Kenrick, Donald. Historical Dictionary of the Gypies (Romanies).

Author:Zentella, Yoly
Position:Book review

Kenrick, Donald. Historical Dictionary of the Gypies (Romanies) (Second ed.) Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2007. 392 pp.

The term Romany, or Roma, is an overarching identity term used in the literature to describe a diverse population with origins in northern India. The Toma people left India in the 11th century and dispersed through Europe, later immigrating to Canada and Latin America. The Toma, however, are only one of many natsias or nations of this diverse population, stigmatized as gypsies. In this review the word Roma is used as a synthesis term, although it may not acknowledge the many cultural differences found within this population.

Romany history is witness to discrimination, racism and genocide. The sterotypical labels of nomad, anti-social, foreigner, and thief have been widely applied, encouraging fear and consequent marginalization. In Europe expulsions and enslavement of Toma were not unknown in the 14th century, and both Henry VIII and his daughter Mary I (16th century) were actively anti-Roma monarchs, passing decrees for their expulsion from England on the pain of death. Modern systems, Fascism, Nazism and Communism, practiced ethnic cleansing resulting in countless Roma lives lost. Marginalization and victimization continues today.

Embedded in this history is an enveloping silence, a reluctance to openly address, to admit the extent of the persecution during the 20th century. Scholars have, however, documented, for example, the expulsion of the Toma from Italian territory during the 1920s and 1940s, before the birth of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, and their internment in various locations in Italy, Agnone, Consenza, Tossicia. A camp reserved for Roma existed until 1943 (Bravi, 2009).

Under the Nazis, the Roma, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, were perceived as genetically defective, inferior. The infamous German psychologist Robert Ritter, head of the Eugenic and Population Biological Research Station of the Reich Health and Sanitation Office, provided justification for the isolation and destruction of the Roma. His findings described the Roma as primitives, incapable of adaptation to a normal life, placing the Roma at the same perceived social level as the Jewish population. As estimated one million Roma were exterminated during the Portajmos, the Romani Holocast (Lee, 2000).

Under communism, specifically in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, the Roma to some extent benefitted by collective social...

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