The ancestors of the Romanis migrated to Europe from Northern India as nomadic people, between the 8th and 10th centuries. Many Europeans, who believed they came from Egypt, called them "Gypsies".
The "Gypsies" who arrived in Europe developed later into different tribes, most notably Roma and Sinti. While Sinti could be found particularly in Western Europe, the Roma have spread to Central and Eastern Europe.
Many suffered from persecution and slavery in the Romanian lands. Romanian Principalities have the longest period of enslavement of Roma in Europe, for 471 years, from 1385 to 1856.
At the beginning of World War II, almost one million Romanis lived in Europe, and about half in the Eastern part of the continent. The majority of the population was lacking education and had poor living conditions. However, the number of nomadic Roma was already declining in the 20th century.
According to the 1930 census, in Romania lived a little more over 260 000 Roma. Many worked as blacksmiths, silversmiths, craftsmen, cobblers, in agriculture, or as musical performers and circus animal trainers. Some were able to open their own shop, especially the shoemakers, and start a small business.
Romani women and men often married very young and had many children. Many in Europe adopted the religion of the host country, so in Romania, they were mainly Orthodox Christians, but they continued to keep their traditions in regards to marriage, family, or burial ceremonies.
Their mother tongue was Romani, although they also spoke Romanian. The lack of education among Romani people was a general problem, many children being taken by their parents for the farm labour or animal husbandry, without being able to go to school.
They usually lived in isolated communities, especially the nomads, who were travelling from place to place, setting their caravans on the outskirts of towns and villages.
Nazi Policy Influence on Roma and Sinti Lives
In 1941 Hitler decided to give Romania the territory of Transnistria as compensation for the loss of Northern Transylvania. In the same year, Marshal Antonescu ordered the deportation of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina to the newly acquired territory. Romanian Roma suffered the same fate in 1942.
The order mentioned the evacuation of "dangerous" Roma, the nomads and jobless persons, or those with criminal records. However, many sedentary Roma were also taken from their homes and deported. In the end, about 25 000 Roma arrived in Transnistria.
Deportations were carried out by the police and the gendarmerie. Sedentary Roma were crowded into wagons and transported by train, while nomads were taken with their own carts, which were then confiscated.
Upon arrival in Transnistria the Roma were left under the open sky. They were already in a profound state of misery, as there were many children, women and old people. They suffered from the lack of food, water and warm clothes. Later on, the Romanian authorities evacuated some Ukrainian houses and moved the Roma inside, but many families were crowded in just one room.
Finding food was still a big problem, and people had to hunt animals on the field. If the guards outside the houses or the camps caught them they could risk their lives. Therefore, some people had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Many cases of abuse committed by officials include rapes, tortures and crimes.
End of War and Postwar Destiny
Due to the near end of the war and the defeat of Germany and its allies, the German and Romanian armies were forced to retreat, which made it possible for deportees to return to Romania.
The journey back home lasted for weeks, sometimes they could use the trains or carts, but most of the way they had to walk. Many Roma had to leave behind members of their family, children, parents or grandparents who were not able to walk were left in Transnistria.
After they arrived home, they found themselves dispossessed of all their belongings, and the houses confiscated by the National Center for Romanianization.
The reintegration process depended mainly on the luck of each person; some managed to find a job and have families, others continued to live on the verge of poverty. Even today, the Roma face the barrier of stereotypes in Romania, and the tendency is mainly that of isolation.