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Persecution of Sinti and Roma

On 16th May, 1944, there was a big raid across the Netherlands. 578 Sinti and Roma people were arrested and deported to Westerbork.  

Before the outbreak of World War II there were about 4 500 Sinti and Roma people travelling throughout the Netherlands with their violin orchestras and merchandise. During the war they had to live in large caravan camps as they had been banned from travelling around with their caravans and wagons. In fear of deportation, several dozen Sinti and Roma went to live in houses.

On Sunday 14th May, 1944, five regional heads of police in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Arnhem and Groningen received a telegram from the head of the German Security Police. The telegram ordered that on Tuesday 16th May, at 07.00am, the police were to arrest all Gypsies living in the Netherlands. ‘Gypsies’ were defined as ‘all people who, by virtue of their appearance, customs and traditions as Gypsies, or Gypsy half-blood or those on the fringes who lived the wandering life of a Gypsy.’ 

All Sinti and Roma families had to be brought to Westerbork.Hhowever, at Westerbork it became clear that the Dutch police had interpreted the term ‘gypsy’ too broadly. Approximately 200 people who arrived actually were not Sinti or Roma, but nomads. They were released shortly after arrival. Over 50 Sinti and Roma people also had a passport from a neutral or allied country. They also were allowed to leave. The nearly 250 remaining Sinti and Roma were housed in the criminal section of camp Westerbork. They were guarded there for three days by the Jewish supervisory service (OD) of the camp.

On 19th May, 1944, 245 Sinti and Roma were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz-Birkenau camps.The departure of this transport was filmed by camp prisoner Rudolf Breslauer. The film clip is seven seconds long and shows a long-shot of a line of goods wagons. On 22nd May, 1944, the Sinti and Roma arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were housed in a special 'Zigeunerlager', a section of Birkenau which in that period housed more than 22 000 Sinti and Roma prisoners. In late July 1944, the 'Zigeunerlager' was evacuated. The Sinti and Roma who could still work were transferred to other camps. Those remaining were killed. Of the 245 Sinti and Roma deported from Westerbork, only 30 survived the war.

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Route descriptions

How do you reach Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork? Click here to learn more about transport options and accessibility.

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