Sinti and roma in europe

Dr. Udo Engbring-Romang is a historian and political scientist. He lives in Marburg and is active as a scientific author and in adult education and teacher training. His specialty is research on antiziganism and the persecution of Sinti and Roma during National Socialism, with a focus on Hessian regional history. He is a freelancer for the Association of German Sinti and Roma in Baden-Wurttemberg and the Association of German Sinti and Roma in Hesse, and since 1998 has been a board member of the Society for Antiziganism Research.V. in Marburg.

On the history and present of the Sinti and Roma in Europe

Where do Sinti and Roma come from? Since when do they live in Europe? What religion do they have? What is Romanes for a language? Our knowledge about the life of the Sinti and Roma in the past is very limited. There are almost no written sources of their own, facts, data and figures that clarify cliches and prejudices.

alt="Demonstration of Sinti and Roma on the 28th of March in Berlin. January 1983 on the occasion of the 50. Anniversary of the Nazi seizure of power in front of the BKA." width="620" height="413" /> (&copy Paula Bulling)


Our knowledge about the life, also about details of the history of the Sinti and Roma in the past is very limited, because there are almost no written sources of their own. Almost all the information was collected and passed on for centuries by non-Sinti and Roma, but some of it was only transcribed. Much lies in the dark here.

Since the late 18. respectively early 19. Century is to be regarded on the basis of linguistic studies the origin as secured. The ancestors of the Roma and Sinti living in Europe today originally came from India and present-day Pakistan, respectively. They migrated since the 8. to 10. century via Persia, Asia Minor or the Caucasus (Armenia), finally in the 13. and 14. Century via Greece and the Balkans to Central, Western and Northern Europe; and from there also to America. Possibly there was another migration route via North Africa to Spain. The source situation is here however very scanty.

The background was not a migratory instinct – long assumed to them – but they were or they saw themselves forced by wars, persecution, expulsion or economic hardship to this migration, which lasted more than 500 years in relation to Central Europe.

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Arrival in Europe

In Europe Roma were "new strangers. They differed from the natives in appearance, in their cultural traditions and by their own language, Romanes. They were called "Tartars (Northern Germany, Scandinavia), called "Egyptians" or (England, France) "Bohemia (France) or very often as "pagans designated. From the 14./15. Century they become "Cingari or "People of the Pharaoh or also called "Athinganoi (= Untouchables), translated into German as "Zigeuner". This term exists in Hungarian, Romanian, Slavic languages, but also in Romance languages.

The history of the Roma is regionally very different in Europe. In Eastern Europe, they were often made serfs or even slaves; in Central Europe, however, the Sinti, as a subgroup of the Roma, were brought to Europe at the end of the 15th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Sinti and Roma were declared birdless (without rights) and had to join the group of Travellers, who soon gave them the name "Gypsies".

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Roma is considered the general collective term for the groups living outside the German-speaking area; in Germany it is mainly used for the groups in the southeastern European area. For a long time the term "Gypsy" used, which is a foreign designation and is perceived by many Sinti and Roma as insulting or disparaging.

Sinti (singular, masculine: Sinto; singular, feminine: Sintez(z)a) and Roma (singular, masculine: Rom, also husband or man; singular, feminine: Romni) are the names of minority groups living throughout Europe. The name Sinti for the Central European groups is possibly derived from the Sindh (Indus) region.

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Romanes – the language of the Roma and Sinti

Romanes, the language of the Roma and Sinti, is related to Indian Sanskrit. Romani has developed different dialects over the centuries and due to the migratory routes or the respective home regions today, so that one can speak of a "German Romani", for example or a "Hungarian Romany speaks. Some Roma groups have lost their language in the course of a long history, especially of exclusion and attempted forced assimilation.

Romani is above all an oral language. In various regions of Europe, there have been and still are projects and plans to write down Romani or even to standardize it, not always with the participation of the people concerned. There were larger projects in the early Soviet Union, in Poland and also in Germany.

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There is a lot of information about the culture of the Roma and Sinti from ethnologists and sociologists, which often leads to the consolidation of "gypsy" stereotypes-The Romani language, the language of the Gypsies, has contributed to the development of the Romani image or even prepared persecutions, be it in the age of Renaissance and Humanism (Sebastian Munster), during the time of Enlightenment (Moritz Grellmann) or during National Socialism by self-proclaimed "Gypsy experts".[1]

The distrust of the sciences to reveal something about themselves and their groups is therefore very high among the Roma and Sinti.

