Karoly Lendvai was part of the Holocaust, but doesn't know it. His is
the forgotten Holocaust.
Lendvai, 65, is a Gypsy, living in a tiny hamlet 80 kilometers (50 miles)
southwest of Budapest, who barely missed the Auschwitz transport.
"Why did they do it," he kept asking. "Because I'm a Gypsy? That can't
be, that's no reason," he answered his own question as he recalled what
happened to him and his people, standing outside his house that is part
brick, part mud, part bits of sheet metal, odds and ends of lumber.
More than fifty years ago in the summer of 1944 - he cannot remember
the month - "Hungarian gendarmes descended on Szentgal," where he grew
up, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of Budapest, "and drove us, about
a dozen families, on foot to Komarom," Lendvai began, sighing deeply.
Komarom's notorious Csillag prison was a internment camp 80 kilometers
(50 miles) northwest of Budapest. It was run by Hungary's Arrow Cross goons,
the local variant of the Gestapo.
No one has ever asked Lendvai what happened to him and he has not spoken
about it outside his own family.
To him, this was part of the centuries-old persecution of Gypsies, and
given his people's oral tradition, there was no one writing about it, or
lecturing on it, to make the world aware.
Hungary is not alone in this neglect.
As French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld told The AP, "no French historian
has really taken the time to go through the archives - French or German
- to see what there is" about the Gypsy Holocaust.
"As we were marched through villages, others joined our group, more
Gypsies and more gendarmes," Lendvai continued. "Some babies died along
the way and some would-be escapees were shot, left by the roadside. No
one knows who they were," he said.
"We were in the camp about two weeks with hardly any food and even water
was scarce. More people died as typhus broke out and others were killed.
The dead were thrown into a huge pit, covered with quicklime. There were
layers upon layers of dead. I do not know when the pit was finally filled
as one day we were herded into cattlecars, to be taken I know not where,"
"Rot you Jew Gypsy," he recalled a goon screaming at him as they were
shoved onto the train.
"Why did he call me a Jew?" Lendvai still wonders.
"Suddenly, there were sirens and bombs were falling. The car I was in
was damaged and some of us escaped. We hid in the woods for about a year.
That was how we escaped. I never saw the others again. Tell me, why did
they do this?" he asked again, not really expecting an answer.
Lendvai did not know the word "Holocaust," but he does know that many
of his people suffered the same fate. His own family perished.
"Of course Gypsies do not know their own history. It was not in anyone's
interest to enlighten them," the Gypsy author Menyhert Lakatos, 68, said,
"Our people were glad to have survived. Fear was, indeed, still is,
in our bones," he added. "We have been fighting a vain battle for recognition,
for compensation for decades," Lakatos said.
Historical records show that people were shipped to Auschwitz from the
Erzsebet Kolompar of Sorokpolany, 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest
of Budapest, was born Aug. 13, 1930 in Ozd, on the other side of the country,
160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Budapest.
She recalled a very similar scene when gendarmes herded the region's
Gypsies, "like cattle," to the interment camp in Banreve, 200 kilometers
(120 miles) east of Budapest, for eventual transport. She, too, was lucky
as the Arrow Cross guards fled in face of the advancing Soviet Red Army.
"They did this only because we are Gypsies," she said, "but that's no
reason to kill people," she added, perplexed much like Lendvai.
No one knows with any certainty the number of Gypsies killed in the
However, the fact remains that Gypsies were rounded up, brutalized,
interned, deported, used in medical experiments, and liquidated on racial
grounds, for belonging to an "inferior" race, according to Nazi ideology.
"The national socialist state will have to settle the Gypsy question
just as it has solved the Jewish question," Dr. Adolf Wuerth, a high ranking
Nazi wrote in 1937 as quoted by Sybil Milton, deputy director of the Washington
Holocaust Museum, in her "Nazi Policies Toward Roma and Sinti, 1933-1945."
