How to call the genocide perpetrated against the Rroms in Nazi times?

A word is not only a word. It is not an empty, inert label, which can be used freely and without consequences to refer to an object or phenomenon. It is a living creature, populated by references, feelings, often sufferings, links with other words and sometimes also stereotypes. If this word refers to a kind of flower or stone in remote mountains, or an object belonging to old practices, indeed its choice is then not very important, but if it refers to such an abomination as a genocide, it must be selected with great care and used with the utmost respect. The present paper is aimed at bringing reliable information into the disorder of words used to call the genocide perpetrated against the Rroms in nazi times.


Samudaripen is the proper word to name the nazi genocide against the Rroms.

The word Samudaripen emerged in the 1970, first in Yugoslavia in connection with Jasenovac and Auschwitz under the forms Samudaripe and Samundaripe. It circulated later in other countries, adopting local dialectal variants like Samudariben, Samudaripen, Samudaripa and Sǎmudarimos. It originates simply from sa “all” and mudaripen (with respective local variants) “murder” (< mudarel “s/he kills”) – which is clear, understandable, neutral and respectful. It is widely recognized and used, with no other connotation than its genuine meaning – and mourning, while we should avoid unsuitable words like “Holocaust” and “Porrajmos”.

The Rromani word for the Hitlerian genocide against the Rromani people is therefore SAMUDARIPEN with local varieties:

SAMUDARIPE(N) = O-bi dialects (Arli, Baćòri, Kalburʒi, Karpati Northern Russian etc…)
SAMUDARIPO = O-mu dialect (Cerhàri, Colàri etc…)
SAMUNDARIPE = E-bi dialects (Gurbet, Ćergàri etc…)
= E-mu dialect (Kelderaś, Lovari etc…)


Why is “Holocaust” an inappropriate word to name the Rroms’ genocide?

The word “Holocaust” is widely used in Germany and in countries under strong German cultural influence. It was introduced even into French by Bernadac’s book “The forgotten Holocaust”. Its use in German is due to Protestant churches – with a powerful Biblical culture, first not about the Rroms’ but the Jews’ genocide. Religious Jews took it over very soon and introduced it into their own terminology (these same orthodox Jews reject any idea of war compensation, saying that this money is cursed). The emergence of this word in the Jewish context has therefore a very deep religious rooting and belong to the strictly Jewish (and to some extent protestant) context.

True enough, Jews are not the only nation who consider[ed] that God is sending calamities onto peoples as to chastise humans but this element is a crucial axis of their theology.

It is interesting to mention another nation, who took over this believing, namely the Armenians: the Armenian priest Aristakes Lastivertci had a similar perception about the destruction of Armenia by Seljuks and Indians in 1064-1071 since he wrote: “Meanwhile the Lord became filled with rage and sent many [foreign] peoples for vengeance, [brought] from the Mountains of the Moon and from the great river crossing northern India, wicked peoples speaking foreign tongues to flood like gushing water over our lands” [the Mountains of the Moon are to be found in Æthiopia and the text was written in a time when geographers were convinced that Æthiopia was neighbouring India, in a “Negro” continent, South of Prasodis Sea].

This quotation is interesting for us because it refers to the first arrival of Rroms into Eastern Anatolia with Seljuk warriors. Divine vengeance through disasters has become a quite common place in religious literatures. Another historical element strengthened the link between sins and persecution in the Jewish vision of the Universe: during epidemics of plague in the Middle Ages, Christians would kill, massacre and burn Jews, whom they considered as responsible (guilty) for the disease they were suffering. This is in fact the first historical connexion between mass-murdering of Jews and Abraham’s sacrifice – a connexion which is especially revolting from a rational and human point of view…

Be it as it may, these are the reasons why fundamentalist Jews consider Hitler and the nazi as God’s instrument to chastise their ancestors’ sins, to burn them as a sacrifice of expiation. On the other side, this is also the reason why secular Jews, who do not agree with this providential-based perception of such a “crime of the crimes”, prefer the neutral term Shoah [‏שואה] – meaning simply “annihilation, destruction”. One should leave to religious Jews their responsibility of interpreting Hitler (and all the Hitlerlets behind him) as God’s tool to purify their sins by fire. Be it as it may, this conception of a providential genocide to chastise the sins of the nation is totally alien to Rromani culture.

Unfortunately, there is a specific problem in Russian language: until recently, the word холокост (Holocaust) was practically the only one in common use. Shoah does exist in this language as Шоа, but it is defined as “термин, которым обозначается массовое истребление евреев, осуществлявшееся нацистами во время второй мировой войны; то же, что холокост” [a term, which refers to the massive extermination of Jews, carried out by the nazis durung WWII; the same as Holokost]. One may also find “термин, употребляемый евреями вместо термина Холокост” [a term, used by Jews instead of Holokost]. This is – as we explained above, totally wrong: it is not the same as Holocaust. If both words refer to the same reality, the first one conveys a religious justification of this reality, whereas the second one just names it, without any further implication. However, the knowledge of Jewish orthodox theology has not yet reached widely in Russia a level allowing the distinction between the two, but this should occur quite soon.


The word “Holocaust”: a hybrid etymology

The origin of the word Holocaust is also meaningful. Actually most publications give a quite simple etymology, namely from Gk. ὅλο “whole” + καυτός [not καυστός, i.e. without σ] “burnt”, meaning according “entirely burnt”, but in fact this is a mere simplification, since this word has a hybrid (or double) etymology.

