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Monday, July 03, 2006

Dr. Robert Ritter and the Roma

Well, it seems that everyone who once visited my blog has either gone on vacation, given up on me, or simply died :-) The silver lining to this cloud, is that today I can post an old blog entry from a year ago and no one will notice ...

- An 1852 Wallachian poster advertising an auction of Roma slaves.

Dr. Robert Ritter and the Roma - Saturday, June 18, 2005

During the last week, I've visited blogs with discussions of the movie The Passion of the Christ. One question often asked was why anyone would want to focus on the negative part of Jesus' life - the suffering and the dying - instead of the positive - his teachings, the resurrection. Human nature being what it is, we're capable of both the very good and the very bad. To focus on the good gives us courage and hope. But we cannot look away from the bad, even though it makes us uncomfortable. To resist the evil that can befall, we first have to acknowledge it exists ... one example of such an evil is Dr. Robert Ritter and The Devouring he helped to create ...

- Ritter

Ritter was a psychiatrist and a "racial scientist" who worked for the Nazi regime ... his purpose was to produce justification for the isolation and destruction of the Roma/Sinti (Gypsy) population. His efforts were instrumental to the Porajmos ... literally "the Devouring" ... their planned extermination.

Before I write more of Ritter and his genocidal work, let me say a few words about the Roma people ... more commonly known as "Gypsies". The Roma (and the closely related Sinti), who can nowdays be found in America and most of Europe, were a nomadic people originating in an area of northern India,. Their migration began around the year 1000AD, and they spread throughout Europe over the next five to six centuries. The cultures through which the Roma/Sinti traveled were often wary of them ... they were thought to be theives, occultists, kidnappers ... and there were efforts to either forcibly assimilate them or, more often, eradicate them. An example ...

... A practice of "Gypsy hunting" was quite common - a game hunt very similar to fox hunting. Even as late as 1835, there was a Gypsy hunt in Jutland (Denmark) that "brought in a bag of over 260 men, women and children" ...
- Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon, The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1972)

- a Gypsy being arrested -

Persecution of the Roma was common throughout Europe but not really institutionalized until the 20th century under the Third Reich. Now we can get back to Robet Ritter. With Germany's hunger for "racial purity", the Roma posed a thorny problem ... as descendants of the ancient Aryan invaders of India, they were in theory as pure as any German. But Nazi racialist, Hans Günther, proposed that the blood of the Roma had been tainted by their intermingling with "inferior racees" during their migrations.

The Racial Hygiene and Population Biology Research Unit was established in 1936 and headed by Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant Eva Justin. The purpose of the unit was to conduct an in-depth study of the "Gypsy problem" ... essentially to find a connection between Roam heredity and criminality ... and to make recommendations accordingly. Interviews and physical examinations were exhaustive. Ritter's closest associate, Eva Justin, conducted research on Gypsy children raised apart from their families. At the conclusion of her study, these children were deported to Auschwitz, where all but a few were killed.

We had to sit on a chair one after the other, and Dr. Ritter compared the eyes of the children and questioned them; his colleague noted everything down. We had to open our mouths and our jaws were measured with a strange instrument, then our nostrils, the roots of the nose, the distance between the eyes, eye color, eyebrows, ears inside and out, the nape of the neck, the throat, our hands - every single thing there was to measure.
- Josef Reinhardt as quoted in Romani Rose, The Nazi Genocide of the Sinti and Roma (Heidelberg: Documentary and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, 1995)

In 1940, Ritter decided that the Gypsies were a "primitive" people, incapable of adapting to normal cvilized life. His research showed, he said, that 90% of Gypsies were of tainted blood and that one could be considered in this group if they had one or two Gypsies among their grandparents or if two or more of their grandparents were part-Gypsy.

The Gypsy question can only be solved when the main body of asocial and good-for-nothing Gypsy individuals of mixed blood is collected together in large labour camps and kept working there, and when the further breeding of this population is stopped once and for all.
- Quote from Ritter, in a January 1940 progress report. [page 260,. The Gypsies, by Angus Fraser, Blackwell, Oxford UK & Cambridge USA, '92]

On November 15, 1943, Himmler ordered that Gypsies and "part-Gypsies" were to be put ... on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.

- Gypsy arrivals in the Belzec death camp await instructions -

I myself lost about thirty relatives in Auschwitz. Both of my grandmothers died there. An aunt with ten children was there. Only two children survived. Another aunt with five children was also in Auschwitz. None of them survived the camp. Another aunt was gassed at the very end. My father literally starved to death within the first several months. My older sister contracted typhus and died from it in 1943. Naturally her malnutrition and hunger played a great role. Then my brother died, my youngest brother. He was 13 years old. He had to carry heavy rocks until he became emaciated down to a skeleton. My mother died several months afterwards. They all starved.
- Elisabeth Guttenberger as quoted in State Museum, Memorial 1498.

