The Rom: A Perscuted People

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This essay is about the Roma people and how they have been persecuted through out the centeries, and that America is not immune to the ill treatment of these people.

Submitted: June 05, 2008

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Submitted: June 05, 2008

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The Rom: A Persecuted People
Imagine that you are a part of an elite ethnic group that has been persecuted and hated since the beginning of time based upon the uniqueness of your race, and a king decides to take your entire race of people, put you in exile, and sell you to a king in a far off land called Persia. This is what happened to the Rom (also called Roma and Romani) people between 400 and 420 A.D. Behr am Gour, a prince of the Sassanid dynasty, realized his people were in need of amusement. He felt sorry for them because they didn’t have any distractions from their everyday lives, so he asked Shankar, the King of Cambodia, and Maharaja the king of India, if they had any persons with capable talents in their land. The Prince found what he was looking for in India but the Roma people would not go willingly, so Maharaja gathered 12,000 men, women, and children, by force and sent them off with their new owner. The reason why they were given up so easily, no one really knows, but they were in demand for their mystical, musical, artistic, metal working, and choreographic dance. After Behr am Gour brought them into his land he gave them land, corn, and livestock, so that, they could live well and amuse his people at no cost. (Aghba)
 
 After the first year’s end the prince found that his free entertainment wasn’t free after all. When he tried to domesticate the Roma they would not comply, so he became angry and commanded that their assets and musical instruments be taken away, and they were exiled again. The Rom was dispersed into the world, without a homeland thereafter. The actions of these two kings defiled the Rom on all levels, and brought about a curse onto the Romani. Now they roam the world searching for a place to call home.
There are thousands of stories and speculations about what really happened thousands of years ago, and this is one of the most popular theories, but only the Roma know for sure. The Roma have been exiled, persecuted, hated, beaten, and killed, all throughout history. It is still happening today, all over the world, even right here in America. Most modern Americans are completely unaware of their racist ideas and beliefs about Roma Americans, and the harm it causes the Roma people. The most common stereotypes portray the Roma as beggars, swindlers, and thieves. This is where the saying "I've been or you have been gypped" comes from. The Roma have been persecuted and racially targeted for their religious beliefs, form of dress, and secretive ways. Americans need to become aware of their racially charged and bigoted ideas about the Roma, so that they no longer have to live in fear.
If you ask a group of Americans “Who and what are the Gypsies?” what kind of answer would you receive? I have asked several people this very question, and the responses I received from them were of a negative nature. One of these people is a girl that I go to school with. When I asked her “What is the first thing that comes to your mind about Gypsies?” She Replied “I think about those dirty, barefooted people in the subway station in Europe that stole from my brother while he was away on vacation.” Most of the others said almost the same thing. I heard “they are thieves, they are dangerous, bad people that should be stayed far away from,” and more of the like. The worst of the remarks I heard was “Don’t get near a Gypsy, they will put a hex on you, steal your money, children, and then your soul!”
I also looked on Yahoo Answers, for more opinions about the Gypsies, and found the same type of negative reaction there too. The people who believe this type of erroneous and bigoted ideas have either been brainwashed by other misinformed people in society, or really believe this type of childhood silliness derived from their own fears and insecurities of other people. There is no other logical explanation. 
 Think about what you have been told, what you have read, and the movies and TV shows that you have seen. Gypsy is a derogatory name for the Romani people, and the Romani people do not use it, for only the bad batches are called gypsies. What is your first thought about the Roma people? Would you even know what a Roma was if a person didn’t use the word Gypsy? Do you harbor the same types of negative thoughts and ideas? If so why? Have you ever met a real Romani person? If you have not, what is the basis of your opinion? Most people assume that a race or group of people are all bad based on what they have heard and read in books, but they never stop to realize that there is good and bad in all races and ethnicities. 
