The Romani genocide or Romani Holocaust, also known as the Porajmos (Romani pronunciation: IPA: [pʰoɽajˈmos]), Pharrajimos ("Cutting up", "Fragmentation", "Destruction"), or Samudaripen ("Mass killing"), was the planned and attempted effort, often described as a genocide, during World War II by the government of Nazi Germany and its allies to exterminate the Romani (Gypsy) people of Europe. Under the rule of Adolf Hitler, a supplementary decree to the Nuremberg Laws was issued on 26 November 1935, defining Gypsies as "enemies of the race-based state", the same category as Jews. Thus, the fate of Roma in Europe in some ways paralleled that of the Jews. Historians estimate that 220,000 to 500,000 Romani were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators, or more than 25% of the slightly fewer than 1 million Roma in Europe at the time. Ian Hancock puts the death toll as high as 1.5 million. In 1982, West Germany formally recognized that genocide had been committed against the Romani. In 2011 the Polish Government passed a resolution for the official recognition of 2 August as a day of commemoration of the genocide.
The term porajmos (also porrajmos or pharrajimos—literally, "devouring" or "destruction" in some dialects of the Romani language) was introduced by Ian Hancock, in the early 1990s. Hancock chose the term, coined by a Kalderash Rom, from a number of suggestions in an "informal conversation in 1993".
The term is used mostly by activists and is unknown to most Roma, including relatives of victims and survivors. Some Russian and Balkan Romani activists protest against using the word porajmos. In various dialects, porajmos is synonymous with poravipe which means "violation" and "rape", a term which some Roma consider to be offensive. János Bársony and Ágnes Daróczi, pioneering organisers of the Romani civil rights movement in Hungary, prefer the Pharrajimos, a Romani word meaning "cutting up", "fragmentation", "destruction". They argue against using porrajmos, saying it is marhime (unclean, untouchable): "[p]orrajmos is unpronounceable in the Roma community, and thus is incapable of conveying the sufferings of the Roma".
Balkan Romani activists prefer the term samudaripen ("mass killing"), first introduced by linguist Marcel Courthiade. Hancock dismisses this word, arguing that it does not conform to Romani language morphology. Some Ruska Roma activists offer the term Kali Traš ("Black Fear"). Another alternative that has been used is Berša Bibahtale ("The Unhappy Years"). Lastly, adapted borrowings such as Holokosto, Holokausto, etc. are also occasionally used in the Romani language.
Linguistically, the term porajmos is composed of the verb root porrav- and the abstract-forming nominal ending -imos. This ending is of the Vlax Romani dialect, whereas other varieties generally use -ibe(n) or -ipe(n). For the verb itself, the most commonly given meaning is "to open/stretch wide" or "to rip open", whereas the meaning "to open up the mouth, devour" occurs in fewer varieties.
Romani discrimination before 1933
The emergence of scientific racism
In the late 19th century, the emergence of scientific racism and Social Darwinism, linking social differences to racial differences, provided the German public justifications for prejudices against Jews and Romani. During this time, "the concept of race was systematically employed to explain social phenomena." This approach validated the idea that races were not variations of a single species of man and instead were of distinctly different biological origin. It established a purportedly scientifically backed racial hierarchy, which defined certain minority groups as other on the basis of biology.
In addition to racial pseudo-science, the end of the 19th century was a period of state-sponsored modernization in Germany. Industrial development altered many aspects of society. Most notably, the period shifted social norms of work and life. For Roma, this meant a denial of their traditional way of life as craftsmen and artisans. János Bársony notes that "industrial development devalued their services as craftsmen, resulting in the disintegration of their communities and social marginalization."
Persecution under the German Empire and Weimar Republic
The developments of racial pseudo-science and modernization resulted in anti-Romani state interventions, carried out by the German Empire and Weimar Republic. In 1899, the Imperial Police Headquarters in Munich established the Information Services on Romani by the Security Police. Its purpose was to keep records (identification cards, fingerprints, photographs, etc.) and continuous surveillance on the Roma community. Roma in the Weimar Republic were forbidden from entering public swimming pools, parks, and other recreational areas, and depicted throughout Germany and Europe as criminals and spies.
