The Encyclopaedia of the Nazi Genocide of the Sinti and Roma in Europe has set itself the task of assembling and processing existing knowledge about this crime against humanity and making it available in a clearly structured form. We have already come a long way in this endeavour, but we are far from finished. If you would like to know what you can already find on the website, please read the tips provided under ‘News’.

The following remarks tell you more about the concept behind the Encyclopaedia and how the published content is currently being created in collaboration with more than 90 authors. It also explains how the content is prepared for the website.

Concept and Working Methods

The persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma during the National Socialist era was largely ignored for decades and the crimes they entailed were recognised as genocide all too late, after many years of active campaigning by Romani organisations. The topic was also long neglected by historians; since the 1990s, more and more source-based studies have emerged, but there is no country in which the details of persecution have been fully researched.

All of this means that public knowledge about the genocide is very limited, especially as the genocide of the Sinti and Roma is given little or no space in school curricula. The consequences of this are illustrated by a survey conducted in 2022: 70 per cent of young people in Germany cannot name a place that commemorates the Sinti and Roma persecuted under National Socialism.1Memo. Multidimensional Memory Monitor 2022, edited by Michael Papendick, Jonas Rees, Maren Scholz, Andreas Zick. Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence. Berlin, Bielefeld: University of Bielefeld 2022, 25. This finding is all the more alarming given that there has been a central memorial dedicated to this group of victims in Berlin since 2012 and that the murder of Sinti and Roma in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp is also the focus of various days of remembrance, often organised and supported by members of Romani communities. The fact that even these two important places of remembrance are barely recognised shows once again how vital it is to provide the facts in an accessible and reliable form.

But how can the facts be assembled? Since 2015, we have been able to refer to a survey of the research literature published up to that point, which was compiled on behalf of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).2Anna Abakunova, Ilsen About. The Genocide and Persecution of Roma and Sinti. Bibliography and Historiographical Review. Ed. International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, 2016. This bibliography is not complete and is no longer up to date. But it gives an impression of how diverse the international literature on the genocide of the Sinti and Roma is. A closer look shows both that there are many gaps in the research and that it is not possible to gain even an approximate insight into the totality of the literature available in many languages, often published in remote locations.

The complexity of the project is also shown by the fact that all of Europe needs to be covered, as all countries were affected by World War II, albeit in different ways, and this meant that Sinti and Roma in all those countries were affected in one way or another. Based on today’s map of Europe, there are 46 countries to be analysed. There is currently enough information on 33 countries to justify publishing articles on them in the Encyclopaedia: Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. In the light of the limited research, work on the following 13 countries has been postponed for the time being: Albania, Andorra, Greece, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Turkey, Vatican City, Cyprus.

The Encyclopaedia thus began with the certainty that such a complex project can only be realised in collaboration with authors who have themselves conducted research in public or family archives and/or published on the topic. For this reason, a total of 18 working groups on individual countries or groups of countries3Thus, there is a single working group for the six countries of the former Yugoslavia. have been formed since the end of 2020. In the working groups, the Encyclopaedia team and the authors discuss the topics of the lemmas—as the articles in a reference work are called—that need to be written, and how many there should be. These conversations help to ensure that the European dimension of the Nazi genocide can be depicted in all its facets. Each text is published on the website as soon as it has been edited. As the Encyclopaedia is available in German and English, the resulting body of knowledge on and from the many different countries will be accessible to a wide international public for the first time.

Unlike a monograph, which usually strives for a comprehensive presentation and has to limit itself thematically, the format of an Encyclopaedia makes it possible to gradually assemble the body of knowledge into a larger overall picture. This also applies when—as in the case of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma in Europe—the state of research means that a piece of the mosaic is missing at one point or another. In the lemmas, we aim to be as explicit and precise as possible in making clear where there are still gaps in the research. As the online Encyclopaedia allows the existing lemmas to be updated or further lemmas to be published at any time, the current contents cannot and should not be regarded as fixed, but should be understood as a body of knowledge that is subject to constant review, re-writing and supplementation.

Racism-Critical Approach

The Encyclopaedia project is committed to an anti-racist approach. Against the backdrop of centuries of antigypsyism, in which negative stereotypes have led to the violent exclusion, social disadvantage and persistent misrepresentation of members of the minority, the existing body of knowledge must be read critically. This is all the more true as the sources available on the persecution and murder of the Sinti and Roma are largely from the perspective of the perpetrators. However, even academic publications offer no guarantee that they are sufficiently critical of the historical facts. Many studies, even those published after 1945, perpetuate racist perspectives. As the academic Jane Weiß has put it, we must therefore also address the ‘toxic effect of knowledge’.4Jane Weiß, Bildungssteilhabe von Sinti und Roma im Spannungsfeld von Geschichte, Wissensproduktion und Biographie. Habilitation thesis, Faculty of Cultural, Social and Educational Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 2022, 129.

