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Gypsies in the Kaiserreich

In: Historical Events

Submitted By sjh16
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Gypsies during the Kaiserreich Over the past few centuries, Germany has endured many battles, numerous defeats, and few victories in order to establish itself as one of the more powerful countries in the World. Developing an identifiable culture has been one of Germany’s many struggles throughout their nation’s history. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, marked notable steps towards these ultimate goals. Then again, Germany’s march towards a distinguished cultural identity held many obstacles, numerous minority groups inhabiting German regions being one of them. One of the more notable persecuted minority groups are the Roma and Sinti. While the Gypsies that have long been targeted with discrimination from countries all over the world, they faced intensified hardships in Germany during the second Empire, the Kaiserreich. As a distinctly unique, carefree, smaller minority group to begin with, the Roma were not difficult for the Germans to manage throughout their struggles as a developing nation state. Germany did not want any minorities standing in the way of achieving their goal. To begin, the Roma, Sinti were first recorded on German soil in the early fifteenth century, 1407, in Hildesheim. Gypsies originated in northern India and began their endless migrations in the fifth century, reaching Europe by the first millennium (Panayi 14-15). Negative stereotypes of this nomadic group started developing by the fifteenth century, noting them as thieves and disease-stricken. While the Roma were seen as a nuisance to the German empire, their size was dismal with only 2,000 Gypsies living in Germany by the beginning of the Kaiserreich in 1871. However, this number quickly grew to 8,000 by 1906 and 14,000 by 1926 as a result of immigration from the Balkans (Panayi 95). As wanderers, the Sinti were seen as foreigners and ethnic “outsiders” throughout the entirety of the Kaiserreich. Roma and Sinti were commonly dispersed throughout all of Germany. Prior to the Kaiserreich period, there were many attempts to settle the Gypsies in designated areas throughout Europe, but support for these ‘enlightened’ settlements disappeared and these settlements faced closer. As a result, the Roma widely continued to be wanderers, usually only settling for short periods of time during the winter months. There were Sinti present in all parts of Germany, but particularly in the southern nation states, such as Bavaria (Panayi 69). With the combination of their small numbers and often unthreatening traditions, the Roma were often ignored by the various German states because they could not see any economic benefits in improving the Sinti’s position (Panayi 51). As a result of remaining as ethnic “outsiders,” the Roma and Sinti fell into two of the three categories of Germany’s ideas of “otherness.” By being immigrants originally from India, the Roma diverged from the German racial axis. Gypsies were identifiable by their differences in appearance due to their darker skin, hair, and eyes (Bergen 15). Additionally, the Sinti continued to dress differently than typical German citizens through the twentieth century (Panayi 8). Also, Gypsies failed to fit the nationalist German axis of language. Roma spoke Romany and Yiddish, which later incorporated German as the years went on. The German language was viewed as the true glue that held Germans together, so the fact that Roma spoke a different language was a huge defiance from German heritage. However, Sinti were able to meet the third German axis of religion, for when they first migrated to Europe, especially Germany in the fifteenth century, they converted to Christianity (Panayi 53). Though this kept them from differing entirely from the three German axes of “otherness,” the religious views of the Roma and Sinti were often overlooked, and the German’s focused on their vast ethnical differences and how their minority was a restriction on fulfilling German identity. With the Kaiserreich came many restrictions and limitations imposed on minority groups. Roma’s who resided, or wandered, throughout Germany were often forced to take up German nationality in the years leading to the Empire in 1871. Those Roma’s who failed to do so, persisted as foreigners during the Kaiserreich. As a result, Gypsies remained as complete outsiders from German citizens throughout the Kaiserreich, unlike the emancipated Jews. Additionally, due to their lack of literacy and low social and economic status, the Sinti were unable to organize themselves in ways that Jews and Poles could that proved beneficial. Other ways the Roma were restricted throughout the Kaiserreich were through the Nationality Law in 1913 and Kulturkampf, which further restricted German citizenship and further undermined the Gypsies through Germanization (Panayi 74-75). The Sinti identity began to shape from these numerous restrictions placed upon them by the Kaiserreich. Gypsies still attempted to carry on with traditional economic activities, though industrialization undermined their lifestyles. Occupations included metal work, horse trading, and basket making, yet jobs available to the Roma declined as a result of the Empire in 1871. Jewelry making, textile selling, and musical performances were still able to flourish. However, a law in 1907 required Gypsies to have a fixed address to obtain a license for trading (Panayi 95-98). Also, German liberals wanted to improve the Roma living conditions and bring them standards of mainstream society. As a result, in 1899, Gypsy children were required to attend school, otherwise they could be taken away from their parents and place them in boarding school (Panayi 97). All of these measures were threatening to traditional Roma way of living and often forced them to become sedentary, which was ultimately the goal of all anti-Gypsy legislation throughout the Kaiserreich. Consequently, fixed Sinti settlements began to appear in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Hamburg (Panayi 98).
Many of these policies implemented on the Roma throughout the Second Empire seemed to set them up for a destructive social position leading into the Weimar Republic and further into the Third Reich because it localized them, making them even easier to target. As a small minority group to begin with, the Sinti did not cause very many threats to the German identity. But as commonly being pursued as a societal scapegoat in times of disaster, the Roma were viewed as a nuisance and an “alien to the Aryan species” (Bergen 72). Their thievery and trickster ways put them on the social radar in Germany from the beginning of the Kaiserreich until the end of the Second World War, which, unfortunately, lead to their devastation. By trying to develop into a leading World nation, Germany did not want any obstacles to stand in their way, even minority groups. As a result, the Roma identity was shaped by the policies and restrictions implemented on them. By now fitting into the German citizen mold, the Gypsies were targeted and forced to either change or be destroyed. Germany, however, was willing to go to any lengths necessary in order to achieve their goals.

Works Cited
Bergen, Doris L. War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust. New York: Barnes &
Noble, 2007.
Panayi, Panikos. Ethnic Minorities in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Germany: Jews,
Gypsies, Poles, Turks and Others. Harlow: Longman, 2000.

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