Report from the Trip to Kracow 7-11 May 2005

prepared by Laura Laubeova


This report is also available in MS WORD


  The report covers details of a research trip to Poland funded by the CEU CDC Project:


Day 1 (Sunday):  Visit to Oswiecim, The Sinti and Roma Exhibition, The Czech land Exhibition, and the Gypsy Family Camp in Birkenau


Early in the morning we arrived to Krakow by train. We took a taxi to get to the hotel[1]. After a short rest we started to Oswiecim. The aim of our visit was to see how Oswiecim covers the issues of Romani Holocaust. Already in the entrance hall of the Oswiecim Museum, there is, among other world languages, an information board in Romani language and a Romani flag.


The Exhibition on Extermination of European Roma is located in Block 13 at the Auschwitz I-Main Camp site and was opened in 2001 on the 57th anniversary of an event when the Nazis "liquidated" the so-called "Gypsy Family Camp" in Birkenau on the night of August 1-2, 1944, gassing three thousand Roma who were still alive there. From the winter of 1943 through the summer of 1944, nearly 23,000 Roma from over ten European countries were registered in the camp, barely a thousand of them survived. The exhibition is similar to the exhibition at the Centre for the Culture and Documentation of the German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg (director Mr Romani Rose) in Germany that opened several years earlier. It is a joint project by the Heidelberg Centre, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, Museum in Oświęcim, and the Association of Roma in Poland (chairman Roman Kwiatkowski)

 Like the Jews, the Roma were murdered for racial reasons and without regard to age or sex. It is estimated that a total of 500,000 Roma from all over Europe fell victim to the Nazis (estimates range from 200 000 by Jehuda Bauer to1 million by Ian Hancock). Auschwitz and the "Gypsy Family Camp" that was established there became symbols of these tragic events. 


Historical background of the Exhibition:

In 1933, after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the Nazis introduced a law to legalize eugenic sterilization, to control population growth among "Gypsies and most of the Germans of black colour." In 1939, the Nazi's Office of Racial Hygiene issued a statement saying "All Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick [...] the aim should therefore be the elimination — without hesitation —of this defective element in the population."  In 1940, at a concentration camp in Buchenwald, 250 Romani children were used as human guinea pigs to test cyanide gas crystals. It was in January 1942 that the Nazi bureaucrats decided on the "final solution" to the "Jewish problem" — extermination in mass concentration camps. At that time, so-called "pure Gypsies," as members of the "Aryan race", initially weren't targeted for extinction along racial lines and even continued to serve in the Germany army. But in December 1942, Heinrich Himmler, the commander of the German SS and the principal executor of the "Final Solution," gave orders that all Romani candidates for extermination be transported to Auschwitz; and in November 1943, expanded the order: all "Gypsies and part Gypsies" will be treated "on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps." "Contrary to the fate of the Jews, Roma and Sinti were still taken into the German army until 1942 and only then did Himmler give the order to deport all the Roma and Sinti to Auschwitz, to the so-called 'Zigeunerlager'[Gypsy camp] - no matter what kind way of life they led, but only on the basis of their race." 


The exhibition displays pictures of German Sinti and Roma in Wermacht uniforms.  Many of them were taken to Auschwitz shortly after they joined the German army. An interesting thing is that throughout the exhibition, the Nazis are not called the fascists but national socialists. Also the name of the exhibition `Sinti and Roma` was suggesting that the exhibition was prepared by Germans.

The exhibition also displays the watercolours painted by the Jewish Auschwitz prisoner Dina Gottliebova on the orders of Dr. Josef Mengele, which depict Roma who were later murdered. There is also a video show of `happy faces` of Romani kids playing in an orphanage and being taken care by catholic nuns after their parents were sent to Oswiecim and murdered there ( a similar propaganda film as the Nazis did on Teresienstadt for the International Red Cross.