The 1926 "Law for the Fight Against Gypsies, Vagrants and the Workshy" was enforced in Bavaria, becoming the national norm by 1929. It stipulated that groups identifying as 'Gypsies' avoid all travel to the region. Those already living in the area were to "be kept under control so that there [was] no longer anything to fear from them with regard to safety in the land." They were forbidden from "roam[ing] about or camp[ing] in bands," and those "unable to prove regular employment" risked being sent to forced labor for up to two years. Herbet Heuss notes that "[t]his Bavarian law became the model for other German states and even for neighbouring countries." The demand for Roma to give up their nomadic ways and settle in a specific region was often the focus of anti-Romani policy both of the German Empire and Weimar Republic. Once settled, communities were concentrated and isolated in one area within a town or city. This process facilitated state-run surveillance practices and 'crime prevention.'
Following passage of the Law for the Fight Against Gypsies, Vagrants and the Workshy, public policy increasingly targeted the Roma on the explicit basis of race. In 1927, Prussia passed a law that required all Roma to carry identity cards. Eight thousand Roma were processed this way and subjected to mandatory fingerprinting and photographing. Two years later, the focus became more explicit. In 1929, the German state of Hessen proposed the 'Law for the Fight Against the Gypsy Menace.' The same year the Centre for the Fight Against Gypsies in Germany was opened. This body enforced restrictions on travel for undocumented Roma and "allowed for the arbitrary arrest and detention of gypsies as a means of crime prevention."
Aryan racial purity
For centuries, Romani tribes had been subject to antiziganist persecution and humiliation in Europe. They were stigmatized as habitual criminals, social misfits, and vagabonds. When Hitler took power in 1933, anti-Gypsy laws in Germany remained in effect. Under the "Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals" of November 1933, the police arrested many Gypsies with others the Nazis viewed as "asocial" — prostitutes, beggars, homeless vagrants, and alcoholics, and imprisoned them in internment camps.
After Hitler's rise to power, legislation against the Romani was increasingly based upon a rhetoric of racism. Policy originally based on the premise of "fighting crime" was redirected to "fighting a people." Targeted groups were no longer determined by juridical grounds. Instead, they were victims of racialized policy.
The Nazis established the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit (Rassenhygienische und Bevölkerungsbiologische Forschungsstelle, Department L3 of the Reich Department of Health) in 1936. Headed by Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant Eva Justin, this Unit was mandated to conduct an in-depth study of the "Gypsy question (Zigeunerfrage)" and to provide data required for formulating a new Reich "Gypsy law". After extensive fieldwork in the spring of 1936, consisting of interviews and medical examinations to determine the racial classification of the Roma, the Unit determined that most Romani, whom they had concluded were not of "pure Gypsy blood", posed a danger to German racial purity and should be deported or eliminated. No decision was made regarding the remainder (about 10 percent of the total Romani population of Europe), primarily Sinti and Lalleri tribes living in Germany. Several suggestions were made. Heinrich Himmler suggested deporting the Romani to a remote reservation, as had been done by the United States for its Native Americans, where "pure Gypsies" could continue their nomadic lifestyle unhindered. According to him:
The aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be the physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation, the prevention of miscegenation, and finally, the regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies. The necessary legal foundation can only be created through a Gypsy Law, which prevents further intermingling of blood, and which regulates all the most pressing questions which go together with the existences of Gypsies in the living space of the German nation.
Loss of citizenship
The Nuremberg race laws were passed on September 15, 1935. The first Nuremberg Law, the "Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor", forbade marriage and extramarital intercourse between Jews and Germans. The second Nuremberg law, "The Reich Citizenship Law," stripped Jews of their German citizenship. On November 26, 1935, Germany expanded the Nuremberg laws to also apply to the Roma. Romani, like Jews, lost their right to vote on March 7, 1936.
