In the Middle Ages, as dark-skinned migrants, they were initially eyed with curiosity, but were soon disadvantaged, excluded, and patronized. The Nazis eventually pursued and murdered them.

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Sinti and Roma have been part of Europe for over 600 years. Nevertheless, they have remained outsiders.

Roma left India a thousand years ago

The minority language, Romanes, is an Indo-Aryan language rooted in north-western India but also contains elements from Persia around the tenth century. According to Henriette Asseo, this suggests that the Roma left India more than a thousand years ago.

The professor emeritus from Paris has researched the history and different cultures of the Roman people. She uses the word “Tsigane”. In French, it doesn’t have a derogatory connotation.

A third of the Romani vocabulary comes from medieval Greek

The Roma immigrated to Europe via the Greek medieval states. You can still see that in their language today: a third of the Romanes vocabulary comes from medieval Greek.

Sinti and Roma have been an integral part of European societies since the late Middle Ages. But in contrast to other migrant groups from the East at the time, they mix less with the respective majority society. They marry each other, get their language.

First German measures against Sinti and Roma as early as the 15th century

In Germany, measures against the ethnic minority were decided from 1495 onwards. The Sinti and Roma were branded as spies. They were barred from entering, their expulsion was ordered and they were “outlawed”, ie anyone who killed a so-called “gypsy” did not have to reckon with punishment.

Thousands of files in the Reich Criminal Police Office

Even though Nazi propaganda was mostly aimed at Jews, a decree on the Nuremberg “Blood Protection Law” of 1935 also expressly mentions “Gypsies” as “alien races”, says Heidelberg historian Karola Fings. She is one of the leading researchers in Germany on anti-Gypsyism .

Prisoner index card: Siegfried Reinhardt was arrested as a youth by the Munich police in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, followed by the Buchenau and Dora concentration camps.  In his prisoner index cards there is the note

Siegfried Reinhardt was arrested as a youth by the Munich police in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, followed by the Buchenau and Dora concentration camps. In his prisoner index cards there is the note “work-shy gypsies”. None of his family of eight survived.

Copy of / 6913073 in conformity with ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives

Number of genocides against Sinti and Roma still not researched

For the “racial biological reports” the Nazis worked together with the institute of a German doctor: Robert Ritter, who used pseudo-scientific methods to rave about “purebreds” and “half-breeds”. In addition to the extermination camps, Sinti and Roma died in massacres and shootings in collaborating or occupied countries or catastrophic hygiene conditions.

Karola Fings is currently working on the first encyclopedia on the genocide of the Sinti and Roma in Europe, funded by the Federal Foreign Office. Because there is a lack of historical facts. It starts with the death toll, she says.

Prisoner index card: Jakob Gerste was deported in March 1943 together with several siblings to the

In March 1943, Jakob Gerste was deported along with several siblings to the “gypsy family camp” in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and later to the Buchenwald, Mittelbau-Dora and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Apart from him, only his sister Emma survived.

Copy of / 5942991 in conformity with ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives

More information about Siegfried Reinhardt and Jacob barley can be found in the Online exhibition “Youth in the concentration camp”. In addition, the Arolson Archive is the most extensive archive on victims of Nazi persecution internationally and has made the two documents shown here available. Since this is an online archive, researchers, relatives of victims of Nazi persecution, employees in educational projects and anyone interested can access the archive openly and online on-line to use.

The official memorial to the murders of Sinti and Roma was not erected until 2012

The “Porajmos”, as the Nazi genocide of the Sinti and Roma is called in Romani, is the historical event that has a lasting effect as a trauma. Only in 1982 did the federal government recognize the genocide of the minority. In 1998 a European agreement came into force in Germany, in which the German Sinti and Roma were officially recognized as a national minority alongside Danes, Frisians and Sorbs. And it was not until 2012 that the official memorial was inaugurated in Berlin. Civil rights activists had to fight for all of these milestones over decades.

According to estimates, around 60,000 Sinti are now living in Germany again. In addition, there are about as many members of other Roman groups – many guest workers, later also those seeking protection from the Balkans and most recently EU immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania.

Today, Roma and Sinti are still victims of racist violence

In the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau in 2020, three of the nine fatalities were Sinti and Roma. And in the Czech Republic, in the summer of 2021, a Roma was killed in the same way as George Floyd. But the world took little notice.

SWR 2022/2023

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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