Three panels are dedicated to Czechoslovakia: A law establishing Lety as a work camp for "nomads" , i.e. the Roma, was passed in March 1939 by Czechoslovakia's proto-fascist Second Republic. In 1942, the Nazis designated the Lety facility as a concentration camp for Roma.  Nearly all of the Roma who survived the torture, malnourishment and typhoid rampant in the Czech-run camps of Lety and Hodonin, met their death in a special "Gypsy family camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau.


One panel displays information about Romani rebellion against the SS: "In May 1944, thousands of Sinti and Roma barricaded themselves in, ready to fight the SS men. They had found out that on that same day all of them were to be killed, by gas, at once. The SS decided not to attack, or try to kill these people. Unfortunately, later on, the ones who were still healthy enough to work were sent on to other concentration camps and only a few of them survived; and the children and old people were killed in a massacre in Auschwitz" disease, or in the gas chambers. The interned Roma had been allowed to stay together as families only because the Nazis had learned from past experience that separating Romani parents from their children made them impossible to control as a group and exploit for forced labour. Far more Roma people died outside the camps than in them, especially in Eastern Europe, where pogroms and summary executions were a daily occurrence.


 The Gypsy family camp wooden building no longer exists in Birkenau and at its original place there is a small monument . The main monument in Birkenau also mentions Roma. Birkenau was an extremely depressing place for all of us. It was rainy and cold, and we were unable to visit all the sites, therefore after visiting the first six wooden houses we returned to Oswiecim Museum to finish our research notes.


One of the Sinti and Roma Exhibition panel

Mendele`s experiments on Romani kids


In Oswiecim Museum we also visited several other exhibitions:

Prisoners from the Czech lands (Block 16) is a very modern and well prepared exposition that opened three years ago and includes 4 panels on Roma that provide more information on Holocaust of Czech Roma than the Sinti and Roma exposition in block 13 (one of the authors was Ctibor Necas).

Persecution and deportation of the Jews in the Netherlands (Block 21), People deported from France (20), both exhibitions are very modern.


The exhibitions Martyrology of the Jews (27), and the traditional general exhibition on the extermination, material evidence of Crime, Life and conditions of prisoners and the Death Block

(Blocks 4 –11) haven’t undergone any substantial changes in the past decade and ale covered in the printed guide booklet.


Day 2:  Lectures at the Institute of European Studies, Jagiellonian University, Campus Przegorzaly


Two lectures were given there:

1. Challenges of Multiculturalism in Europe

2. Roma in extended Europe (Focus on International Law).

PowerPoint presentations and detailed handouts are available here.

 After the lectures we talked with Professor Jolanta J. Ambrosewicz and we discussed opportunities for further cooperation. We were given several copies of a book on holocaust education[2] with two articles on Roma by Slawomir Kapralski and Andrzej Mirga.




Day 3:  Visit to Tarnow


We met Mr Adam Bartosz, the Director of Museum of Romani culture, Mr Adam Andrasz, the founder of Romani association and a Romani leader, his son Fryderyk (Sandor), and later also other four  Romani teaching assistants who had their regular monthly working meeting just on the same day when we were there, so we accepted their invitation to join them.


Semi-structured interviews with Mr Bartosz and Mr Andrasz.  Main questions:

1. How many Roma there are in Poland.

2. What are the main groups of Romani population.,

3. Who are the Romani leaders and what are yours relations with them

4. What are the key problems of Roma in Poland.


Some data obtained under point 3 is not published here for reasons of confidentiality.


I.  Interview with Mr Bartosz[3]:


1.      Official 12 800, unofficial 25 – 26 000 Roma, most of them living in the region of Malopolska

2.      Two main groups:

A)    Traditionally settled: Carpathian Gypsies (Karpatski G., Gurski G., they call themselves Gypsies and are similar to Czech and Slovak Rumungro (Servika). They adopted the appellation BERGITKA  (it is how they were originally called by the Polska Roma)

B)     Previously nomadic:  Polska Roma, since 16 century, originally from Germany. They were nomadic until 1964.  Kalderari & Lovari  (smiths & horse dealers).

Also Sasistka Roma, Saso = German

Sinti (etymology - Indian province Sindh)

3.      Leaders: Andrzej Mirga – international influence, Roman Kwiatkowski from Oswiecim (Association of Roma in Poland).