Historians estimate that by the time the Nazi regime fell, Germany and its allies had killed between 25 and 50 percent of all European Roma ... of the approximately one million Roma living in Europe before the war, up to 220,000 were dead.

After the war, Dr. Robert Ritter gave up his research to the Bavarian criminal police, who continues harrassing the Roma. From late 1944 through 1946, Ritter taught criminal biology at the University of Tübingen. In 1947 he joined the Frankfurt Health Office as a children's physician. While there, he employed Eva Justin as a psychologist. Efforts to bring him to trial for his part in the Roma genocide ended when he committed suicide in 1950.

Though Robert Ritter and the Nazis are gone, life can still be hard for the Roma. According to Wikipedia ...

To this day, there are still clashes between the Roma and the sedentary population around them. Common complaints are that Roma steal and live off social welfare and residents often reject Roma encampments. Where possible, many Roma continue their nomadic lifestyle travelling in caravans (small trailer homes), but in many situations in Eastern Europe, they live in depressed squatter communities with very high unemployment.

- Irish Travelers and their caravans in England -


I ended up researching this topic thanks to the discussions on blogs about The Passion of the Christ ... someone there mentioned the Roma ... though I can't change what happened to the Roma/Sinti, I can witness it and name it wrong.

Timeline of Roma History

Get more info at the RomaNews Society

For more information on Irish Travellers", see Wikipedia

Check out The Voice of Roma


Anonymous Mike L said...

Nope, a few of us are still around to make sure that you toe the mark :-).

Sad to say, I was not aware of the Nazi persucution of the Roma, although it doesn't surprise me very much.

Research among primates seems to show that we are tribal creatures, and first priority among primates seems to be the tribe. If one is not a member of the tribe, one is suspect and to be treated as an inferior at best, an arch-enemy to be destroyed at the worst. Like most things in human culture, nothing is absolute, and one certainly finds excptions to this policy, but such an exception has often led to martydom.

When I first thought about such a trait I thought that certainly it must be wrong. Then I looked at the Irish -North and South, the Palestine/Jewish conflict, the problems in the Balkans, New Yorker vs. Georgia resident, White/Black, Lakoda/Ute, French/English, and so many more, and that trait seems to be the only reasonable explanation.

And now I think that we are starting to hear the cultual war drums beating between Christian and Islam. Of course the Christian will blame the Islamic people, and the Islamic people will blame the Christian. But few will stand up and say both cultures are trying to better their people, both cultures are part of God's creation, both have something to offer the other. And anyone that sees similarities will be shouted down by those that see only the differences.

Of course, it may simply be that humans need violent entertainment.

Love and Hugs,

Mike L

2:29 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Lol, I'm still here, too. I'm just a dang lazy commenter. :)

3:50 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Mike, thanks for the comment :-) I've read that about primates too - kind of chilling. There are always instances, here and there, of people who manage to rise above the instinctual lowest common denominator, though, and that gives me hope.

Hi Gabriele :-) - I'm glad you're still around.

7:00 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Crystal, I am one of your silent readers at least of late. I learned a lot from your well-researched piece on the genocide of the Roma people by the Nazis. Thank you for that. I hope you do more posts like this one.

I agree with you about evil. We can't be afraid to call evil by its rightful name. We can't afford to sugar-coat evil with neutral sounding terms. We need to remain on guard for the first signs of evil so that we can nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand and turns into a monster like the Nazis.

Good blog!

8:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks SusieQ, for the comment and the kind words :-)

9:06 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

I visit daily (just check your site meter):P, but sometimes I am too tired to comment.:-).
This post is interesting and is good that you re-posted.:-)

11:47 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Paula :-)

6:48 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...


This was a very interesting post. Thanks for the info. I'd heard about Dr. Mengele, and Heydrich,and some of the other SS fanatics, but I had never before heard of this Dr. Ritter and his obsession on getting rid of the Gypsies.

Interesting backgound of the Roma... Are the Irish travelers, or "Tinkers", related to them too? At the very least, these mysterious people have given us the gift of flamenco music and dance, and you can really see and hear the influence of the Indian sub-continent there. They also are well represented among the best toreros in Spanish history, including the one who may have been the greatest - Juan Belmonte.

As for the stereotype on thievery, I do have to say this - If you ever spend much time traveling outside in the cities of Spain and Italy, and you don't have yout street-smarts about you, the Gypsies will try to steal from you. Attempts were made on me in both countries. How surprising should this be, however, in societies that have almost closed them out completely, and treat them with pariah status, with little hope of ever finding meaningful, productive work?

2:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jeff, Wikipedia says this about the Irish Travellers origins ...

The historical origins of Travellers as a group has been a subject of dispute. Some argue that the Irish Travellers are descended from another nomadic people called the Tarish. It was once widely believed that Travellers were descended from landowners who were made homeless in Oliver Cromwell's military campaign in Ireland, but evidence shows that they have dwelt in Ireland since at least the Middle Ages.

3:54 PM  

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