Persecution and Genocide
The Third Reich government began persecuting the Romani as early as 1936 when they began to transfer the people to municipal internment camps on the outskirts of cities, a prelude to their deportation to concentration camps. A December 1937 decree on "crime prevention" provided the pretext for major roundups of Gypsies. Nine representatives of the Romani community in Germany were asked to compile lists of "pure-blooded" Romanis to be saved from deportation, but the Germans often ignored these lists and some individuals identified on them were still sent to concentration camps. Notable internment and concentration camps include Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Marzahn (which evolved from a municipal internment camp) and Vennhausen.
Initially the Romani were herded into so called ghettos, including the Warsaw Ghetto (April–June 1942), where they formed a distinct class in relation to the Jews. Ghetto diarist Emmanuel Ringelblum speculated that Romani were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto because the Germans wanted:
... to toss into the Ghetto everything that is characteristically dirty, shabby, bizarre, of which one ought to be frightened, and which anyway has to be destroyed.
Initially there was disagreement within the Nazi circles about how to solve the "Gypsy Question". In late 1939 and early 1940, Hans Frank, the General Governor of occupied Poland, refused to accept the 30,000 German and Austrian Roma which were to be deported to his territory. Heinrich Himmler "lobbied to save a handful of pure-blooded Roma", whom he believed to be an ancient Aryan people for his "ethnic reservation", but was opposed by Martin Bormann, who favored deportation for all Roma. The debate ended in 1942 when Himmler signed the order to begin the mass deportations of Roma to Auschwitz concentration camp. During Operation Reinhard (1941–43), an undetermined number of Roma were killed in the extermination camps, such as Treblinka.
The Nazi persecution of Roma was not regionally consistent. In France, between 3,000 and 6,000 Roma were deported to German concentration camps as Dachau, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald, and other camps. Further east, in the Balkan states and the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads, travelled from village to village massacring the inhabitants where they lived and typically leaving few to no records of the number of Roma killed in this way. In a few cases, significant documentary evidence of mass murder was generated. Timothy Snyder notes that in the Soviet Union alone there were 8,000 documented cases of Roma murdered by the Einsatzgruppen in their sweep east.
In return for immunity from prosecution for war crimes, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski stated at the Einsatzgruppen Trial that "the principal task of the Einsatzgruppen of the S.D. was the annihilation of the Jews, Gypsies and Political Commissars". Roma in Slovakia were killed by the local collaborating auxiliaries. Notably, in Denmark and Greece, local populations did not participate in the hunt for Roma as they did in the Baltics. Bulgaria and Finland, although allies of Germany, did not cooperate with the Porajmos, just as they did not cooperate with the Jewish Shoah.
On December 16, 1942, Himmler ordered that the Romani candidates for extermination should be transferred from ghettos to the extermination facilities of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On November 15, 1943, Himmler ordered that Romani and "part-Romanies" were to be put "on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps". The camp authorities housed Roma in a special compound that was called the "Gypsy family camp." Some 23,000 Roma, Sinti and Lalleri were deported to Auschwitz altogether. In concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Gypsies wore brown or black triangular patches, the symbol for "asocials," or green ones, the symbol for professional criminals, and less frequently the letter "Z" (meaning Zigeuner, German word for romani people).
Sybil Milton has speculated that Hitler was involved in the decision to deport all Romani to Auschwitz, as Himmler gave the order six days after meeting with Hitler. For that meeting, Himmler had prepared a report on the subject Führer: Aufstellung wer sind Zigeuner. Organized Jewish resistance occurred in nearly every large ghetto and concentration camp (Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka, Ravensbrück, and Buchenwald, among many others), and the Roma similarly attempted to resist the Nazis' extermination. In May 1944 at Auschwitz, SS guards tried to liquidate the Gypsy Family Camp and were "met with unexpected resistance". When ordered to come out, they refused, having been warned and arming themselves with crude weapons – iron pipes, shovels, and other tools used for labor. The SS chose not to confront the Roma directly and withdrew for several months. After transferring as many as 3,000 Roma who were capable of forced labor to Auschwitz I and other concentration camps, the SS moved against the remaining 2,898 inmates on August 2. The SS killed nearly all of the remaining inmates — most of them ill, elderly men, women, or children, in the gas chambers of Birkenau. At least 19,000 of the 23,000 Roma sent to Auschwitz perished there.