There are three associations in Tarnow each having, they say, 200- 300 members (EU funding).  In the past when there was only one association it had 70 members, with kids up to 150, which is a more realistic estimate.

History: The first Polish Romani organisation started in Tarnow in 1963 The Gypsy Social and Educational association (Adam Andrasz family).  No delegation went to the IRU congresses. Only in 1981 Gottingen (Josef Kaminski).

Mr. Bartosz mentioned that due to arguments and shameful confrontations among Roma a very prestigious project “Pamenti Romov” is no longer happening. It was an annual caravan travelling throughout Polish places where the Roma were murdered in pogroms or by Nazis, that was being organised  for 7 successive years.

4.      Unemployment. Most vulnerable are the Bergitka in the South Poland living in shanty settlements, e.g. Cziarna Gura  or Czarny Dunajec (approx 200 persons in each). All settlements have electricity and drinking water (only one pipeline for a settlement). Housing problems. Settlements in Poland are much smaller than in Slovakia (20 persons, i.e. 3 families up to 100 persons).

Under the communism: The Cultural Centre in Tarnow provided government sponsored courses in sowing, cooking, literacy, etc.  Communism hugely supported culture and exerted a strong control over Roma. Only since the martial law in 81 -83 there was no control and the Roma stopped attending schools till the beginning of 90s when a Priest for Roma (regionalny dusze pastyr Romov) initiated the so called Gypsy classes in the whole Poland. There were illiterate students of all ages from 6-15 in one class. The situation was quite catastrophical. However there was a protest against those classes, as they were perceived as ghetoisation.

Nowadays there is a special programme for Romani kids, the so-called integrated classes

Since 2000 special program: The Pilot Government programme for Roma community. Started in the Malopolska region (Tarnow, Krakow). In 2004 in the whole Poland. The Government Programme for Roma Community.

On 1 May a law on national and ethnic minorities enforced. National minority are those who have a state; ethnic minorities do not, i.e. Gypsies, Kashub, Tartars, Lemkovia (Ruski gorale).


A course on Romology is being taught at the School of Education. Coordinator is Piotr Borek, unfortunately during our trip to Krakow he was abroad, other lecturers include Adam Bartosz, Andrzej Mirga (also was abroad), Slawomir Kapralski, et al.


A young Romani journalist (TV Krakow) and student of Romology in Krakow Agniezka Gabor works for the Romani Educational Association HARANGOS (The Bell) that originally started its activities in Tarnow.


The director gave us his three publications:



II. Interview with the Romani leader Mr Adam Andrasz


Chairman of the Centre of Romani Culture in Poland  (and association of Roma in Tarnow) and the Romani rights Ombudsman at the RNC (Roma National Congress)

  1. Numbers: 50 000 Roma in Poland, incl. those who emigrated and did not gain any citizenship abroad. Official numbers: 15 000.

In 1938 around 200 –250 000 Roma were living on the territory of Poland. Around 35 000 died in porrajmos (devouring).

  1.  Groups: It is not possible to divide the Roma into settled vs. nomadic as the relationship between the two characteristics is dialectical. Roma are more differentiated according to casts, and only then according the nomadic/settled dichotomy.

a)      Kalderashe and Lovari who have a high social status and keep their traditions

b)      Cheladitka (Russian) also spelled Xeladitka

c)      Polska Roma (who adopted the largest amount of words from Polish

d)      Roma Galicijska, Galiciaki (Vilno, Lvov, Krakow) (in Czech Halic)

e)      Bergitka – the lowest cast

f)        Vlachika Roma live only in CZ

g)      Vengerski Roma

The biggest groups are Bergitka and Polska Roma. Adam A`s ethnic origin is Kalderashe and Vengerski Roma.