"On Jan. 29, 1943, the Reich Security Head Office issued instructions
to arrest all Gypsies inhabiting the Third Reich and occupied territories
and to liquidate them in concentration camps," a 1978 book published by
the Auschwitz Museum stated.
"There is every reason to believe that had the war dragged on or had
Hitler won, all Gypsies would have been exterminated," said Agnes Daroczi,
a Roma activist, who anchors a regular Gypsy-affairs program on Hungarian
state TV, said.
Not only is the public at large unaware of the Gypsy Holocaust, but
Gypsies themselves are often ignorant of this aspect of their history.
"Ours is an oral culture and there is low contact level among the various
Gypsy communities. The historians have not really dealt with this part
of the Holocaust and it is not part of the education curriculae," Daroczi
Daroczi sought out the few remaining survivors for a feature-length
documentary aired on Hungarian TV on Aug. 3, 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary
of the total extermination of the Gypsy camp at Birkenau, otherwise known
as Auschwitz II, given its proximity.
The infamous Dr. Josef Mengele conducted medical experiments on Gypsy
children, including twins." He collected 60 pairs of twins, 2-14 years
of age. He examined them, had them killed and dissected them. By Aug. 1,
1944, only seven were still alive," Hermann Langbein, a prisoner-doctor
in Auschwitz, wrote in his 1975 book.
Gypsies suffered the highest death rate in the camp, according to Langbein,
largely due to noma, a severe ulcerous condition of the mouth, usually
resulting in gangrene.
"Noma creates holes in the face," he wrote, " and Mengele collected
some of those who died from it, decapitated them, and kept the heads in
"The records of the Birkenau Gypsy camp listed 20,946 names. However,
the names of those sent to the gas chambers upon arrival were not recorded,"
wrote Janos Szoenyi, in his "The Fate of the Gypsies under Fascism," published
in Hungary in 1983.
Dr. Andras T. Hegedues, Professor of Psychology at Budapest University
and an expert on minority affairs, said he studied the archives of the
national gendarmes and their district reports, the files of the sub-prefects,
a regular government institution in Hungary's counties before 1945, and
the counties' municipal archives and found that "between 50,000 and 60,000
Gypsies were deported during 1944-45."
His findings could not distinguish among those taken to Hungarian interment
camps and those transported to German camps.
"This figure I could document. I am also aware that many people were
killed on the spot as they were rounded up and no records of those killings
He presented his findings at a Cracow University conference in October
1990, where sociologists, political scientists and psychologists discussed
the Gypsy Holocaust, but the proceedings, which were in German, have not
been published yet.
"Some 23,000 Gypsies were taken to Birkenau and nearly 21,000 were killed
that is, the ratio of Gypsies killed was as high as that of the Jews,"
Dr. Franciszek Piper, head of historical department of the Auschwitz State
Museum, told the first conference devoted to the Gypsy Holocaust, held
in Auschwitz, Dec. 3-6, 1991, the proceedings of which also remain unpublished
due to lack of funds.
"At Dachau and Buchenwald, Gypsies were selected to see how and in what
manner they could live on salt water," the U.S. historian William L. Shirer
wrote in his " The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."
"Figures for the number of Gypsies killed in all of Europe vary between
200,000 and 500,000, firstly because the Gypsies were not registered, secondly
because many were killed in transit and there is no record of their graves,"
Prof. Waclaw Dlugoborski, curator for scientific research at the Auschwitz
Museum, who holds the Chair of Economic and Social History at Wroclaw University,
told The AP.
Dlubogorski organized a special international commemoration of the 50th
anniversary of the Gypsy Holocaust in August of 1994 at Auschwitz.
Just as with Polish Jews, Polish Gypsies also perished in large numbers.
"Seventy percent of Polish Gypsies died in the Holocaust," Stanislaw Stankiewicz,
deputy chairman of the International Romani Union, told The AP.
The survivors welcomed Daroczi's effort to tell their story, a story
untold for half a century. But younger Gypsies were largely hostile, she
"No need to give them (the "Magyars" - ethnic Hungarians) ideas," she
summed up their view.