Nazi hatred brought pain and death to Gypsies

Chapter 22

By JOYCE APSEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2000


Hannes Weiss was born in 1930, making him one year younger than Anne Frank, andhis family was discriminated against because they were Gypsies (Caucasoid people who are generally dark-skinned, dark-haired and found throughout the world). He commentson how he and his family were treated as non-Aryans by the Nazis:

"It was different back then. People would yell, "Black Gypsy, dirty Gypsy.' Terrible! Then the doctors came. I was just a kid. They examined us: studied how you walked, measured everything, just so they could determine what a Gypsy was. We didn't know what it was all about.

"Later on we did: All the Gypsies had to be killed. Mother and father were terrified. That's when they left Germany.

"There was a big razzia (raid), and many of our family members were picked up and taken to Auschwitz. We escaped and went into hiding. Then there was another razzia. We hid under the floorboards, and they shot right through the floor.

"Then we took to the road. We were just like nocturnal animals: walking all night and hiding during the daytime.

"We went into hiding, but we were betrayed. People would do anything for money. We were taken by train to camp Westerbork (where Anne Frank, her family and the others hiding in the annex were taken in southern Holland before being transported to Auschwitz). While we were standing on the train platform the policeman who was guarding us said, "When I take my hat off, run!' I guess you realize that we didn't wait for the hat. We were off in a flash!"

Throughout history, Gypsies have been discriminated against in Europe. By one estimate there were around 900,000 Gypsies in Europe in 1939, and around 35,000 lived in Germany and Austria; most were in southeastern Europe. The Nazis viewed Gypsies the way they did Jews and Africans: as an inferior race. They began discriminating against Gypsies early on, planning to destroy them.

In 1933, a group of Gypsies was forcibly sterilized and, though they were not named in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, they were also forbidden to marry Aryans and were stripped of their civil and political rights. Gypsies living in Germany were rounded up and put into concentration camps from 1933 on.

The Nazi fascination with the Gypsies, as with the Jews, resulted in a series of scientific experiments being performed on them. Nazi doctors such as Robert Ritter conducted racial and biological research studies and later Josef Mengele and other doctors performed gruesome medical experiments on these people.

Many Gypsies died at the hands of the mobile killing squads that accompanied the German Army in Eastern Europe after 1939; later, gypsies were transported to extermination centers. It is estimated that between 250,000 to 500,000 gypsies were killed by the Nazis during World War II, targets of the Nazi extermination policy.

Hannes Weiss points out that today, "It has been more than 50 years since the war, but there's still discrimination. The Nazis tried to annihilate our people. I want to do everything I can to keep us alive."

Hannes Weiss survived the war, but many family members did not. He lives inHolland and has organized an association for gypsies.

Questions for discussion in class or at home

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Dr. Joyce Apsel lectures nationally on Anne Frank, genocide and human rights. She teaches at New York University. Please address questions or comments about this series to: Floridian, Anne Frank and Human Rights, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail Floridian@sptimes.com.

On exhibit

"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA. Exhibit sponsors include the Eckerd Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Martin, Jr., the Sembler Family and the state of Florida.

Holocaust survivors to speak of journal writing

Survivors of the Holocaust will speak at five Barnes & Noble bookstores in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties March 11 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Using The Diary of Anne Frank and information from the exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum "Anne Frank: A History for Today," speakers will share their survival experiences and talk about the importance of journal writing.

The presentations, part of the St. Petersburg Times Newspaper in Education Day, will begin at noon, followed by a question and answer session. Certificates of achievement will be awarded to everyone who brings a journal to the event; there will also be a prize drawing at each location.

A percentage of sales will be donated to the St. Petersburg Times NIE Department to supply newspapers to classroom in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Citrus and Hernando counties. The five participating Barnes & Noble locations are 2501 Tyrone Blvd. N, St. Petersburg; 23654 U.S. Hwy. 19 N, Clearwater; 213 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; 11802 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; 122 Brandon Town Center Drive, Brandon.

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