PBS documentary on genocide against the Roma
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 2 10:22:18 MDT 2003
NY Times, Aug. 2, 2003
TV REVIEW | 'PORRAIMOS'
Documentary Recalls Half Million Murdered
By SCOTT VEALE
Among Gypsies it is known as the Porraimos, or "the devouring." From 1938
to 1945, more than half a million Gypsies were murdered by the Nazis, along
with six million Jews and many others singled out for extermination. The
little-examined Gypsy Shoah is the subject of "Porraimos: Europe's Gypsies
in the Holocaust," a nightmarish documentary to be shown tomorrow night on PBS.
The Gypsies, often called Roma or Sinti, are believed to have migrated
westward from India about A.D. 900. Most eventually settled in Europe,
especially in the East, where their nomadic ways, dark skin, insular
culture and strange customs made them targets for discrimination. (Even
today, poverty and prejudice continue to plague Gypsies throughout Europe.)
Early in the hourlong film, there are tantalizing glimpses of Gypsy history
and culture, but the focus quickly shifts to their oppression by the Nazis.
Starting in the mid-1930's, the Nazis began to round up Gypsies, who were
often horse traders, musicians, circus performers and street vendors. (One
witness describes being sent out at 9 to sell baskets of clothespins.) They
were deported to internment camps, which became field laboratories for Nazi
eugenicists. The Hitler regime, having determined that Jews, Gypsies and
the disabled had "lives unworthy of life," as the documentary puts it, set
out to prove that "racially mixed Gypsies were especially prone to asocial
and criminal behavior."
The Nazi government's Research Center for Racial Hygiene and Population
Biology sent its researchers into the Gypsy camps to draw blood, measure
body parts, take photographs and create elaborate genealogies for some
30,000 people. The photographs are chilling, as are the choppy film clips
of Gypsy children at play in the camp. In the end, the researchers
recommended that the Gypsies be forcibly sterilized and deported to
Families were arrested, often split apart and sent to camps like
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald, where they were numbered,
shaved and forced to strip (an especially painful humiliation in a culture
with a strict sexual code that emphasized modesty).
The horrors of the camps unfold mainly through the testimonies of a
half-dozen Czech, German and Austrian survivors, whose memories are all the
more shocking for their matter-of-fact delivery: one woman, describing the
group bathing of prisoners in a pond at the camp where she was sent,
recalls that children who could not swim were allowed to drown, and that
those who survived were later forced to collect firewood for the burning of
Gypsy children, in addition to the threats posed by starvation, disease and
gassing at the camps, were also subjected to ghastly medical experiments.
One witness says her pregnant mother was allowed to give birth to her and
her twin sister only on the condition that the newborns be signed over to
Nazi race biologists and that her mother be sterilized immediately after.
The witness recalls losing her sister to grisly testing at a genetics
clinic before narrowly escaping herself. (She later suffered blackouts and
discovered an unexplained scar on her head.)
At the Gypsy camp at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who
was fascinated by Gypsies, himself performed tests on the young, many of
them twins. He was said to be obsessed with blue eyes; among other things,
Nazi scientists experimented with dyeing Gypsy eyes an Aryan blue.
The most gripping testimony comes from Dina Gottliebova, a Jewish artist,
who begins by describing her fleeting encounters with Gypsies and their
caravans as a young girl in rural Czechoslovakia. She later recalls how she
was recruited to paint the Gypsy children's barracks at Auschwitz with
cheery scenes of Alpine meadows and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Later an SS doctor ordered her to paint portraits of Gypsy prisoners for
Mengele while he measured and tested his subjects. The portraits shown in
the film are sad, proud and especially in one case, that of a very young
boy profoundly angry. That was her last painting, it turns out: the
thousands of Gypsies at Auschwitz were exterminated soon after, in August
1944. Ms. Gottliebova was spared, along with 10 sets of twins, a doctor and
two nurses, who were all put on a list by Mengele to remain at the camp.
All of these personal accounts of struggle and survival are accompanied by
stark black-and-white still photography and film clips taken by the Nazis,
as well as by piercing, Gypsy-flavored violin music performed by Robert
Inevitably, perhaps, the narrative feels overly compressed at times, but as
an overview of a monstrous but little-known tragedy, the documentary adds
another whole layer to the evil of the Holocaust.
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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