In addition, academics were substantially involved in the crimes committed, whether by laying the ideological foundations for murder or legitimising the crimes, or by participating actively in their organisation or execution. After 1945, hardly anyone was held accountable for this, so that they were able to continue their careers and their perspectives continued to dominate the social discourse on Sinti and Roma – at least until the civil rights movements from the 1970s onwards heralded a change in perspective.

The Encyclopaedia uses several strategies to address this problem. The basic strategy is to approach the existing body of knowledge as critical scholars, in full awareness of the power of science and scholarship. It is also essential to scrutinise terminology critically. This applies above all to the racist exonym ‘gypsy’, terms such as ‘gypsy camp’ which are designed to obscure the reality of brutal practices, and exclusionary ascriptions such as ‘non-sedentary’. Such terms are not only placed in distancing inverted commas and italics, but there is a separate lemma for each of these terms that reflects the semantic content, historicity and impact of these terms.

Another strategy is to increase the visibility of those affected by persecution. Where possible, the names of those affected are also mentioned when describing specific persecution measures, together with their year of birth and death. Resistance and oppositional behaviour, such as escaping from a camp or writing a letter of protest, as well as the variety of survival strategies, are illustrated not only in general terms, but also through concrete individual examples. In addition, the Encyclopaedia will contain around 150 separate biographical texts on Sinti and Roma. In this way, the individuality of those affected by persecution and their agency can be shown and it can be recognised in very concrete terms how destructive and deadly the persecution was for the families of the Sinti and Roma and how much the period of National Socialism and World War II continued to have an impact beyond 1945. In this way, the life stories are also inscribed in the canon of knowledge.


A critical approach to racism also includes a reflective approach to the photographic representation of the genocide. Photographs, especially those taken during the National Socialist era and from the perspective of the majority society, are problematic sources because they often belittle the victims and convey a false impression of the reality of life and, in particular, of the prevailing relations of power and violence. A separate lemma is dedicated to this subject in the Encyclopaedia.

In addition, it must be taken into account that the impact of photographs far surpasses that of the written word. For this reason, we have tried to be highly reflective and cautious in the use of photographs in the Encyclopaedia.

The selection of images follows a curatorial concept. They are not intended as simple illustrations, but are selected as historical sources that provide an additional level of information about the crime. In general, only a very limited archive of images has survived that can convey the dimension of the crimes. However, it is precisely these few photographs from the period before 1945 that are of great importance because, in addition to depicting the events, they also have evidential value and can be used in the face of the denial or trivialisation of the genocide. Relevant in this context are images of: arrests, deportations and shootings, Sinti and Roma as prisoners in detention and concentration camps (roll calls, medical experiments) or in forced labour battalions, Sinti and Roma as victims of the registration of the Racial Hygiene Research Unit and the like. Such images naturally raise ethical questions that are constantly with us. Some questions have been clarified; for example, images of people being stripped naked are not shown. But should people facing their death be shown? Is every police photograph to be rejected or are there photographs that can be used because they are the only images that exist of the people depicted? Are there relatives who can be asked whether they consent to publication?

With regard to the depiction of perpetrators, we have restricted ourselves to a very narrow and limited selection. On the one hand, it needs to be made clear that the genocide was not an abstract event, i.e. not an ‘act without perpetrators’. On the other hand, the well-known portrait photographs from the NSDAP or SS personnel files convey little or nothing about the perpetrators. If possible, images should show the people concerned in the sphere of influence that also had an impact on the lives and deaths of Sinti and Roma. A balance must also be found in the representation of different types of perpetrators, from desk perpetrators to SS henchmen.

There are no depictions of most of the crime scenes that could illustrate what happened. However, the ‘architecture of violence’ can also be experienced through images that show the topography of camps or other crime scenes. This applies, for example, to contemporary photographs of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, the Litzmannstadt ghetto or the many detention camps in different countries.

Special attention is paid to the representation of Sinti and Roma. To this day, they are often denied belonging, individuality and agency. The existing reservoir of images usually stigmatises them as foreign, homeless, uncivilised, uncultured and impoverished, and such motifs are not shown in the Encyclopaedia. Instead, the aim is actively to counteract this form of stigmatisation. Private photographs of Sinti and Roma can illustrate the individuality and heterogeneity of those affected by persecution. In addition, photographs from private everyday life show those affected in their social contexts before they were denied their humanity by the perpetrators. At the same time, care must be taken to ensure that the Encyclopaedia does not create a world of images that obscures the crimes.

