The Roma people, which includes groups such as Roma, Sinti, and Lalleri, and often collectively referred to as "Gypsies" (note: "Gypsy" is widely considered a derogatory term), suffered extreme persecution by the Nazis and their collaborators. It's difficult to estimate the number of Roma victims. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 220,000 people of Roma descent - or around 25% of Europe's Roma population - were murdered in the Holocaust. Yet the German government did not recognize the Roma as victims of Nazism until 1979. Even today, the Roma are often excluded from Holocaust commemoration and Holocaust education.
In the 1930s, the Nazis labeled Roma as racially inferior. The eugenics-based ideology of Nazism led Hitler's government to sterilize parts of the Roma population. Roma were imprisoned in family encampments and concentration camps, and used as forced laborers. In the East, the Nazis' Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) rounded up Roma communities and shot them into mass graves, along with Jews. Once the war was underway, the Nazis and their collaborators deported Roma people from across Europe into the vast system of Nazi camps where whole Roma communities were murdered through systematic starvation or in gas chambers.
Explore a photography exhibit that introduces understudied stories of Roma Holocaust survivors. 6 minutes
For 12 years, Dr. Michelle Kelso, an American sociologist and filmmaker, traveled through Romania collecting the life stories of Roma Holocaust survivors. "It hasn't been easy, as many of them are afraid to talk about their experience," Kelso says. "I wanted to capture the story before there was no one left to tell it." Kelso developed a unique approach to the collection of Roma survivor testimonies. What Kelso captured on film was unexpected.