It should take on account that this Greek word was not created by the Greeks, but by the so-called “Grecian Jews” (Ελληνιστές), i. e. the majority of Jews, those who were already speaking Greek as their mother tongue after the disappearance of classical Hebrew, as opposed to Judaistic Jews, who were speaking Aramaic (“the language of Jesus,” which is still alive today in the Middle East and in the Diaspora). Grecian Jews are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (VI: 1, IX: 29, and XI: 20) – “μιλούσαν στους Ελληνιστές (Ιουδαίοι που μιλούσαν ελληνικά και είχαν επηρεαστεί από τον ελληνικό πολιτισμό)” [“they spoke to the Ellenistes (Jews who spoke Greek and were affected by the Greek culture”].

The Jews of the Ancient Testament had understood quite early that human languages are not sufficient to express the sophisticated nuances of divine matters. They didn’t have the pretension to achieve a complete system of wording for this field, but they tried an original and subtle approach, which indeed was suggested by the very system of Semitic roots, namely to evoke some concepts while using words expressing other concepts in a kind of punning or patronymic attraction. Most books of the Ancient Testament, especially those historical, prophetical and poetic are full of such disguised allusions.


Prof. Alphonse Maillot (1920-2003), one of the most outstanding protestant exegetes of the past century, analysed the word Holocaust and disclosed that in fact two different words stay within the first element Holo, namely:

– a Greek word ὅλο, as already said,
– but also the Hebrew word עׂלׇה ‘olah “which was offered on an altar; sacrifice” < ‘ālāh “it went up” (cf. Arabic ‘alal “it was high”). I am putting in attachment the page devoted to this word taken from Paulus L. B. Drach’s Hebrew Dictionary (one of the most exhaustive dictionaries in this field: Catholicum lexicon hebraicum et chaldaicum – 1839).


Basically the whole-burnt sacrifice was a Greek ritual, or rather a general Indo-European ritual, since it is also attested in the Vedic and Avestic traditions. However the Jews practiced also this ritual, which they called כּלׅיל [kālīl], and they coined the Greek word ὁλόκαυτος “Holocaust” (var. ὁλοκαύτωμα), as “(smoke) rising right and high, as a sign that the sacrifice is agreed by God”. One should notice that this word appears basically exclusively in a Biblical context in Greek.

So it seems clear that the word Holocaust not only refers to a highly internal Jewish theological issue (including a punning coined in Biblical times) and is deeply rooted in a quite singular vision of divine punishment, but even in this framework it is restricted to a particular group of Jews and expresses a very specific interpretation of the Hitlerian genocide, to such an extent that Jews who do not share this idiosyncratic interpretation, reject the word Holocaust with its religious and providential connotations and use Shoah “annihilation” instead.

As a matter of fact, the word Holocaust was widespread by post-WWII Germans, because it sounds pious and full of contrition in the German religious world but this is not a reason to impose it to non-religious Jews and even more to non-Jews!!!


Why is “Porrajmos” an inappropriate word to name the Rroms’ genocide?

The reason why the word “Porrajmos” has to be outlawed is of a quite different nature. It was coined in good faith by a person who knew the verb porravel (past porradǎs) only from books and indeed the indications given in printed sources do not evoke any inappropriate meaning. Nevertheless, the colloquial use in everyday Rromani is quite different. The verb porravel means “to open widely an orifice of the body: eye, mouth etc.” There is a second meaning, which is not relevant here: “open widely one’s legs – especially for a horse slipping on the paving or the ice”. The abstract substantive porrajmos was coined from the first meaning “opening widely one’s mouth”, with an implicit second meaning “devouring”. Unfortunately – and this couldn’t be predicted from books, the verb porravel and its derivates porravdo, porrado, porradi, porràjpen or porrajmos etc. also refer to the wide opening of much less noble orifices of the body, with strict taboo limitations of use (however porrajmos doesn’t mean at all “rape” as erroneously quoted on the Internet). Moreover it happens that these taboo meanings are much more frequent in everyday Rromani than the dictionary meanings – due to the fact that they are used as colloquial offences (or for the case of porravdi, as a euphemism for a quite common insult). One should point out that it is not a matter of dialectal of local use (as usually set forth as a pretext), but of elevated versus colloquial style, wherever in Europe and America). This is the reason why the word porrajmos is used chiefly by persons (usually non-Rroms), who do not speak Rromani or have only a shallow and bookish idea of the language. When representatives of the International Rromani Union asked the person who had put “Porrajmos” in circulation for more explanation or possible justifications, no answer was given.


Bearing in mind this linguistic fact of observation, it appears absolutely indecent, or even ignominious, to tolerate that a word with such inappropriate implications could be used to name the most abominable period humanity ever went through. As a matter of fact, even any discussion about the suitability of stained words in such a terrifying context is a profanation and a sacrilege. For example, the on-line discussion which occurred early this year between young internet surfers lacking any Biblical and generally speaking historical culture and aimed at “democratically choosing” the appropriate word to name the Samudaripen was an exercise in particular bad taste, since the arguments were of the kind: “such and such word sounds to me more serious, more terrifying, more moving etc.”


Accordingly the International Rromani Union demands that Samudaripen (or related local forms), with capital S, should be used to name specifically and respectfully the nazi genocide against the Rroms. This doesn’t leave out other genocides or attempts of genocides which were perpetrated in history, especially against the Rroms prior to nazi times. Such episodes may be referred to as samudaripen, with lower case s: to quote but two, one may mention the decision of shooting all Rromani males by emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) and the Instructions of 1725 by Friedrich-Wilhelm I of Prussia (1688-1740) to catch at sight and hang all Rroms, males and females. The fact that these decisions (and several others) were not carried out to completion doesn’t reduce their genocidial dimension. For this reason, every user has to be very careful in his terminology, using Samudaripen or Genocide only in the meaning defined by international Law and only under the forms, which pay due respect to the countless victims of this antihuman and antidivine episode of recent History.


Marcel Courthiade (INALCO)