Throughout history, the Romany were treated as outsiders and detested.
For centuries Europeans regarded Gypsies as social outcasts — a people of foreign appearance, language, and customs. In modern Germany, persecution of the Sinti and Roma preceded the Nazi regime.Link
See also: Gypsies: a persecuted race, by William A. Duna which has sections on Anti-Gypsy Laws, Gypsy Hunts and Nazi Tactics 100 Years Before Hitler
The extermination of Roma under Nazism was, like in the parallel case of anti-Semitism, merely the culmination of centuries of bias and hatred against them. Yet, in Holocaust studies and memorials, the loss of Roma lives has been minimised or even completely ignored for many decades. Even in recent books on this topic authors have tried to reason that Nazism's "final solution" for the Roma was intrinsically different from that directed at the Jewish people. This denial of their loss, coupled with the denigration of centuries which undermined their rights to human status, could still be contributing to the biases in society against them. In Europe and even the U.S. Roma are still regarded with suspicion to this day, whilst in some Eastern European countries and parts of Russia, they continue to be persecuted.
Today, with the rise of strident nationalism in many of the eastern European nations and unemployment throughout Europe, Sinti and Roma continue to face widespread public prejudices and official discrimination.Link
Second to the Jews, the Roma are Europe's oldest non-Christian minority. In many European countries which now have a minimal Jewish presence, Roma have taken over the role of principal scapegoat. Their treatment has become a litmus test for a humane society. Today they suffer serious and increasing persecution. Since the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, their plight has significantly worsened in that region. Roma face new forms of discrimination and legal harassment in several West European countries, including Britain. The widespread suffering of Roma is now one of Europe's most pressing-but most neglected-human rights issues.Link
To understand how European prejudice developed against Gypsies we must explore the European western mind in the medieval period. When Gypsies first appeared, Christianity had shaped the doctrine of war between light and dark and personified the white angels against the black devils. To the church the Gypsy culture was non-acceptable and their dark skin exemplified evil and inferiority. Hence in western Christian Europe the dark-skinned Gypsies became victims of prejudice as a result of this Christian doctrine.From: Gypsies: a persecuted race, by William A. Duna
The persona of the Romani as non-white, non-Christian outsider became incorporated into Christian European folklore, which served to justify and encourage the prejudice against him. Like Asahuerus, the Jew doomed to wander through eternity because he refused to allow Jesus to rest on his way to Calvary, Romanies were accused of forging the nails with which Christ was crucified. And while Jews were accused of drinking the blood of Christian babies in hidden rites to which no outsider was privy, Romanies were likewise charged with stealing and even eating those babies. Parallelling even more closely the Asahuerus myth is the belief that the original sin of the Romanies was their refusal to give Mary and the baby Jesus shelter during their flight from King Herod into Egypt (Scheier, 1925, vol. II, p. 77).From: The roots of Anti-Gypsyism: To the Holocaust and After by Ian Hancock
How the Church responded to the Gypsy presenceFrom: Gypsies: a persecuted race, by William A. Duna
Martin Luther gave Europe one of the first compilations of the Gypsy language in his Liber Vagatorium (Book of Vagabonds, 1528). In the preface to this work he called them"fake friars, wandering Jews and rogues." ("Slang" 1974:852).Gypsies who wanted to become Christians upon entering Europe were rejected by the Church. The Archbishop Petri of Sweden decreed in 1560:"The priest shall not concern himself with the Gypsies. He shall neither bury their corpses nor christen their children."Priests in Magdeburg were ordered not to baptize Gypsy children without obtaining higher authorization. (Kenrick 1972:22).
Gypsies were rejected by the Church for two major reasons. The first, which may have been accurate, was that the main motive for their conversion was an expedient to greater acceptance by the European peoples. The second, ...the Church ...felt threatened by the palmists who were now competing with the priests for the superstitious minds of the peasant (as well as the upper class) population during this period of the Middle Ages.
During the 19th century the Orthodox clergy in Bulgaria declared it a greater sin than theft to give alms to the Gypsies. (Kenrick 1972:21). In France during the 16th century those who had had their palms read by Gypsies were excommunicated or forced to do penance. (Kenrick 1972:22).
Both Moslem and Christian religious preachers placed Gypsies outside normal society by treating them as outcasts and not letting them participate in church and religious functions even when they professed to be converted to the religion of that country. Those Gypsies who were sincere in their beliefs were forced to listen outside an open window of the church or mosque.
