The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies

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Roaming the countryside in caravans, earning their living as musicians, peddlers, and fortune-tellers, the Gypsies and their elusive way of life represented an affront to Nazi ideas of social order, hard work, and racial purity. They were branded as "asocials," harassed, and eventually herded into concentration camps where many thousands were killed. But until now the story of their persecution has either been overlooked or distorted.

In The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, Guenter Lewy draws upon thousands of documents—many never before used—from German and Austrian archives to provide the most comprehensive and accurate study available of the fate of the Gypsies under the Nazi regime. Lewy traces the escalating vilification of the Gypsies as the Nazis instigated a widespread crackdown on the "work-shy" and "itinerants." But he shows that Nazi policy towards Gypsies was confused and changeable. At first, local officials persecuted gypsies, and those who behaved in gypsy-like fashion, for allegedly anti-social tendencies. Later, with the rise of race obsession, Gypsies were seen as a threat to German racial purity, though Himmler himself wavered, trying to save those he considered "pure Gypsies" descended from Aryan roots in India. Indeed, Lewy contradicts much existing scholarship in showing that, however much the Gypsies were persecuted, there was no general program of extermination analogous to the "final solution" for the Jews.

Exploring in heart-rending detail the fates of individual Gypsies and their families, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies makes an important addition to our understanding both of the history of this mysterious people and of all facets of the Nazi terror.

About the Author:
Guenter Lewy is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of many books, including The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany and Religion and Revolution (OUP). He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Editorial Reviews

Multicultural Review
Lewy's study is an extremely important addition to the study of the persecution of the Gypsies during the Nazi period, a subject that has been little researched until now....Lewy's meticulously researched and methodically presented study is based on the study of primary documents in archives and in various governmental agencies. The book includes some photos and reproductions of documents and an extensive bibliography.
Tom Gross
In The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, Mr. Lewy's account of the Nazi era is the most comprehensive and accurate treatment of the subject in English to date.
Wall Street Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Nationalist Socialist dream of a pure society demanded elimination not only of the Jews but of all those who challenged the homogeneity of a racial and cultural utopia. Europe's Gypsies presented a particular problem for the race-obsessed Nazis: on the one hand they were viewed as antisocial liars and thieves, as "work-shy" and as wanderers without a homeland. Yet they supposedly descended from "Aryan" roots in India. Hence Lewy finds policies concerning them to be often contradictory and fluctuating. A professor emeritus of political science at UMass (Amherst), Lewy has plumbed the archives and, through meticulous documentation and a painstaking reconstruction of events, arrived at a startling new interpretation of the Nazi policy toward the Gypsies. Lewy argues that in contrast to the Final Solution of the "Jewish Question," the Nazis had no comparable plan to exterminate the Gypsies. And when the latter were sent to the concentration camps for extermination, it was not solely because of their biological existence, like the Jews, but because their wandering way of life challenged the social and cultural construct of the Third Reich. An important facet in the Gypsies' fate, according to Lewy, was ordinary Germans' insistence on measures against them, something the Nazi regime did not have to foster. Lewy shows how Nazi persecution of the Gypsies evolved through the 1930s: at first, local officials were responsible for measures of control and harassment; eventually, the racial laws written against Jews were directed against Gypsies. Lewy traces this sequence of events in detail; his theory may be controversial, but he argues his case carefully. 20 b&w photos. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This book by Lewy (emeritus, political science, Univ. of Massachusetts) addresses an important need in the historiography of the Nazi era. His systematic study of the persecution of the Gypsies places their story in the context of German racial law. Since many Gypsies lived an indigent life and were often shunned as thieves, they were initially classified as "work shy" by the Nazis. As Nazi racial laws further defined "racial pollution," the Gypsies found themselves stigmatized as a foreign element potentially dangerous to the Aryan racial utopia. Of particular interest is Lewy's analysis of how some Gypsies managed to survive by being classified as "socially adjusted," meaning they had jobs and permanent residence, and therefore could avoid deportation (although not sterilization). Based on solid archival sources, this should become the standard work on the subject. Recommended for most public and academic libraries.--Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Gypsies, by their very nature, affronted the principles of social order, hard work and racial purity espoused by the Nazis. Lewy, in his well researched, comprehensive study, traces the evolution of Nazi policies from one of general disinterest when Hitler first came to power to one concerned with "social conduct" as evidenced by Gypsies "itinerant" and "workshy" lifestyle. Only later, Lewy shows, did Nazi policy, reflecting an obsession with racial purity, promulgate sterilization and incarnation.
But even then, although there were deportations to concentration camps from which no one was expected to return, there was no "final solution" for gypsies analogous to the systematic extermination of the Jews. This was so, in part, because the gypsies were protected by Himmler's belief that Gypsies were descendants (or at least closely related) of a very early Indo-Germanic people and as such should to be allowed "a certain freedom of movement, so that they can itinerate in a fixed area, live according to their customs and mores and follow an appropriate traditional occupation."
Because of this perceived Aryan origin, "pure" Gypsies could, in Himmler's mind, be considered potentially valuable as an addition to the German blood pool and thus deserving of some protection. Mixed blood (mischlinge) Gypsies, however, were given no special consideration.
Basically, because there was a gradual radicalization of Nazi policy toward the Gypsies, because the actual number of Gypsy victims cannot be accurately determined, and because it is impossible to demonstrate the existence of "a priori program to destroy the Gypsies," Lewy breaks ranks with many historians, especially those in the Gypsy community, in his refusal to use the terms "genocide" or "holocaust" in relation to the horrendous losses of life experienced by the Gypsies under the Nazis. Lewy believes that although the Gypsies were sent to concentration camps for stays of unlimited duration and although they experienced very high death rates, there was no program or policy of systematic destruction of Gypsies in place.
Lewy, a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, has written a reasoned, academic overview of the often historically neglected Nazi persecution of the Gypsies. The book is very accessible to the general reader, filled with poignant details of individual and community struggles with the growing Nazi terror.
Foreword (January)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195142402
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 594,407
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Guenter Lewy is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of many books, including The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany and Religion and Revolution (OUP). He lives in Washington, D.C.

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