Own statements testify especially to a great cultural heterogeneity or diversity between Roma groups in Russia, Sinti in Germany or Roma in Spain. What they have in common is an appreciation of family and kinship beyond the nuclear families, respect for their elders, the use of their own language and, last but not least, an awareness of the long discrimination and knowledge of the National Socialist genocide. If culture describes more than traditions and views of life, Roma and Sinti have been appearing in public for centuries, among other things through an independent music, which has also found its own expression in classical music, for example in the work of Franz Liszt, or in jazz, for example in the work of Django Reinhardt, who shaped a new style of jazz, and in that of his many successors.

A special significance is given to the narrative art, which has an effect both in the communities and externally.[2] For some time there has been literature, but mostly written in the local language and not in Romanes, and examples in the visual arts. This shows a stronger developing self-confidence, not least of young Sinti and Roma.


Roma and Sinti do not have their own religion. They are members of different religions or denominations, often Muslims or Orthodox in the European Southeast, Catholics and Protestants in Central Europe, and also members of free churches all over the world.

For centuries, Roma and Sinti were considered "heathens" although – as it has been stated in the sources since the 16th century – they were not considered as such. In the 19th century – they had their children baptized among Christians, because Christians were independent of the respective denomination. As a rule, Roma and Sinti played no role in community life; in many cases, they were not perceived at all by the churches, and if they were, then rather as a disruptive factor.

Since the late 19. In the twentieth century, there have been increasing attempts to treat Roma and Sinti as independent groups in the churches and in pastoral care, for example in the pastoral care for Roma and Sinti of the German Bishops’ Conference.

The Churches and the Sinti and Roma

The story began with a misunderstanding. When Roma and Sinti at the end of the 14., at the beginning of the 15. Century arrived in Central Europe, they were considered pilgrims. Accordingly, kings and princes equipped them with escort letters that allowed them to move from landscape to landscape, trusting in support, but always with the background that they would go back again. They remained, the benevolence dwindled and was replaced by rejection. Roma and Sinti became "Gypsies, from the view of the European Christianity "heathen.[3]

If they were considered pagans, it does not mean that massive efforts were made to bring them to the Christian faith. Martin Luther mentioned "Gypsies in some places. That he suggested Jews should be treated "like the Gypsies" to treat Jews as non-Christians shows that he perceived them as a persecuted group, but it also shows that he accepted persecution and threatened similar treatment to Jews as non-Christians. He was followed by the Protestant princes in Central Europe. At about the same time, at the Council of Trent, the Catholics decided that "Gypsies" were not to be considered as "Jews" should not be tolerated within the communities. What has happened in the centuries up to the 20. The "Gypsies" who followed in Central Europe in the nineteenth century are largely unrecognized by the Christian churches. Sinti and Roma were either ignored by the churches or half-heartedly perceived as a target of missionary attempts.

In National Socialist Germany, the churches and their clergy were given the task by those in power to search old church records for "Gypsies" to sift through. The "Gypsies-Reports should supplement the genealogical tables of racial researchers and provide information about the degree of the so-called "Gypsy" origin. This church information helped to compile the deportations to the extermination camps. There was hardly any ecclesiastical resistance. Only a few clergymen refused to cooperate.[4]

Even during the deportations in 1943 to the Auschwitz extermination camp, of which they were aware, the German bishops could not decide to try to save their Catholic members.[5] No protest by Protestant clergy is known – perhaps because about 90 percent of the Sinti and Roma were Catholics. Church representatives in both the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church did not formulate an admission of guilt in the face of silence during National Socialism until late in the day.

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Antiziganism is the defensive attitude of the majority populations against Roma and Sinti. Antiziganism refers to the policy of exclusion and persecution against Sinti and Roma since the 15th century. Century.[6] In antiziganism, members of the Roma and Sinti groups are sweepingly described as "foreign, "nomadic, "idle", "musical" and "free", "primitive", "archaic", "cultureless" or "criminal and "resistant to modernization marks. It is important to note that these are images that are transferred to persons and groups of persons.

Antiziganism is a basic attitude of many people towards Sinti and Roma, which is quite accepted in the society until today. This basic attitude makes it impossible or difficult to recognize the real people, and it leads to massive discrimination against the minority. Antiziganism is directed against an ethnic minority, which is often assumed to have such behavior as an unchangeable nature. "Contemporary antiziganism," according to Berlin historian Wolfgang Wippermann, "is more a product of the past than the present. [… prejudices are to be compared with diseases. If you know when and why they arose, you usually also know how to heal and eliminate them."[7]

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