What the documents tell us
Through the project What the Documents Tell Us, the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HL-senteret) will present 10 historical documents that were collected during work on preparing the report «Å bli dem kvit». Utviklingen av en «sigøynerpolitikk» og utryddelsen av norske rom [Getting Rid of Them: Development of a «Gypsy policy» and extermination of Norwegian Roma]. In the autumn of 2013, HL-senteret was commissioned by the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs to investigate what happened to Norway’s Roma population during World War II. The final report was presented in February 2015. Members of the Roma population stood behind the initiative. In the course of a year, the documents and relevant texts will be used to present the main findings of the report on our website.
In 1954 some members of the Josef family who had survived the war tried to return to Norway. They were the first Norwegian Roma to try to return to their home country after the war, but were turned away as they had been 20 years earlier. The Norwegian family was prohibited from crossing the border from Denmark under the provisions in the 'Gypsy clause' in Norway's Aliens Act. After the Norwegian legations in Belgium, France and Austria refused to issue them with passports, they finally crossed the border between Sweden and Norway carrying false documents. This incident essentially marked the beginning of the two-year struggle to repeal the 'Gypsy clause'.
Jeanne Galut-Modis was one of 66 Norwegian Roma who were deported to the 'Gypsy camp' in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Unlike most of the others, she was transferred to other Nazi concentration camps. Jeanne's prisoner card from Buchenwald shows how she was moved from one camp to the next from her deportation in January 1944 until the war ended in May 1945. Against all odds, she survived two internments in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and was one of the four deported Norwegian Roma to survive the war.
A particular form of abuse to which many Roma were subjected in the Nazi concentration camps was forced sterilisation. When the Nazi sterilisation programme was launched as early as in July 1933, it did not explicitly target the Roma, though as a group they were particularly vulnerable under the Sterilisation Law, and many hundreds were forcibly sterilised in the years leading up to the war. The number of procedures escalated after war broke out, however, and by the end of the war around 3,000 Roma had been sterilised. Several Norwegian Roma women were subjected to such abuse while interned in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
By the time the majority of Norwegian Roma arrived at the so-called Zigeunerlager (Gypsy Camp) on 17 January 1944, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) had become a pure extermination camp. The Gypsy Camp differed from the other sections of the camp in a number of aspects. Although few of the newly arrived Roma were sent directly to the gas chambers, and fewer families were separated on arrival, there was one feature it shared with the rest of Birkenau: it was not a place you were intended to survive. Like the camp's Jewish prisoners, the Roma were also systematically subjected to a range of medical tests and experiments.
After Germany invaded Belgium on 10 May 1940, the occupying force gradually introduced policies aimed specifically against the country's “Gypsies”. Unlike the Jews, the Roma were at first not affected by the new orders introduced immediately after the occupation, but systematic persecution gained momentum between late 1941 and early 1942. The Norwegian Roma were also subjected to this policy, which culminated in the autumn and winter of 1943–1944 when Roma were arrested in Belgium, interned, and finally deported to the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) extermination camp. A total of 66 Norwegian Roma were recorded in the Zigeunerlager (Gypsy Camp) register.
In the spring of 1934, the Norwegian Roma who had been turned away from Norway found themselves back in Belgium, the country they had left only a few months earlier as a result of police efforts to make life as difficult as possible for them. Despite that fact that the group was granted a temporary residence permit, Belgian policy during the following years was to force them out again as quickly as possible. In parallel with hard political negotiations with the Norwegian foreign office, the Belgian security police tried to force the Norwegian Roma out of the country by regular rounds of deportation, imprisonment and bureaucratic subtleties such as the so-called feuille de route, or travel warrant.
The starting point for the report prepared by the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities was the Norwegian authorities' denial of entry to 68 Roma in January 1934. In the days, weeks and months after the Central Passport Office and the Ministry of Justice denied the group of Roma entry to Norway, the group was made the subject of diplomatic wrangling by several countries, and the case was covered in several European newspapers. The final outcome of the dispute was that the group was left to an uncertain fate in Belgium, where they were far from welcome, and the Norwegian authorities felt obliged to pay Nazi Germany for its financial expenses in connection with having the group in the country.
From the early 1920s, the Norwegian authorities developed a special policy for the “Gypsies”, aimed first at making Norwegian Roma stateless and then at forcing them out of the country. This policy culminated in their being denied entry to Norway in 1934. One telling example of how this policy was implemented in practice is the story of Czardas Josef's Norwegian passport, in which his Norwegian nationality was crossed out and replaced with the word "None" with the stroke of a pen.
On 8 May 1945, the German occupying force in Norway surrendered. After five years, the war was finally over. Among those who were unable to share the sense of euphoria in the days that followed were several surviving Jewish prisoners, who were still waiting for transport to take them home. Of the 772 Jews who were deported from Norway during the war, only 34 survived. Sixty-six Norwegian Roma were also subjected to the Nazi racial extermination policy. By May 1945, only four of them were still alive. They found themselves in liberated Belgium, classified as «stateless Gypsies», and still prohibited from entering Norway by the «Gypsy clause» of 1927. Who these people were and what had happened to them after they were turned away by Norwegian authorities in 1934 were two of the questions HL-senteret was commissioned to find answers to.
After the Roma were liberated from 500 years of slavery in the principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania in 1856, many of them migrated to countries in western and northern Europe. One small group made their way to Norway. Many Roma families gradually established communities in various parts of the country, and their children were issued with Norwegian birth and baptismal certificates in cities such as Kristiania, Trondheim, Bergen, Harstad, Drammen and Hammerfest. Among them was Kristian Josef Modeste, a head of family born in Kristiania in1882, who would later be expelled.