The Society for Threatened Peoples estimates the Romani deaths at 277,100. Martin Gilbert estimates that a total of more than 220,000 of the 700,000 Romani in Europe were killed, including 15,000 (mainly from the Soviet Union) in Mauthausen in January–May 1945. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum cites scholars who estimate the number of Sinti and Roma killed as between 220,000 and 500,000. Dr. Sybil Milton, a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Research Institute, estimated the number of lives lost as "something between a half-million and a million-and-a-half".
Persecution in other Axis countries and occupied countries
Romani were also persecuted by the puppet regimes that cooperated with the Third Reich during the war, especially the notorious Ustaše regime in Croatia. Tens of thousands of Romani were killed in Jasenovac concentration camp, along with Serbs, Jews, and Muslims. Yad Vashem estimates that the Porajmos was most intense in Yugoslavia, where around 90,000 Romani were killed. The Ustaše government also deported around 26,000. Serbian Romani were parties to the unsuccessful class action suit against the Vatican Bank and others in U.S. federal court seeking return of wartime loot.
The governments of some Nazi German allies, namely Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, also contributed to the Nazi plan of Romani extermination, but most Romani in these countries survived, unlike those in Ustaše Croatia or in areas directly ruled by Nazi Germany (such as Poland). The Hungarian Arrow Cross government deported between 28,000 and 33,000 Romani out of a population estimated between 70,000 and 100,000.
The Romanian government of Ion Antonescu did not systematically exterminate the approximately 300,000 Roma on its territory. Some resident Roma were deported to Romanian-run concentration camps in occupied Transnistria. Of the estimated 25,000 Romani inmates of these camps, 11,000 (44%, or almost half) died. See also the research of Michelle Kelso, presented in her film, Hidden Sorrows, based upon research amongst the survivors and in archives.
According to eyewitness Mrs. de Wiek, Anne Frank, a notable Jewish Holocaust victim, is recorded as having witnessed the prelude to the murder of Romani children at Auschwitz: "I can still see her standing at the door and looking down the camp street as a herd of naked gypsy girls were driven by, to the crematory, and Anne watched them going and cried."
In the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Romani internees were sent to the Lety and Hodonín concentration camps before being transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau for gassing. What makes the Lety camp unique is that it was staffed by Czech guards, who could be even more brutal than the Germans, as testified in Paul Polansky's book Black Silence. The genocide was so thorough that the vast majority of Romani in the Czech Republic today are actually descended from migrants from Slovakia who moved there during the post-war years in Czechoslovakia. In Nazi-occupied France, between 16,000 and 18,000 were killed.
The small Romani population in Denmark was not subjected to mass killings by the Nazi occupiers, but classified as simply "asocial". Angus Fraser attributes this to "doubts over ethnic demarcations within the travelling population". The Romanis of Greece were taken hostage and prepared for deportation to Auschwitz, but were saved by appeals from the Archbishop of Athens and the Greek Prime Minister.
In 1934, 68 Romani, most of them Norwegian citizens, were denied entry to Norway, and were denied transit through Sweden and Denmark when they wanted to leave Germany. In the winter of 1943–1944 66 members of Josef, Karoli and Modis families were interned in Belgium and deported to the gipsy department in Auschwitz. Only four from this grouped survived.
Estimated number of victims
|Country||Roma population, 1939||Victims Low Estimate||Victims High Estimate|
|Czech Republic (Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia)||13,000||5,000||6,500|
|Soviet Union (1939 borders)||200,000||30,000||35,000|
Most estimates vary from 200,000 to 500,000 of the million Roma in Europe, though others propose much higher numbers. According to Ian Hancock, director of the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin, almost the entire Romani population was killed in Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Rudolph Rummel, the late professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii who spent his career assembling data on collective violence by governments toward their people (for which he coined the term democide), estimated that 258,000 must have been killed in Europe, 36,000 in Romania under Ion Antonescu and 27,000 in Ustaše-controlled Croatia.