To a limited extent, photographs from the period after 1945 will also be shown. Photographs of perpetrators in court or of memorials at the crime scenes, of protest actions relating to the recognition of and compensation for the genocide of the Sinti and Roma or commemorative events illustrate the significance of the aftermath of Nazi persecution right up to the present day.

Each photograph is accompanied by an image description that describes the context of the photograph as comprehensively and in as much detail as possible. In addition to the usual copyright information, information about the location, the person depicted, the date of the photograph and the author is also provided in as much detail as possible. The history of the transmission of the photographic source may also be relevant. On the website, the photographs are presented in a separate section as ‘Photographic perspectives on the genocide’. Individual photographs are also inserted into lemmas in context. However, the photographs are only visible in the lemmas if readers actively switch them on. This is intended to minimise the dominance of the images over the text.

Presentation of the Contents

While you can browse through a printed encyclopaedic work and access the content covered via the index, an online Encyclopaedia offers a wider variety of forms of structuring and providing knowledge. The access options offered—via the control bar at the top right—are explained here.

The lemmas can be accessed from the alphabetical list (A to Z). At this level, a selection by country is also possible, which can be used to quickly find the main text for a country.

The lemmas can also be selected within rubrics. These rubrics include both central themes in the Nazi genocide of the Sinti and Roma in Europe and key topics covered in the Encyclopaedia. By making the lemmas available this way, it is possible to take a comparative look at the developments and persecution measures in the European countries, cross-referencing them, for example, by geographical area, crime scene, biographies of individual Sinti and Roma, the persecution apparatus and the aftermath of the genocide. A further rubric serves as a glossary.

A particular challenge is compiling the chronology, in which all events from the individual lemmas are brought together. Here it becomes clear time and again how imprecise our knowledge of important aspects of the persecution sometimes is, and intensive research is often necessary to determine a specific date. However, this effort has proved to be worthwhile: simply scrolling through the individual events makes it possible to visualise crime scenes and genocidal actions from a comparative European perspective in a way that was previously not possible. When you are reading an individual lemma, it is possible not only to move from the individual event to the chronology, but also to see in which other lemmas that event features. As a result a new network of knowledge is created that is also important for future research. The chronology also emphasises the importance of making those affected by persecution visible.

The genocide of the Sinti and Roma would not have been possible without a long history of stigmatisation and exclusion and without the racist upheaval that began in many European societies in the 19th century. This prehistory is addressed in a number of lemmas. However, not least in view of the thematic focus of the Encyclopaedia, a conscious decision was made to begin the chronology with the year 1933, the year of the takeover of the National Socialist regime in Germany, which from then on set the decisive steps towards genocide in motion. An equally conscious decision was made not to stop with the year 1945. How societies dealt and deal with the genocide and what after-effects the genocide had and still has for the survivors and their descendants is such a serious and present chapter that it should not be ignored.

With every lemma published in the Encyclopaedia, the chronology grows and there is a risk of confusion. However, as the chronology can also be captured in a full-text search, a search result can be created from the wealth of data if required, for example for a specific country, a camp or a person.

The index attempts to cover all places, people and keywords. Careful indexing is of great importance in a field of research that is incomplete and still underrepresented in the scholarly community. For example, indexing also reveals places that are known to have been crime scenes, but which cannot be represented in a lemma due to a lack of knowledge. Here we follow the principle that no information should be lost. Someone may come across this place and can contribute information, or perhaps someone knows the person whose birth or death details are missing.

A list of all authors can also be found in the index. Here you can find out which lemmas the author has written and the language and text version of the lemmas they have written.

The ‘Photographic perspectives on the genocide’ section has already been explained, but not ‘Mapping the crimes’. This is a dynamic, constantly updated map in which all the crime scenes—differentiated according to massacre sites, concentration and extermination camps and other places of detention—are shown. Each individual point on the map can be navigated to, and from there you can access the lemma containing information on the crime scene. Such an overview does not yet exist for the victim group of Sinti and Roma, and as work on the Encyclopaedia progresses, it will presumably become apparent that the previous picture of the dimension of the persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma needs to be corrected.

