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The Story of the Roma

            When the word Gypsy is said, an image comes to mind of a vagabond who only travels for thievery and is always carefree and happy.  The term "Gypsy" however is considered a derogatory term to the people who it represents.  This group identifies itself as the Romani and mainstream culture is uneducated in the people and their history, often portraying them as  care-free individuals whose only interests are thievery and dancing.  The discrimination against the Romani people is a largely ignored issue that still persists today.  Due to an absence of their written history, the actual origins of the Romani are a highly debated topic.  Based on evidence of linguistic similarities the most common believed theory is the Romani came from India.  However they have occupied portions of Europe since the 11th to 13th centuries.  Upon their arrival, the Romani have experienced a mass wave of discrimination from other European groups.  The Romani are a misunderstood people, whose culture is kept private from outsiders.  There experiences of discrimination may have perpetuated their resolve to keep vast portions of their culture hidden from foreigners.

            During World War II the Romani were discriminated against by the Nazi Regime.  As seen by what is known as the Circular Decree issued by Heinrich Himmler on December 8, 1938, the Romani were considered a "nuisance" and plans were made for a final solution to this "nuisance".   The Romani were placed alongside Jews in the Concentration Camps, though today they are lucky if they get the generic sentence stating that 'gypsies' along with homosexuals were also victims of the Holocaust.  The Romani were kept together upon arrival in the concentration camps, as shown by a picture from the United States Holocaust Memorial.  Romani twins were subject to experiments by the infamous Dr. Mengele, and Romani were experimented on to find racial differences that would support research into racial and ideological beliefs held by the Nazis.  The Romani were often forced to undergo sterilization during this period by Nazi officials, as Eichwald Rose discusses.  While exact numbers are unknown it is estimated that up to half a million or a million and a half Romani were killed during the Holocaust. The Holocaust, known to the Romani as Porrajmos, is an event that has been pushed into the back of Romani History, while the Romani themselves do not dwell on it or discuss with foreigners about it.

            Following the war, discrimination against the Romani continued.  The Federal Republic of Germany considered all legislation prior to 1943 that dealt with the Romani to be legitimate because it dealt with criminal offenses not racial issues.   Therefore restitution payment to the Romani were not allowed for those who had been in the concentration camps, sterilized, and deported into other European countries.  It wasn't until 1973 that Germany repealed this and allowed restitution for the Romani, however by then most of them were dead.  During the Yugoslavian war, many Albanians attacked Romani settlements in Kosovo, resulting in the need to transport those Romani into safer conditions, away from the lands that they had lived on, as seen through this photo taken in Kosovo during this time.

            Contemporary issues dealing with discrimination persist today.  Healthcare for the Romani and the rights for Romani to freely move and settle where they wish is a controversial issue.  Romani children are often placed in 'special' schools with those who are considered 'unfit' or 'handicapped'.  Many Romani are not offered the equal housing rights that should be afforded under international laws for Human Rights.  Communities often live in squalor and filth, and are the targets of abuse by those who live near them.  In legal proceedings, such as Assenov vs. Bulgaria, there are some gains for the Romani, however they are often limited or not enforced.  For a community that is so misunderstood, their future looks bleak, however there are small possibilities if people remember they are a community just like any other. For more information on the Romani, follow the links provided on this page.



We are teacher education candidates at the University of Texas at Austin completing our Student as Historian assignment in order to meet course requirements for Secondary Advanced Social Studies Methods.

Created by:  Blanca and Sarah on 10/11/09.
Updated on:  11/11/09 1:53 pm.