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Photo of Deportation of Sinti People in Asperg, Germany

Sinti people marched through the town during a deportation to Poland

After taking power in 1933, Nazi authorities increasingly persecuted Roma and Sinti1 and excluded them from the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Police in Germany began more strict enforcement of pre-Nazi laws against Romani people. Discriminatory policies were often framed as necessary crime prevention measures2 because widespread stereotypes held that Roma and Sinti were likely to be criminals, disloyal citizens, or spies. Nazi ideas about race and biology soon added increasingly radical and deadly dimensions to the regime's anti-Romani measures.3

With the outbreak of World War II, Nazi authorities found opportunities to deport groups that they wanted to exclude from the Nazis’ so-called “national community.” Shortly after the German invasion of Poland4 in September 1939, Nazi authorities began organizing the regime’s first efforts to deport Jewish people from Germany to occupied Poland. Nazi leaders also began discussing plans to deport the entire Roma and Sinti population of Nazi Germany—estimated to be around 30,000 people at the time.

In April 1940, Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) leader Reinhard Heydrich issued guidelines for the arrest and deportation of 2,500 so-called “Zigeuner” (“Gypsies”)5 from Germany’s western border regions to German-occupied Poland.6 Roma and Sinti in Germany’s western regions were arrested and imprisoned if they could not prove that an exception should be made for them.7 The majority of those who were arrested for deportation were German Sinti—many of whom had been fully integrated members of their communities for generations.8

The featured photograph, captured by an unknown photographer, shows police supervising the deportation of Sinti people they had gathered in the German town of Asperg in May 1940. Police arrested roughly 500 Sinti and brought them to the Hohenasperg prison on the edge of town. In late May 1940, German police forced them to march from Hohenasperg through the town before loading them onto trains bound for German-occupied Poland.9 This photograph shows local Order Police officers keeping Sinti people to one side of the street as they force them to walk from the prison to the train station. Groups of what appear to be local residents of Asperg watch from the other side of the street. These deportations of German Sinti people in May 1940—like the more systematic mass deportations of Jewish people in the years to come—took place in public streets and squares where civilian witnesses could easily observe what was happening.10

While they were expected to carry out the deportations, German police and other local officials did not always know which people Nazi leaders expected them to target. Some people protested against their deportation on the grounds that they should not be racially classified as Roma or Sinti. A German anthropologist and eugenicist named Adolf Würth was sent to Asperg to help police classify the people they were deporting according to Nazi views on race and biology. Würth worked closely with Robert Ritter, whom Nazi authorities considered to be the regime’s leading scientific authority on the racial classification of Roma and Sinti.11

Nazi authorities and German police deported the arrested Sinti people to the part of German-occupied Poland known as the General Government.12 Their experiences varied widely, but many did not survive the deportations. Some were transported to ghettos, some were exploited for forced labor, and others were simply dumped in the middle of the Polish countryside without any food or shelter.13 Although they had been threatened with forced sterilization and imprisonment in a concentration camp if they ever tried to return to their homes, some deported Sinti people still chose to return to Germany.

Roma are a European ethnic group whose ancestry can be traced to modern-day India and Pakistan. Many Romani groups refer to themselves by different names, such as Sinti, Kalderashi, or Lalleri. Sinti are Roma with historical roots in German-speaking lands.


For a brief introduction to the experiences of Roma and Sinti during the Nazi era, see the Experiencing History collection overview for Roma and Sinti in Nazi Germany.

To learn more about the history of German police monitoring Romani people, see Leo Lucassen, "'Harmful Tramps': Police Professionalization and Gypsies in Germany, 1700-1945," Crime, Histoire & Societes 1, no. 1 (1997): 29–50.

Nazi anti-Romani prejudices included these widespread stereotypes, but the Nazis also considered Romani people to be a racial and biological threat to the strength of the Nazis’ so-called 'national community" or "Volksgemeinschaft."

Nazi authorities wanted to expel people they categorized as racial outsiders while bringing into Germany those so-called "Volksdeutsche" (ethnic Germans) living beyond Germany's borders. To learn more about the first deportations of Jews from Nazi Germany in 1939, see Christopher R. Browning, Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 5-8.

In many languages, Roma are often referred to by negative exonyms (names or labels assigned to a group or place by outsiders). The German-language word is "Zigeuner." In English, this word is "Gypsy." These words are generally considered to be ethnic or racial slurs today.

Roughly 2,800 people were actually deported. To learn more about the plans for these deportations, see Sybil Milton, "Gypsies and the Holocaust," The History Teacher 24, no. 4 (August 1991), 380–1.

Guidelines for the deportations allowed for exceptions for very old people, extremely pregnant women, or those with foreign citizenship. Foreign citizenship sometimes gave people a measure of protection from discriminatory Nazi policies. For example, see the related Experiencing History item, Police Statement from Margot Liu.

Nazi authorities tried to frame these deportations as necessary security measures to secure the rear area of German forces during the German invasion of Western Europe, but these deportations targeted Romani people based on Nazi ideas about race—not national security. Nazi leaders exploited pre-existing anti-Romani prejudices that included ideas about Romani people being criminals, disloyal citizens, or spies.

To learn more about German police during the Nazi era and the Holocaust, see the related Experiencing History collection, German Police and the Nazi Regime.

In October 1940, about six months after the deportations in Asperg, German authorities carried out one of the first deportations targeting German Jews. Nazi leaders in the province of Baden ordered more than 6,000 Jews to assemble in town squares, in full view of their neighbors and other civilians. The Jews were chased onto transports and then taken in trains to the Gurs detention camp in Nazi-allied France; most did not survive the war.

The theories of Ritter and his associates have since been discredited as unscientific and racist. The scientific basis of Ritter’s methods were even questioned by other scientists and medical professionals at the time, but the Nazi regime supported his research.

Nazi authorities intended to expel huge populations of people they categorized as racial outsiders from Germany to the General Government. This included Jewish people, Roma and Sinti, and ethnic Poles.

For Adolf Würth’s account of these deportations, see Benno Müller-Hill, Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in Germany, 1933-1945, translated by George R. Fraser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 156–62.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Accession Number R 165 Bild-244-42
Date Created
May 1940
Asperg, Germany
Still Image Type Photograph
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