There are also ‘thematic maps’ produced especially for the Encyclopaedia. A total of 18 maps are planned, six of which are currently on display (March 2024). In addition to an overview of Europe in 1942, the forced labour camps in the German Reich and France as well as the persecution in Italy and the Benelux countries are cartographically depicted. A further map of massacre sites in the General Government points to a serious gap in research: little is known about most of the sites, and compiling information on these crime scenes is one of the major challenges for the Encyclopaedia.

The full-text search allows you to check whether a particular word is mentioned in one of the lemmas or in the chronology.

The design of the website reflects the aim of presenting the content as clearly as possible. The works of the survivor, writer and artist Ceija Stojka were a source of inspiration for the colour scheme.

Country and Place Names

The Encyclopaedia deals with a period in which—before, during and after the World War II—borders shifted and new states were founded. Territorial and administrative changes as well as the renaming of places must therefore be taken into account.

The starting point for the overview lemmas for individual countries is the current national territory (such as France, Poland or the Czech Republic). However, these overview lemmas explain the form of government and the territorial extent of the country before German occupation (or occupation by allies) or before World War II. In the case of occupied countries, it is then explained which occupation regime prevailed and into which territories the country was divided, if applicable. The persecution in the individual territories is briefly described. Each territory characterised by a specific occupation regime is also dealt with in more detail in a separate lemma. Indexing, linking and maps help to maintain the overall context.

Transformation processes since 1989/90 have led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, key historical processes during and after  World War II can only be depicted in relation to the states that existed at the time, which is why they will be represented in the Encyclopaedia with overview contributions.

For place names, the historical names are used that are relevant in the context of the Encyclopaedia (in both the German and English versions). As a rule, these are the names valid under international law before the German occupation. This is followed in the lemma text by information on the geographical location and, if necessary, on the current name and current state affiliation. Renaming and variants that are relevant to the period covered by the lemma are also mentioned. Only the names of capitals and other well-known places whose English names are firmly anchored in today’s linguistic usage are referred to as such in the English version, such as Belgrade or Moscow. In contrast, the names introduced by the German occupation regime for camps, ghettos or other places of detention (such as Auschwitz, Belzec, Litzmannstadt or Hodonin near Kunstadt) are used in order to make a strict distinction between the camp regime under German occupation and the (Polish or Czech) places.

Concluding Remarks

There are some aspects that will only take shape in the course of further work on the Encyclopaedia. This applies to gender relations, for example. Women and men were affected differently by the persecution. However, there are hardly any studies on gender-specific aspects with regard to Sinti and Roma. In the writing of the lemmas, care was taken to specify whether women or men were affected. A more differentiated account of this topic will be provided when the progress of the work allows a better overview. The same applies to a summary account of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma, which can only be written on the basis of all the lemmas.

At the beginning of such a project as an Encyclopaedia, the ambition is always to impose a degree of uniformity on the contributions. We initially hoped to standardise, for example, the detail with which developments before 1933 or before the territorial changes of the years 1938 to 1941 were dealt with, whether the commandants should always be named in a lemma about concentration camps, or which details were required in biographical lemmas. The editor has gradually moved away from such standardisations. The state of research in individual countries and on the various topics is far too different, as are the sources and the events of persecution.

The authors are also very diverse, but in addition to their great commitment to working on the Encyclopaedia, they generally share something else: They do not do this work as part of their full-time job, but instead devote their free time to it. This circumstance underlines once again how marginalised the field of research unfortunately still is, a reminder that there are no academic positions dedicated to research on the genocide of the Sinti and Roma in Europe.

This Encyclopaedia could therefore not have been undertaken without a certain degree of pragmatism, and it will only be able to develop further with a pragmatic approach. This means not that the content has not been carefully considered and selected, but above all that there are and will be no standardised contributions. It should also be mentioned at this point that, despite the greatest care, errors can always occur and that any suggestions for improvements or additions will be gratefully taken on board.

Finally, I would like to make a few remarks about the aims of the project. The Encyclopaedia of the Nazi Genocide of the Sinti and Roma in Europe is a work of collective knowledge that constantly seeks to critically supplement, expand and deepen that very collective knowledge. It aims to stimulate new research in the sources, which should in turn inform discourses and practices of remembrance, giving them firmer and deeper foundations. The Encyclopaedia aims to reach a broad public in order to anchor knowledge about the genocide more firmly in society. A further aim is to confront antigypsyism, which has continued unabated since 1945, and thus contribute to overcoming it. Finally, the Encyclopaedia is a symbol for the recognition of the genocide committed against Sinti and Roma, which is important and necessary not only, but especially for the victims and their descendants.

If we achieve any of this with our work, it will have been worthwhile.

Karola Fings, 3 March 2024