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Porraimos: Europe’s Gypsies in the Holocaust

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Alexandra M. Isles
Directed by Alexandra M. Isles
VHS, color and b&, 57 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Reviewed by Karen Plummer, Cataloging Department, Bierce Library, University of Akron, Akron, OH

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended    ALA
Date Entered: 6/9/2004

The fate of Europe’s Gypsy population during World War II is as devastating as the fate of the Jews. It is estimated that over 600,000 Gypsies (Roma and Sinti) were killed between 1938 and 1945. The Jews call this time “Shoah,” the Hebrew word for Holocaust. The Gypsies have their own term: “Porraimos,” the Romani word meaning “the devouring.”

The Gypsies never had an easy life. They lived a nomadic existence, moving from town to town during fine weather, settling in some town for the cold winter, and trying to keep their families alive. Living in wagons resembling houses on wheels, the Gypsies raised their large families and everyone in the family contributed to the family’s well-being.

As the Germans took over Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other Eastern European countries, the Gypsies were limited in their movements and restricted in their activities. Many were confined to internment camps. The initial internment camps became centers of eugenics experiments as the Germans attempted to prove that Gypsies were “genetically prone to criminal and asocial behavior.” One of the doctors (Dr. Ritter) and his assistants went into the camps and took pictures, took physical measurements, gathered histories, and established genealogies of the Gypsies, all to support the conclusion that the Gypsies were less than human. The resulting report to Berlin generated an order for mass sterilization of the Gypsies.

In time, the Gypsies were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. One of the camps was Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, and its Gypsy Family Camp. Many of the Gypsy children were immediately taken for medical experiments by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. The humiliations and brutality of the camps is described in heart-rending detail.

One of the few films dealing with the Gypsy experience, this film is a critical addition to any Holocaust collection. Featuring first-hand accounts of life before and during the Holocaust, the survivors’ stories are both touching as they describe life with their families before the war, and gruesome as they describe the horrendous conditions faced in the camps. This film would be appropriate for middle grades/junior high students through adult. Highly recommended