"The final solution of the gypsy question – a fictional symposium, Berlin 1942. The relationship between prejudice, scholarship and the genocide of the Sinti and Roma in a European perspective."
World premiere February 2015 at the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science in Berlin-Dahlem.
With its documentary theatre project on the persecution and extermination of the Sinti and Roma, the Historikerlabor (Historians’ Laboratory) will complete a trilogy which is putting the racial politics of the Nazis at the core of its academic and artistic work: “The invention and extermination of the untermensch. Nazi Germany’s organised murder of the Jews, Slavs, and Sinti and Roma.”
75 years ago, on the 27 April 1940, Himmler’s decree specifying the deportation of the Sinti and Roma to the General Government (the occupied area of Poland under Nazi rule) marked the first deportation out of the German Reich. Later on, the persecution and extermination of the Sinti and Roma turned into a European genocide under the aegis of Germany because of the start of the Second World War, and particularly because of the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
The organised mass executions organised by the SS Einsatzgruppen took place in the occupied eastern territories; in Croatia, only a few Roma survived the Ustaša’s mass murder. The first trains with German Sinti and Roma arrived in Auschwitz in January 1943; after their successful resistance in the so-called ‘gypsy camp’ in Birkenau, the last survivors were killed in the gas chambers in 1944. Careful / conservative estimates put the number of Roma and Sinti killed during this genocide at around 500,000.
Accredited and self-styled scientists provided the intellectual tools and the racial justification for this genocide long before the rise of National Socialism and with an impact extending beyond 1945. The racial biologists advocated a homogenous, “racially pure” Europe; they established spurious genetic connections, measured skulls, and collected and registered data on the basis of which Sinti and Roma were deported to collection camps, concentration camps and extermination camps. Here, scientists once more conducted medical experiments on them. Auschwitz was an extension of Dahlem, the German Oxford. Josef Mengele was a pupil of Otmar von Verschuer’s, the head of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Karin Magnussen was also researching here, and had eyes sent over from Auschwitz to the Ihnestraße: the eyes of the examined, registered, deported, abused and murdered Sinti family Mechau from Oldenburg.
The alliance between science and the politics of extermination most readily takes shape in Robert Ritter: he was head of the “Rassenhygienische Forschungsstelle am Reichsgesundheitsamt” (Research Site for Racial Hygenics at the Health Office of the Reich) as well as head of the “Kriminalbiologisches Institut der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD” (Institute of Criminal Biology of the Security Police and the Security Service). At the institute, Arthur Nebe was Ritter’s direct superior, since he worked as head of the “Reichskriminalamt” (Criminal Police Office of the Reich). This was the same Nebe who – as commander of the Task Force B – would later be involved in the mass killings of Jews and Roma in the occupied eastern territories.
An international symposium as it could have taken place in Berlin on the 16th december of 1942 will form the conceptual framework of the documentary theatre project. “Rassen- und Zigeunerforscher” (Race and gypsy researchers) from all over Europe come together, joined by the “practitioners of mass murder”: the beginning of the war of extermination finally allowed the “ethnic cleansing” of a continent. Using the methodologies of the Historikerlabor, individual historians will each investigate one specific biography and also represent the results on stage, taking the role of a biographer. After these multiperspectival presentations the historians will engage with the audience’s questions in a Q&A.
Considering its modern architecture and how it defines its own role, the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science is the ideal place for this critical reflection of international science and the German intellectual tradition. Consequently, our project will highlight one central topic for Europe in the 21st century: mainstream society’s interaction with its minorities, especially during a time of a European crisis.