she said.

Blumer, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center of Advanced Holocaust Studies, is a strong advocate for Roma victim recognition in the Holocaust. Her project is called “From Victim Hierarchies to Memorial Networks: How Germany Remembers the Nazi Genocide of the Roma.”

The Romani are an ethnic group living in Europe. They started arriving from northern India in the late 1300s. Blumer said she would refer to them as “Roma” as opposed to “gypsy,” which is considered politically incorrect.

“Roma is an umbrella term referring to gypsies,” she said. “Nazis labeled the Roma people as gypsies.”

Blumer began the discussion with an image of Romani Rosa, who is a Romani activist, holding up a copy of an International New York Times article about Romani people being accused of kidnapping, but a blood test confirmed the children were biologically related to their parents.

“They were accused of kidnapping, because their children didn’t have Roma characteristics, because they had light skin and blonde hair,” she said. “It is also a stereotype that the Roma people kidnap children.”

The Roma people been called social leeches of the welfare system and have historically been associated with crime, Blumer said.

“Persecution of the Roma has been happening long before Hitler,” she said. “They have been living in Europe since the late middle ages and have always suffered from discrimination and exclusion.”

Germans believed criminal behavior was genetic and associated with the Romani. German hygienists interrogated and tested their physical characteristics, Blumer said.

“They categorized Roma as feeble-minded and incompatible with German blood,” she said. “Intermarriage was banned just as intermarriage between Aryans and Jews was banned.”

During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Germans transported the Roma to internment camps. Their intention was to keep the streets “safe” during the games.

Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler signed an order in 1938 “to pursue a settlement of the Gypsy problems on grounds of race.” Mass deportations to concentration camps began two years later.

They wore triangle-shaped badges sewn to their clothes to indicate they were Roma, just as Jews were forced to wear Stars of David sewn to their clothes.

Blumer said the genocide of the Roma people was not recognized after the Holocaust because people thought that their genocide was the result of combating crime and not racially motivated.

“Nazi’s blurred lines between racial and social categorizations,” she said. “Germany played down the genocide for decades.”

Romani activists have slowly been able to reveal the truth to the German government about the genocide and have forged alliances with Jewish organizations.

Blumer said Roma still continue to face discrimination. It is clear that racial stereotypes are still an ongoing problem in Europe.

“There is still optimism for the future,” she said. “In 2012, a memorial to the persecution of Roma in Europe was inaugurated.”

Exploratory freshman Reginald Sharman said he came to the discussion, because it was a topic he was interested in but did not know much about.

“I ended up learning a lot about the persecution of the Roma people,” he said. “The extent of the persecution was a lot larger than I thought.”

Volker Benkert, German language and history lecturer for ASU, said it was very fortunate that Blumer came to ASU.

“I’m already very interested in this, because I am very involved with the Holocaust Museum (in Washington D.C.),” he said. “I want to get the ASU community involved in this project.”

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @KelcieGrega

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