During this time, there were some people who showed sympathy for the Gypsies. The Catholic clergy used its great power to heighten the persecution of the Gypsies by decreeing that such sympathizers were themselves subject to punishment and even death.In Rumania Gypsies were forced into slavery. They were owned by local landowners and officials in government. The Church bought Gypsy slaves, too for its own purposes. The Church, without compassion, overworked, abused and shamefully took advantage of the Gypsies the same as did the other slaveowners. (Greenfeld, 1977:22).
Some Roma managed to move to the U.S. in the 19th century, escaping
five and a half centuries of slavery in Romania [Link]
For centuries, Sinti and Roma were scorned and persecuted in Europe. Zigeuner, the German word for Gypsy, derives from a Greek root meaning "untouchable." In the Balkan principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, Gypsies were slaves bought and sold by monasteries and large estate holders (boyars) until 1864, when the newly formed nation of Romania emancipated them.Link
Then Nazism arose and Romania's Nazi Arrow Cross brigade was formed, which tried to annihilate Roma as before.
Anti-Semitism had a Biblical basis and a long history of Church teachings, but the Church also taught anti-Gypsyism, instilling it over centuries.
Historical parallels with antisemitismLink
Roma have much in common with Jews in their experience of persecution within Christian Europe. (There are, incidentally, Jewish Gypsies in Belarus and Sofia.) For both Roma and Jews, their suffering and annihilation in the twentieth century are the culmination of centuries of oppression, partly motivated by religious intolerance and racism. Some Rom leaders have noted the parallel. Nicolae Gheorghe recently commented: 'Gypsies are now the scapegoats as the Jews were before.'(31) Kurt Holl of Cologne stated in 1993:'The East European Roma have today the same role as the Ostjuden early in this century.'(32)There are many historical parallels. Hostility towards Roma and Jews has similar roots—fear of the unknown, of religious difference; envy (of the Romanies' apparent freedom); hatred of 'the outsider'; mistrust of possible 'spies'; simple chauvinism and racism. Roma, like Jews, were attacked in sermons, books, drama and popular art, and thus demonized in the popular mind. (Stereotypes of the Gypsy woman or the Jewess as a dangerous seductress and of the male Gypsy or Jew as a dark sinister threat featured widely in literature.) The spread of the Black Death in the fourteenth century was attributed by at least one nineteenth-century writer to both Gypsies and Jews.(33) Roma had their own 'blood libel', the myth that Gypsies abduct non-Gypsy children.
The Romani Holocaust during Nazism (Porrajmos)
was not the first, but the second historical attempt to destroy the Roma as a people, following Charles VI's extermination order in 1721. [Link]
The Nazis regarded both Jews and Roma as populations to be completely exterminated.
Writing on the testimonies of Einsatzgruppen commanders, Glenn Infield recounts:LinkAt the U.S. Government War Crimes Tribunal, [SS general Otto] Ohlendorf . . . told [presiding judge Michael A.] Musmanno that he did his duty as best he could at all times. Asked if he killed others than Jews, Ohlendorf admitted he did: gypsies.
"On what basis did you kill gypsies?"
"It is the same as for Jews," he replied.
...Ohlendorf shrugged his shoulders. "There was no difference between gypsies and Jews."
The Roma refer to the Nazi Holocaust of their people as O Porrajmos. A very great proportion of Roma living in German-occupied territories were murdered under the Nazi regime:
Actually, as more accurate-or honest-demographic studies reveal, the Gypsy population of German-occupied Europe likely came to somewhere around two million in 1939. Of these, it was known at least thirty years ago that between 500,000 and 750,000 died in camps such as Buchenwald, Neuengamme, Bergen-Belsen, Belzec, Chehmo, Majdanek, Sobibor and Auschwitz. More recent research shows that there have been as many as a million more Gypsies exterminated when the tolls taken by the Einsatzgruppen, antipartisan operations in eastern Europe and actions by nazi satellite forces are factored in. One reason for this ambiguity in terms of how many Gypsies died at the hands of the nazis, leaving aside the gross undercounting of their initial population, is that their executioners not infrequently tallied their dead in with the numbers of Jews killed (thus somewhat inflating estimations of the Jewish count while diminishing that of the Sinti and Roma).Link
See also: A Brief Romani Holocaust chronology
The return of the Christian meme
Many Roma today, especially large numbers in France, have been brainwashed into following Fundamentalist Charismatic forms of Christianity. They have convinced themselves that this works with Romani culture, in spite of fundamental incompatibilities.