In a 2010 publication, Ian Hancock stated that he agrees with the view that the number of Romanies killed has been underestimated as a result of being grouped with others in Nazi records under headings such as "remainder to be liquidated", "hangers-on", and "partisans". He notes recent evidence such as the previously obscure Lety concentration camp in the Czech Republic and Ackovic's revised estimates of Romani killed by the Ustaše as high as 80,000–100,000. These numbers suggest that previous estimates have been grossly underrepresented.
Zbigniew Brzezinski has estimated that 800,000 Romanies died as a result of Nazi actions.
Another distinctive feature of the Porajmos and the Holocaust was the extensive use of human subjects in medical experiments. The most notorious of these physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in the Auschwitz concentration camp. His experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes and various amputations and other brutal surgeries. The full extent of his work will never be known because the truckload of records he sent to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute were destroyed by von Verschuer. Mengele's own journals, consisting of some 3,300 pages, are likely never to be published, and they are suspected to contain denials of the Holocaust. Subjects who survived Mengele's experiments were almost always killed and dissected shortly afterwards.
He seemed particularly keen on working with Romani children. He would bring them sweets and toys, and would personally take them to the gas chamber. They would call him "Onkel Mengele". Vera Alexander was a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins:
I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parents—I remember the mother's name was Stella—managed to get some morphine and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.
Recognition and remembrance
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The German government paid war reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, but not to the Romani. There were "never any consultations at Nuremberg or any other international conference as to whether the Sinti and Roma were entitled like the Jews to reparations." The Interior Ministry of Wuerttemberg argued that "Gypsies [were] persecuted under the Nazis not for any racial reason but because of an asocial and criminal record". When on trial for his leadership of Einsatzgruppen in the USSR, Otto Ohlendorf cited the massacres of Romanis during the Thirty Years War as a historical precedent.
West Germany recognised the genocide of the Roma in 1982, and since then the Porajmos has been increasingly recognized as a genocide committed simultaneously with the Shoah. The American historian Sybil Milton wrote several articles arguing that the Porajmos deserved recognition as part of the Holocaust. In Switzerland, a committee of experts investigated the policy of the Swiss government during the Porajmos.
Formal recognition and commemoration of the Roma persecution by the Nazis has been difficult in practical terms due to the lack of significant collective memory and documentation of the Porajmos among the Roma. This is a result both of their tradition of oral history and illiteracy, heightened by widespread poverty and continuing discrimination that has forced some Roma out of state schools. One UNESCO report put the illiteracy rate among the Roma in Romania at 30 percent, as opposed to the near universal literacy of the Romanian public as a whole. In a 2011 investigation of the state of the Roma in Europe today, Ben Judah, a Policy Fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, traveled to Romania.
There is a difference between the Jewish and Roma deportees ... The Jews were shocked and can remember the year, date and time it happened. The Roma shrugged it off. They said, "Of course I was deported. I'm Roma; these things happen to a Roma." The Roma mentality is different from the Jewish mentality. For example, a Roma came to me and asked, "Why do you care so much about these deportations? Your family was not deported." I went, "I care as a Roma" and the guy said back, "I do not care because my family were brave, proud Roma that were not deported."
For the Jews it was total and everyone knew this—from bankers to pawnbrokers. For the Roma it was selective and not comprehensive. The Roma were only exterminated in a few parts of Europe such as Poland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. In Romania and much of the Balkans, only nomadic Roma and social outcast Roma were deported. This matters and influences the Roma mentality.
