Roma Resistance Day

Juan de Dios Ramrez-Heredia Montoya

Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia Montoya

I have always thought that the survival of the Gypsy People is a miracle after so many centuries. We have not only suffered marginalization, but also a cruel persecution that finds its point of greatest gravity during the Second World War and the Nazi period.

    On May 16th two events of great importance for the Gypsy People took place.


May 16th, 1940

    On September 21st, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich's Main Security Office, decided to deport 30,000 German and Austrian (rroma) Gypsies to East Europe, that is, where the so-called General Government was. A place in Poland that had been occupied by the Germans. The plan failed because General Hans Frank, the Nazi President of occupied Poland opposed to it. In fact, he ruled Poland - where the main concentration camps were - for six long years. This infamous General opposed the immediate transfer of the 30,000 German Gypsies to Auschwitz because he wanted the German Jews to be deported first. But in the end, he had the punishment he deserved: when the Soviet soldiers began the offensive across the Vistula River, he fled Poland and a few months later the North American soldiers captured him. He was prosecuted at the Nuremberg Trials for being one of the designers of the Holocaust and he was found guilty of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. He was sentenced to death on October 16th, in 1946.

     Having decided that it was not possible to immediately transfer 30,000 German Gypsies to the concentration camps in Poland, on October 17th, 1939, Adolf Eichmann recommended that the "Gypsy Question" should be solved parallelly as the "Jewish Question". Heinrich Himmler sent dozens of Gypsies from Germany to Auschwitz: the "Final Solution of the Gypsy Question" had begun.

    On April 27th, in 1940, the SS commander-in-chief, Heinrich Himmler, ordered the deportation of 2,500 Gypsies to the occupied Polish territories. The order was carried out a few days later and on May 16th. None of them survived.

     On May 23th in 1945, Himmler committed suicide. He had been in charge of all the concentration and extermination camps during the Nazi regime. He had founded the SS and the Gestapo and, together with Adolf Hitler, was the responsible of the death of five million Jews and half million Gypsies. Since he died, his soul has been burning in the depths of Hell.

May 16th, 1944

    In May 1944, the Nazis decided to exterminate the six thousand Gypsies that were  in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. There were adults, bus also old people and children. They were no longer profitable for the forced labor and the children were no longer necessary for Dr. Joseph Menguele “experiments”.  On the other hand, the place in the camp reserved for Gypsy families was plagued with epidemics and deadly diseases such as typhus, dysentery, and smallpox. Himmler ordered the mass killing of the Gypsy community in the camp.

    But something happened:  the director of the Gypsy Camp, Georg Bonigut, and a member of the Waffen-SS, might had felt compassion, because he told to a political prisoner, Tadeusz Joachimowski, about the plans Himmler had.  “There is an order to liquidate them”, he confessed to Joachimowski”. Joachimowski did not hesitate to tell it to two prisoners who quietly spread the word around the camp "Tomorrow they will come for us and we will all die".  At that time, there were 6,000 Gypsies in the Auschwitz camp.

    It turned out that when the SS appeared, the gypsy families were ready to fight back. They were already prepared to prevent it. One of the survivors in the uprising, Willi Ernst, remembers: “the leader of our barrack warned us that we would be gassed the next day, so we all armed ourselves the best we could. I had a knife, others had working tools, and others grabbed some heavy stones. We wouldn’t go to the gas chamber without fighting”.

    Joachimowski himself told what happened during the night of May 16th, 1944 “That day, around 7:00 p.m., I heard the gong announcing the blockade of the camp. Some vehicles reached the Roma sector and around 50 to 60 SS armed men appeared. Some of them entered the barracks and shouted: “Come on! Come on!”. But no one went out. According to the witness, the silence reigned inside the barracks and the thousands of men and women refused to abandon them. Many had managed to arm themselves with knives, crowbars, and stones. They were determined to fight back the Nazis.

    Joachimowski's continues: “After a while, I heard the whistle ordering the men around the barracks to retreat. They returned to their vehicles and left. The next day, Bonigut came to me and said, "for now the gypsies are safe." The first attempt to exterminate them had failed.

     The writer Yetlaneci Alcaraz explains: “With stones, sticks and wooden blows, the Gypsies achieved the impossible. The SS corps were not expecting their resistance and they had to abort the operation. Thanks to the resistance, the Roma were able to save their lives for one more day. Thanks to their uprising, they managed to postpone their own murder. Even in hopeless moments, they never gave up because they always fought”.

    And that is why, on May 16th, we celebrate the Gypsy Resistance.

    With tears in our eyes and a shrunken heart when remembering so much suffering today we raise our voices to shout for them ¡Naís, naís! (Thanks, thanks) ¡Opre rromá! (long live the gypsies)

Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia Montoya
Lawyer and journalist