4.  Problems: Security, discrimination, institutional racism. Even if the law is good it is not implemented. Mainly economic and social situation must be improved and racism and discrimination limited. AA gave an example of  the Bulleting of catholic youth in Tarnow, published and distributed by Lira Polska Rosin as a preparatory text for catechism for children,  which includes examples of various questions that kids may ask about the Jesus. One of the question is: `Can Jesus come to our place where there are Gypsies, Jews and people ill with AIDS?`




III. Visit to the Museum of Romani culture in Tarnow


After interviewing Adam A., his son Sandor Andrasz[4] (a blond hair, well built young Rom who works as a Romani teaching assistant and earns money also at concerts – he  plays violin) guided us to and in the Museum of Romani culture. The Museum was established in 1984 and renovated at the occasion of IRU meeting in Warsaw in 1990.  In a matter of fact it is an Exhibition on Romani culture in one part of the Ethnographical museum in Tarnow. Sandor guided us throughout the museum expositions pointing out to members of his large family. It seemed that his family is the most represented one, which seems however natural as it is the most prominent Romani family in Tarnow. He also pointed to recent pictures of Nigel Dickinson[5]. In the court of the museum, in the open air, there is about a dozen traditionally painted wooden wagons (caravans).



IV. Meeting with Romani teaching assistants  (RTA)


The regular monthly RTA meeting, to which we were invited, was attended by all 5 RTA from Tarnow: Sandor, Jehuda, Ana, Beta, Iona. It took place in the local Chinese restaurant. Each RTA is an employee of one school though he/she is also in charge of several other schools. The funding for their salaries comes directly from the Ministry of Education (before 2004 from Ministry of Interior). Total funding for Roma projects in Poland is 4 300 000 Zloty per year, out of which 700 000 goes for RTA. In Poland there is a total of 200 RTA but not all are employed. All schools in Tarnow are served for by 5 RTA. There are approx. 2 to 3 Romani children in a classroom. The RTA spend most of their time directly in classrooms, they cooperate with teachers and on their request they help Romani pupils either directly in the class or with their homework after the class.

Although the RTA in Poland get a higher salary than qualified teachers (1160 Zlt before tax, whereas teachers get about 1 000 Zlt) there is a very serious problem in their remuneration. None of the RTA has got a permanent contract. For Example Beata who has worked  as a RTA for the past three years was employed only for total of  nine months, i.e. each year only 6 – 7 months. Thus insecurity and lack of labour rights put RTA in a vulnerable position on the labour market.


All RTA receive a printed Journal/Diary of the tasks of RTA (Denik pracej asistenta edukacii kor.) for a given school year, signed and stamped by the Tarnow Mayor. There, the teachers or  head teachers confirm with their signature, on a daily basis,  all the tasks that RTA have performed.

One of the RTA mentioned that she was pleasantly surprised when she saw a primary school Polish language textbook with stories about Romani children, at the same time she however complained that it is a pity that such textbooks are not at all schools as it depends purely on individual schools what textbooks they select for their teaching.




The three days we spent in Poland allowed us to gain important information about the past and present situation of Polish Roma  and their involvement in the international Romani movement.

Further information and materials were obtained on the Romani persecution and holocaust in Europe that will be utilised in the preparation of next year course syllabus and teaching materials. Contacts with the Jagiellonian University were established and potential joint projects discussed.  Contacts with Romani experts and leaders were secured and will be further developed[6]. The trip made up an important part of the CDC project and will have a positive impact on the taught course at the Charles University in 2006.

Prepared on 15 May 2005, t updated on 8 October 2005



[1] (Hotel. Instytut Studiow Polonijnych i Etnicznych, Uniwersytet Jagiellonski,  Krakow-Przegorzaly, ul. Jodlowa 13).

[2] (Jolanta Ambrosewicz- Jakobs ( ed.) Why Should We Teach  About the Holocaust? OSCE ODIHR & Jagiellonian University Institute of European Studies, Kracow, 2005.

[3] Adam Bartosz


[5]  and

[6] Other contacts include:

Andrzej Mirga

Piotr Borek, a head of Roma course in the Pedagogical Academy (in which Mirga, Bartosz and Kapralski are teaching). 

Oswiecim - Roman Kwiatkowski the leader of the Roma Association (

Alicja Bialecka, the educational unit of Auschwitz Museum.