The Roma Struggle for Compensation in Post-war Germany

Thirty years passed before it was accepted, in West Germany and elsewhere, that the Roma (Germany's Gypsies) had been Holocaust victims. And, similarly, it took thirty years for the West German state to admit that the sterilisation of Roma had been part of the 'Final Solution'. Drawing on a substantial body of previously unseen sources, this book examines the history of the struggle of Roma for recognition as racially persecuted victims of National Socialism in post-war Germany. Since modern academics belatedly began to take an interest in them, the Roma have been described as 'forgotten victims'. This book looks at the period in West Germany between the end of the War and the beginning of the Roma civil rights movement in the early 1980s, during which the Roma were largely passed over when it came to compensation. The complex reasons for this are at the heart of this book. In looking at how the West German compensation process for victims of racial, religious and political persecution affected Roma, Dr von dem Knesebeck shows not only how the Roma were treated but also how they themselves perceived the process. The case of the Roma reveals how the West German administrative and legal apparatus defined and classified National Socialist injustice, and in particular where pejorative attitudes were allowed to continue unchallenged. The main obstacle for Roma seeking compensation was the question, unresolved for many years, of whether National Socialist policies against Roma had been racially motivated as opposed to having been mere policing measures. The National Socialists' view that Roma were essentially 'asocial', 'workshy' and criminal was shared by many Germans after the war, including some of those responsible for compensation. Rather than following a simple linear progression from refusal to recognition, the struggle for compensation went through several distinct stages. Paradoxically, success in claiming compensation was built largely on the Roma's claim to be an ethnic minority. The Roma had to prove that they were a 'race' which had been subjected to National Socialist persecution, in spite of their invariably depicting themselves as German in autobiographic material. The author presents, for the first time, a full account of the changing perception of the persecution of the Roma, and of the means by which compensation was eventually achieved.