Partly as a survival tactic, most Roma have traditionally subscribed to the locally dominant religion, whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim. Within this outer framework, animist beliefs and practices have subsisted hand-in-hand with informal elements of Christian or Muslim piety and observance. But, since 1952, unprecedented religious enthusiasm has swept through Rom communities. The Light and Life evangelical Gypsy pentecostal movement claims 8,000 members in Britain and 150,000 in France,(51) where there are 500 Rom preachers, 60 places of worship and a Rom Bible school. Thirty per cent of all Spanish Gypsies have become 'alleluyas', members of a similarly charismatic pentecostal form of Christianity, dubbed by Spanish Romanies the Church of Philadelphia.(52)Link
Forgotten is their suffering and their miserable past at the hands of Christianity - now, after centuries, they are enslaved by the ideology of their aggressors. Until the next Christian (or Islamic) pogrom against them, of course.
More: The Roma/Gypsies of Europe: a persecuted people
Deported to countries were they are persecuted by revived Nazi groups
...the present resurgence of nazi-like antigypsyism in Europe. In 1992, the government of the newly-unified German Republic negotiated a deal in which it paid more than a hundred million deutschmarks to Romania - notoriously hostile to Gypsies - in exchange for that cashpoor country's acceptance of the bulk of Germany's Sinti/Roma population (a smaller side deal is being arranged with Poland to receive the rest).Link
Summary deportations began during the fall of 1993, with more than 20,000 people expelled to date, for no other reason than that they are Gypsies. Their reception upon arrival? A December 1993 news story sums it up very well.An orgy of mob lynching and house-burning with police collaboration has turned into something more sinister for Romania's hated Gypsies: the beginnings of a nationwide campaign of terror launch led by groups modeling themselves on the Ku Klux Klan...The German government had every reason to know this would be the case well before it began deportations. The depth and virulence of Romania's antigypsy sentiment was hardly an historical mystery. Moreover, a leader of the Romanian fascist movement, directly descended from the Arrow Cross formations which avidly embraced nazi racial policies during World War II, had openly announced what would happen nearly six months earlier:
"We are many, and very determined. We will skin the Gypsies soon. We will take their eyeballs out, smash their teeth, and cut off their noses. The first will be hanged.""Our war against the Gypsies will start in the fall. Until them, preparations will be made to obtain arms; first we are going to acquire chemical sprays. We will not spare minors either."No accurate count of how many Gypsies have been killed, tortured, maimed or otherwise physically abused in Romania is presently available (unconfirmed reports run into the hundreds).
With the fall of communism in Eastern-European countries, and the rapid re-entry of Catholicism as well as the slow return of Orthodoxy, there is a re-emergence of the fanatical hatred against Romany. Besides revived forms of nazi-like persecution, other means have been adopted as well. For instance, in Slovakia, many hospitals covertly sterilise Roma women after delivery.
Following the collapse of the Third Reich, nothing was done to assist the Romani survivors, no effort made by the liberators to reorient them; instead, the terms of a 1926 pre-Nazi anti-Gypsy law which was still to effect ensured that those lacking a trade remained out of sight, hiding in the abandoned camps, for fear of arrest and incarceration. Since that time, all of the programs used by the Nazis to deal with Gypsies have been either suggested or implemented by various European nations -- sterilizations in Slovakia, recommendations for incineration in a furnace from an Irish government official, forced incarceration and deportation in Germany (Kinzer, 1992). Today, the Romani population sees its severest crisis since the Holocaust; neo-Nazi race crimes against Gypsies have seen rapes, beatings and murders in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia; anti-Gypsy pogroms in Romania and Bulgaria, including lynchings and home burnings, are increasing.Link
In 1980, the Polish government forcibly deported groups of Romanies by boat, after having confiscated any documents which would have allowed their re-entry into that country.81 At this time, the Czechoslovakian government is maintaining a program of compulsory sterilization of Romani women and taking away their children;82 and in 1984, a city councilor for the City of Bradford, England called for the extermination of Romanies.83 Deportation, sterilization and recommended extermination, not forty years ago, but all within the past decade.From: Uniqueness of the Victims: Gypsies, Jews and the Holocaust by Ian Hancock
- Who were the "Gypsies"?
- Revisionism and the Romani Holocaust
The fragility of the histories of diasporic or disenfranchised communities contrasts starkly with the robust and well-resourced official national histories of established states. Challenges to 'official' national histories are confined to the 'semantics of history', to interpretations of key events and disputes about their meanings. In contrast, revisionist attacks on the histories of disenfranchised communities challenge their very legitimacy, cast doubt on the veracity of actual events. Efforts to historically legitimate the Romani Holocaust have often become entangled in a grotesque 'numbers game', as scholars have found themselves frequently compelled to contest the assertions of revisionists committed to downplaying the significance and extent of the Porrajmos.
- Jewish responses to the Porrajmos (the Romani Holocaust) by Ian Hancock
- Open Directory: Romani Holocaust has links to much material on the Nazi persecution and extermination of Romani.