The hatred of the Romani people began with normal people whose fears overran their logical minds and who then used their bad judgment because of their fears. Lies about the Roma were formed, spread, and persecution of the Rom began as a result. The more hate and misinformed the Gadje (non-Romani people) were, the worse it got for the Romani people.
In the early 1200s the Gadje in many Eastern European countries began to enslave the Romani people, and made it a capital offence to be Romani. As the years went on, so did the anti-Gypsy policies. The Gypsy people were enslaved for over 500 years and were treated with more cruelty than any other enslaved people on the earth. This is explained in The Patrin Web Journal. It states that " ‘by the thirteenth century, [Roma] began to be enslaved for a variety of economic, military, social and possibly racial reasons.’ Also there were many harsh law codes such as The Code of Basil the Wolf of Moldavia, dated 1654. It contained references to the treatment of slaves, including the death penalty in the case of the rape of a white woman by a Rom (the same offense committed by a non-Rom warranted no punishment, according to the same Code). The Romani while enslaved were not allowed to have musical instruments for their own amusement, and were bought and sold in lots, also called satras, cetas or salases. Groups of slaves remained under the supervision of a vatav (also called a ciocoi) or overseer, who was sometimes brutally cruel; and although it was forbidden by law to kill a slave, this was not an infrequent occurrence” (Hancock).
The treatments of these slaves were so horrifying that no human today would be able to stomach the typical punishments. For example, my great- great- grandmother’s father was executed by having his arms, legs and head bound to five horses and then a loud noise rang out, the horses were then spooked, and he was pulled apart until all parts were detached from his body. There are more horrifying atrocities that went on than this, but I think you get the idea. Gypsy slavery was finally abolished in 1855 in Eastern Europe, but the discrimination and hatred still lives on (Patrin Web Journal).
 After slavery was abolished in Europe, many Romani people fled and spread out. Many arrived here in America, but in 1885 Roma were excluded by United States immigration policy, and many were deported back to Europe. Many Roma who wanted to come to America had to lie about their race and where they were born. My great-great-grandmother was one of them. She got on a ship in France headed for America with her three children. She wanted to come to America so badly that she denied her heritage, and told the officials that she was French and that her parents were deceased and that she didn’t know the whereabouts of her children’s father. They came across and landed at Castle Garden in New York. Many other Romani’s did the same. It is a lucky thing that she did this because the next significant leader Hitler had a sheer hate for the Gypsies.
On July 14th,1933 Hitler's cabinet passes the law against "lives not deserving of life" (Lebensunwertesleben), called The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. It orders sterilization for certain categories of people, "specifically Gypsies, Germans of black color, and those resulting from unions between German women and the Senegalese and other African troops brought in from the French colonies to patrol the Ruhr Valley during the First World War, as well as residents in Europe from Germany's ex-colonies in Africa). It also affected Jews, the disabled, and others seen as "asocial." (Social Misfits) (Patrin Web Journal).
If my great-great-grandmother had chosen to stay in Europe with her children, they too would have been exterminated by Hitler and the Nazis. I am glad she chose to flee, for if she hadn’t I wouldn’t be alive today.
Most records state that only 500,000 or so of the Roma were exterminated by the Nazis during the holocaust, but according to the Romani people it was upwards of two million because most of the murders were not recorded, for most of the Roma were murdered at the point of capture and never made it to the concentration camps. The others that made it to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a special section within the camp was sole erected for the Rrom, where they could be isolated and treated worse than the other groups. The Nazis looked at the Romani as non-human and not workable, so they were strapped down to tables and forced to undergo horrid medical experiments. After the experimentations were finished,the Nazis brought their botched projects in front of a firing squad or they injected them with lethal substances at high dosages. The Patrin Web Journal talks about this in depth and shares links of where to go to find out more information on the subject, but are not appropriate for children or the extremely squeamish.
My friend, who is a Rom, has shared with me a poem that he wrote about the Holocaust, and has allowed me to share it in this essay. It is a passionate poem from a real Rom who has been affected by the holocaust.
The Forgotten People
Shot in the streets,
Bodies left to rot.
Thought less than human,
A criminal lot.
Men, women, children,
All treated the same.
The Nazi Regime
Had no sense of shame.

