This is an abbreviated history of the Roma (Romani people) as told by myself. I am drawing from research done online but also heavily from the fantastic book “Pariah Syndrome” written by Dr. Ian Hancock, who is considered the world expert on Roma History. I hope that this article is helpful for those who wish to learn more about the people we minister to. It is also intended to be something of a review for those who have heard my talk on Roma and the Roma Bible Union.
The Roma are a people group who migrated from Northern India sometime in the 12th century. For the next 200-300 years there were many more migrations across Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. However, to go into all of them would take another article entirely. In the 14th Century these same people had slowly made their way to Europe. Upon arriving, the foreign, tan-skinned travelers were completely unknown to the Europeans. Figuring they must be Egyptians, they became known as “Gypsies”.
Before long the Europeans enslaved the Roma. Laws were written which kept them virtually trapped in slavery. Even when they were free, they could often be rounded back up and forced in to slavery elsewhere. As is the dark reality of slavery, the Roma were dehumanized to justify the horrible treatment. Horrible punishments were dealt for mistakes. There are recorded instances of hands being cut off for broken plates. Roma who escaped slavery were considered animals who could be hunted, and would have their heads mounted on walls along with the other trophies of the hunter.
The final emancipation of the Roma was not until the mid-19th century. As is often seen in history, the emancipation of people who lived generations as slaves is not always a better life for them. Though they were freed, they were very restricted and considered undesirables. Most were not allowed to learn to read and write, and many were forced to give up their languages in slavery. The result was a migrating poverty-stricken people, unwanted at every turn and with poor prospects for work or a comfortable life. Some would even return to their masters begging for work.
One hundred years later, under the Nazi Third Reich, the Roma endured a horrific ethnic cleansing. Though it is well known, the Roma suffering in the Holocaust is rarely spoken or written about in history books. Many of the concentration camps across Europe were first filled with Roma before the Jewish. They became the subject of forced labor, horrific experimentation, and eventual mass execution. Tragically, the mass movement of the Roma from the towns and villages was often done with the silent consent of the local Europeans, who had no interest in the “undesirables”. It is hard to estimate exactly, but I have read various sources that put the death toll for the Roma people anywhere between 600,000 to 2,500,00. In a sense what happened first to the Roma set the ground work for the mass transportation and cleansing of the Jews.
Now, 70 years after those horrors the Roma are spread once more across Europe and the Americas. Some Roma, especially in the Balkans, still live in the same poverty they faced during slavery. While it is unfair to generalize as each Roma community is different, there are still many villages were most of the adults cannot read or write. Where virtually no one is legitimately employed. Where children are struggling to have hope for their futures and parents have given up all hope as their futures have become reality. They are still slaves, but not to the whims and desires of a harsh and human master. They are enslaved in hopelessness, enslaved in poverty, enslaved in the same hatred that has caused them to be rejected, hunted, spat on and killed many times before.
We desire more than anything to see the light and hope of the Gospel of Truth penetrate the villages. To see the trans-formative power of Christian love and peace change communities. To see our efforts in assisting children in school prosper. To give children a future and parents a hope. Our organization is committed to this task. We are committed to this task. We hope knowing what you know now, you will commit to praying and seeing how you can get involved! We all have a part to play in restoring hope to these people. A people loved by God.