Ian Hancock has also observed a reluctance among Roma to acknowledge their victimization by the Third Reich. The Roma "are traditionally not disposed to keeping alive the terrible memories from their history—nostalgia is a luxury for others". The effects of the illiteracy, the lack of social institutions, and the rampant discrimination faced by Roma in Europe today have produced a people who, according to Fortuna, lack a "national consciousness ... and historical memory of the Holocaust because there is no Roma elite."
Acts of commemoration
The first memorial commemorating victims of the Romani Holocaust was erected on May 8, 1956, in the Polish village of Szczurowa commemorating the Szczurowa massacre. Since 1996, a Gypsy Caravan Memorial has been traveling among the main remembrance sites in Poland, from Tarnów via Auschwitz, Szczurowa and Borzęcin Dolny, gathering the Romani and well-wishers in the remembrance of the Porajmos. Several museums dedicate a part of their permanent exhibition to documenting that history, such as the Museum of Romani Culture in Czech Republic and the Ethnographic Museum in Tarnów. Some political organisations have tried to block the installation of Romani memorials near former concentration camps, as shown by the debate around Lety and Hodonin in the Czech Republic.
On October 23, 2007, Romanian President Traian Băsescu publicly apologized for his nation's role in the Porajmos, the first time a Romanian leader has done so. He called for the Porajmos to be taught in schools, stating that, "We must tell our children that six decades ago children like them were sent by the Romanian state to die of hunger and cold". Part of his apology was expressed in the Romani language. Băsescu awarded three Porajmos survivors with an Order for Faithful Services. Before recognizing Romania's role in the Porajmos, Traian Băsescu was widely quoted after an incident on 19 May 2007, in which he insulted a journalist by calling her a "stinky gypsy". The president subsequently apologized.
On 27 January 2011, Zoni Weisz became the first Roma guest of honour at Germany's official Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony. Dutch-born Weisz escaped death during a Nazi round-up when a policeman allowed him to escape. Nazi injustices against the Roma were recalled at the ceremony, including that directed at Sinto boxer Johann Trollmann.
On May 3, 2012 the world premiere of the Requiem for Auschwitz, by composer Roger Moreno Rathgeb, was performed at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam by The Roma and Sinti Philharmoniker directed by Riccardo M Sahiti. The Philharmoniker is a pan-European orchestra of Roma and Sinto musicians generally employed by other classical orchestras; it is focused on the contribution of Roma culture to classical music. Dutch-Swiss Sinto Moreno Rathgeb wrote his requiem for all victims of Auschwitz and Nazi terror. The occasion of the premiere was coupled to a conference, Roma between Past and Future. The requiem has since been performed in Tilburg, Prague, Budapest, Frankfurt, Cracow, and Berlin.
On 24 October 2012 the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism was unveiled in Berlin. since 2010, ternYpe – International Roma Youth Network, organizes a commemoration week called "Dikh he na bister" (look and don't forget) about August 2 in Kraków and Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 2014 they organised the largest Youth Commemoration Ceremony in history, attracting more than 1000 young Roma and non-Roma from 25 countries. This initiative of ternYpe Network was held under the European Parliament's High Patronage granted by President Martin Schulz.
In popular culture
- In 2009, Tony Gatlif, a French Romani film director, directed the film Korkoro, which portrays the Romani Taloche's escape from the Nazis, with help from a French notary, Justes, and his difficulty in trying to lead a sedentary life. The film's other main character, Mademoiselle Lise Lundi, is inspired by Yvette Lundy, a teacher who worked in Gionges, La Marne and was active in the French Resistance.
- The 1988 Polish film, And the Violins Stopped Playing, also has Porajmos as its subject. It was criticized for showing the killing of Roma as a method of removing witnesses to the killing of Jews.
- A scene in the French-language film Train de Vie (Train of Life), directed by Radu Mihaileanu, depicts a group of Romani singing and dancing with Jews at a stop en route to a concentration camp.
- In X-Men's graphic novel The Magneto Testament, Max Eisenhardt, who would later become Magneto, has a crush on a Romani girl called Magda. He later meets her again in Auschwitz, where she is in the Gypsy Camp and together, they plan their escape. The Porajmos is described in detail.
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