Beginning in the mid-1930s, Nazi Germany concerned itself with the systematic identification of Roma. In interwar Europe, the ‘Gypsy question’ was, in fact, on many governmental agendas - not only as a matter for the police. Police trouble with Roma was, for instance, repeatedly the subject of discussion within the International Criminal Police Commission. It was easier to identify and register Jews due to the fact that records held by religious communities were readily available to the state. Contrastingly, many Romanies in Eastern Europe were nomadic at the time and did not possess identification cards. At its 1935 Copenhagen Conference, Interpol's participating states backed the initiative proposed by representatives of the SS-dominated German police force regarding the creation of ‘an international registry of Roma’ in Vienna.
As Nazi German domination spread in Europe, so did the registration and identification of Roma take its place as a first stage of the genocidal process. In 1941, the government of Nazi-satellite Croatia ordered local authorities to register ‘Gypsies’ by age, sex and geographical location. Most ended up in the Jasenovac camp. In July 1942, the civil administration of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, which oversaw the territories of modern Ukraine and Belarus, ordered the local authorities to register Roma, in order to prepare for the mass violence to come.
World War II was the largest disaster ever experienced by the civilian population of Belarus and Ukraine. More than 2.2 of 10.5 million people (both civil and military) were murdered in Belarus, exceeding the war casualties of both France and Britain combined. The population of Belarus did not return to its pre-war level until the mid-1970s. Thousands of Romanies were killed in 1941–44 by the Nazi perpetrators, Axis powers, and local auxiliary police on the spot and were almost never deported to extermination camps. While the ethnic East Slavic majority suffered massive losses, two minorities (Jews and Roma) suffered systematic annihilation by the Nazis. The mass killings of Roma and Jews, recognized as genocide by the international community, differs in nature from the mass murder of other sectors of the population. The notion of genocide has a strictly defined legal meaning. The key notion for a legal evaluation of the genocidal nature of mass crimes is intent. The systematic extermination of Roma and Jews by the Nazis is substantiated by a higher number of victims within the entire ethnic community. While the persecution of the Roma in Nazi-dominated Western Europe has been subject to great scholarly attention, the Nazi genocide of Soviet Roma is still an under-studied field of research. This study focuses on the identification and registration of Romanies taken in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine and Belarus and the role of census takers. The influence of pre-war Soviet governance that predicated the situation within the Romani community during the war must also be considered when looking for an explanation of the genocide. As Bernhard Chiari pointed out, in order to understand the Nazi occupational policy, we have to look more carefully at the pre-war ethnic structure and population changes in Belarusian and Ukrainian territories.
By 2014, 113 sites of mass extermination of Romanies were identified on the territory of the Ukraine and 27 locations in Belarus. However, due to the lack of reliable statistics, it is not possible to give an exact number of the victims of the genocide. The general number of the Romani victims of the Nazi genocide across the whole of Europe vary greatly from 96,000 to 500,000. Of them, according to the previous research, about 30,000 were murdered on the territory of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus: around 20,000 of them perished within current Ukrainian borders; about 3,000 in Belarus; and approximately 6,500 in northwestern Russia and the Russian Caucasus. As Mikhail Tyaglyy noted, these estimates are approximate, for they are based solely upon available archival records and often do not include nomadic Roma. In order to clarify this question, this study will take on the issue of how many Roma were on the territory of Belarus and Ukraine prior to the Nazi occupation and how many of them survived the genocide.
Overarching research questions of this study are as follows:
Was there continuity between the governmental registration of Romanies in interwar and wartime Belarus and Ukraine?
How many Roma were on the territory of Soviet Belarus and Ukraine by 1941?
How many Roma were murdered in the Nazi genocide in the Ukraine and Belarus?
What governmental factors created during the Soviet period were then crucial for the death or survival of Roma under Nazi occupation?
Why did the Nazi registration not proceed smoothly and allow for part of the Roma to survive the genocide?
Paris, 2016. Vol. 56-57, 194-215 p.