The German Church and the People are
practically the same body.
Adolf Hitler, ( 1889- 1945 )
Treatment of Romanies in Christian Europe mirrors the treatment
of the other non-Christian minorities, most notably the Jews.
The main difference is that the Romanies did not arrive in Europe
until the Middle Ages. Christians followed the traditional series
of actions: restriction of marriage and other civil rights,
black propaganda, special dress codes, restrictions under purity
(later known as racial hygiene) laws, accusations of witchcraft,
flogging, branding and mutilation, forcible removal of children,
condemnations to slavery, forcible expulsion, selected execution
and ultimately mass extermination.
One of the earliest cases of action being taken against Romanies
is apparently by Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula and
less well known as a Roman Catholic convert. He transported
12,000 people, probably Romanies, “who looked like Egyptians”
for slave labour. In 1496 the Reichstag in Landau and Freiburg
declared Romanies to be traitors to Christian states and carriers
of the plague. They were vermin on the otherwise healthy Christian
body. It was widely believed that Romany blacksmiths had forged
the nails used to crucify Jesus. In 1500 the Augsburg Reichstag
also declared Romanies to be traitors to Christian states and
accused them of witchcraft. During the sixteenth century almost
all European states introduced laws against the Romanies, generally
Under Edward VI a law was introduced in England requiring Roma
to be seized and branded with a “V” on their breast
and then enslaved for two years. Escapees were to be branded
with an “S” and enslaved for life. Lutherans found
Romanies as objectionable as Catholics did. A Swedish archbishop
decreed in 1560 that Romani children should not be christened
and that the Romani dead should not be buried. In 1563 the Council
of Trent, which Roman Catholics hold to be an infallible authority,
affirmed that Romanies are debarred from becoming priests. Five
years later Pope Pius V ordered the expulsion of all Romanies
from the domain of the Catholic Church.
Romany children were often forcibly taken from their families
to be raised by more acceptable Christian foster families. Sometimes
this was explicitly authorised by official decree, as for example
1710 when Prince Adolf Frederick of Mecklenburg-Stelitz ordered
that all Romanies be flogged, branded, deprived of their children
and expelled, and executed if they returned. Children under
the age of ten were to be given to Christian families. In 1726
Charles VI decreed that Romani men should all be killed instantly.
Women and children were to have their ears cut off and flogged
all the way to the border.
The nineteenth century saw improvements but Christian authorities
around Europe continued to remove Romani children from their
parents and foster them with practicing Christian families.
In some areas the practice continued into the twentieth century.
Romanies were classified as “degenerates” and “social
deviants”. In Switzerland in 1926 an organization called
Pro Juventute started systematically removing effectively
kidnapping Romany children. The children were given new
identities and placed in Christian foster homes. The following
year the Czech authorities initiated a similar programme.
Perhaps stimulated into action by the Swiss, in the 1930's the Nazi regime revived the full range of traditional Christian
measures against the Romanies. Mixed marriages were prohibited
by a new citizenship law (Reichsbürgergesetz)
of 15 th September 1935. Civil rights were restricted just two
days later. The following year on March 7th voting rights were
restricted. Internment started soon afterwards. Official papers
of the period use traditional Christian language, for example
describing the Romany people as “a plague”. On 16
th March 1936 voting rights were removed altogether. By 1940
internment camps for Romanies were in use in France and Austria.
Romanies, like Jews, were obliged to wear traditional Christian
“badges of shame”. In Buchenwald Romani children
were used to test the efficacy of Zyklon-B gas crystals. Soon
mass exterminations would begin, and not just in Germany. In
September 1941 the SS carried out mass killing of Romanies and
Jews in the Ukraine, and more mass killings took place in Yugoslavia
the same year. In 1943 Himmler ordered all Romani camps to be
closed, which in practice meant that all internees were to be
executed. It is estimated that up to 1,500,000 Romanies were
killed during the period 1939-1945 all of them by Christian
soldiers in Christian armies attended by Christian chaplains.
Persecutions continued in many countries even after the end
of the Second World War. Pro Juventute for example continued
to kidnap Romani children and send them to be brought up in
Christian homes. According
to the testimony of those children, now adults, they were told
that their mothers were whores. Those in orphanages were punished
severely by nuns if they ever asked about their families. Abuse
seems to have been common. These child kidnappings often took
place while the father was performing military service. Parents
who opposed the abduction of their children were themselves
put under legal guardianship i.e. committed to mental
institutions. Pro Juventute systematically erased all records
of such proceedings so that parents could never find out where
their children had been placed.
As in many other instances, moral outrage at this behaviour
by the Christian authorities was manifested mainly by secular
forces. The only significant humane voices within the Christian
ranks came from Quakers. As early as 1816 John Hoyland had published
a book calling for better treatment of Romanies in England.
Pro-Juventute still exists. Its kidnapping practices ended
in 1973 after they were publicised to widespread international
condemnation. Today Pro-Juventute claims to be non-denominational,
but it had a strong Catholic ethos for most of its existence.
The Pro Juventute website (http://www.pro-juventute.ch/)
makes no mention of the organisation's Catholic past, and
refers to its history in the most oblique terms.
Today, Pro-Juventute and the Swiss authorities continue to refuse
Romanies access to any remaining records that would enable them
to locate their kidnapped children.
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