The ancestors of the Romani people were nomads who migrated from northern India to Europe between the 8th and 10th centuries. Believing they had originally come from Egypt, many Europeans called them "Gypsies".
The "Gypsies" who arrived in Europe later developed into different groups, most notably Roma and Sinti. While Sinti could be found particularly in Western Europe, Roma became established in Central and Eastern Europe.
Many suffered from persecution and slavery in the Romanian lands. Between 1385 and 1856 and totalling 471 years, Romanian principalities had the longest period of enslavement of Romani people in Europe.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, almost one million Romanis lived in Europe with roughly half in the eastern part of the continent. The majority of the population lacked education and lived in poor conditions. However, the number of nomadic Romani people was already in decline by the 20th century.
According to the 1930 census, a little over 260 000 Romani people lived in Romania at that time. Many worked as blacksmiths, silversmiths, craftsmen, cobblers, in agriculture, or as musical performers and circus animal trainers. Some were able to open their own shops, particularly the shoemakers, and start small businesses.
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. Yet they continued to keep their traditions regarding 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 were unable to go to schools since their parents tended to put them to work on farms or looking after animals.
The Romani people usually lived in isolated communities, especially the nomadic groups who travelled from place to place, setting up 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 this newly acquired territory.
Romanian Romani people suffered the same fate in 1942. The deportation order set out the evacuation of "dangerous" Roma, the nomads, the unemployed or those with criminal records. However, many settled Romani people were also taken from their homes and deported. In the end, about 25 000 Romani people arrived in Transnistria.
Deportations were carried out by the police and the gendarmerie. Settled Romani people 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 Romani people were left outdoor, exposed to the elements. There were many children, women and elderly people among them and they were already in a profound state of misery, suffering from a lack of food, water and warm clothing. Later on, the Romanian authorities evacuated some Ukrainian houses and moved the Romani people inside, but many families were crowded into just one room.
Finding food was still a major issue: risking their lives if caught by guards outside their houses or camps, people tried to hunt animals for meat. Some even resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. Furthermore, Romanian officials perpetrated many cases of rape, torture and other crimes against them.
End of War and Postwar Fate
With the end of the war approaching and the defeat of Germany and allied countries, 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: some parts could be travelled by train or cart but, for most of the way, they had to walk. Many Romani families were forced to leave behind relatives including children, parents and grandparents in Transnistria as they were too weak to make the journey.
Upon arriving home, they found themselves dispossessed of all their belongings and their houses confiscated by the National Centre for Romanianization.
The reintegration process depended mainly on the luck of each individual: some managed to find a job and have families whereas others continued to live on the verge of poverty. Even today, the Romani people face the barrier of stereotypes in Romania and continue more often than not to remain in isolation.