The final numbers hidden,
Dismissed and lost.
The Forgotten People,
What was your cost?
Memory of you,
All but erased.
Instead of acknowledging,
All that you faced.

They say 500,000,
Of your people dead.
TEN times the amount,
Is what should be read.

Fly-ridden corpses,
In pits they were thrown.
Amongst them you burrowed,
Scared to the bone.

Still you were found,
You had no chance.
Shot from all angles,
Ending life's dance.
Others of yours,
Throwing on dirt.
None had a choice,
Everyone hurt.

Once in the camps,
Things worsened so.
Used for experiments,
Tranquilized? No.
Marched to the ovens,
Given no choice.
Terror evident,
In every voice.

The Final Solution
Was against you as well.
But in most remembrances,
Not in the story they tell.
Instead of up there,
Equal with the worst,
Dismissed, ignored,
Forgotten and cursed.

The Roma and Sinti
So many deaths.
Going down fighting,
To their last breaths.
Something you are used to,
Persecuted, still.
Still standing and fighting,
Remember, they will.
Na bister O Porrajmos, na bister
THE MILLIONS
Arisztid Z.
 
I asked Arisztid about the persecution that he and others have faced, and he was more than willing to share the hurt that he and his people have gone through. He states: “We realize that we (The Rom) have to tell some of our ways or the stereotypes and hate shall never end.  Some of us say “tell nothing!” some say "tell all!” most of us say "tell SOME".  I am in the "tell SOME camp.  I believe fully that if we do not teach the truth, how can Gadje learn?” He told me about his life and how his mother died in Canada giving birth to him. He remarks: “My father told me that my mother died in Canada because she was Rromani.  She died giving birth to me.  According to him, her pregnancy was normal, very little (if any) problems.  However, in the hospital she bled out due to her mistreatment by the doctors and nurses.  He also knows of many Rrom, in America and Canada, who do not receive equal medical treatment due to their Romani heritage”   (Arisztid). Arisztid’s life story is important because he, a real life Romani man, has been through horrible persecution here in America. He is proof of the hidden horror that goes on. He is a brave man that decided enough is enough. The hatred and persecution of the Romani people has to stop, and if no one else is brave enough to do it, he is. I applaud his wiliness to fight for his people.
The fact that discrimination and persecution of the Romani continues here in America is not known by many, and is usually hidden because of our protection laws.  Many hospitals and other businesses say that they are in concordance with the law, but more often than not, the Romani people continue to be treated in the foulest ways possible. Arisztid has given me several examples of this maltreatment. He told me that he has a friend whose cousin was misdiagnosed when he had spinal meningitis.  Not only did he almost die from the disease, but he now suffers from permanent physical disability.  Most of the hospitals and doctors cringe when they see a Gypsy coming in for care, and they try to get them out of the office as soon as possible. Most Roma will not go to the doctor due to the fear that the doctors will murder them.
My friend was bullied a lot in school, so he learned to fight. He didn’t have a choice, for he had to fight or be beaten to a pulp. He said his father told him that he had to choose to lie and say that he was white or another race that he appeared to be, so that he wouldn’t get the flack of others, or tell the truth and take the heat.  He chose to take the heat. His father taught him to fight, but told him only to use his fighting skills in dire situations. As a child he and his dad moved around a lot and problems arose where ever they went. He could not have a bicycle because it would be destroyed by other children after they found out it was his. They could not let their dog out without scouring the backyard for harmful things because his dog was poisoned on two different occasions.  As an adult he has had swastikas painted on his garage door and property vandalized.
He remarks that in 1991, he was walking into a deserted post office after working a third shift to hear "f***ing (or was it thieving) Gypp..." as a strong blow landed to the middle of his back. And derogatory remarks fly his and his friends and families way often, even in the year 2008. He says that he has been told on more than one occasion: “Hitler would have been a hero had he killed all of you” “You’re incestuous because all of you are” “You are filth that should be exterminated”, and “You could not hold down a job if your life depended upon it” (Arisztid).
 In 2005 he was viciously assaulted. The attack was not racially motivated so said the police.  His attacker got off with one night in jail and then he was told to not bother the guy that attacked him. He says when he has been hit by crime, the police refuse to help him and he is ignored. When he calls the police they do not show up, and when he makes a police report nothing happens.  He now handles all incidents himself just like all the rest of the Romani people. 
This kind of treatment is normal here in America, but most Americans turn a blind eye to it. The Romani people are tired and are now willing to start cracking open the veil of silence. The Roma people became isolationists due to this kind of hatred and persecution. Their culture is very important to them and they do not socialize with those out of their race. They do their best to hide their race and ethnicity from others, and they usually lie when asked about their race. The Romani people use song and dance to teach their children history and important ways. The Romani people have strict rules and regulations on what they can do and what they can’t. Only the Romani women tell fortunes, and they have very strict cleanliness rituals and rules. For instance, a Romani has to keep the top and bottom halves of their body separated. One soap has to be used for the bottom half of the body and a different soap has to be used for the top. Night clothes can never be allowed in the cooking/eating area, and after awaking/ before eating, ones hands and face must be washed. A woman’s skirt cannot touch a man, and many other extremes. If a Rom doesn’t abide by such rules, they are unclean and cannot intermix with the rest of the tribe/tribes again.
They are tired of living in fear, and want the respect that they, as human beings, deserve to be treated, so they are beginning to teach about themselves at festivals and other events, but unfortunately are still badgered and harassed.  Just because they do not look like “or act like” others in society, that doesn’t mean that they should be treated any differently than anyone else.
Mother Theresa was a Saint. Elvis was beloved, Sir Charles Chaplin was knighted. What do they have in common? They are all Roma. There are many other famous people who are of the Rom, but usually just the Romani people know it (Imninalu). People need to realize as Arisztid says “It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not.” We need to treat everyone the same regardless of race, or ethnicity. If we were all the same, we would hate each other, so we should just embrace our fears of the unknown, or what some of us might call “taboo” and live life to its fullest, just like God intended for us to do. The Romani people are important. Without their art, colorfulness, song, dance, and excellent metal working abilities, this world wouldn’t be as colorful as it is today.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Work Cited
American Gypsy Horse Breed AssociationRaymond Barrett Webmaster. 15 May 2008. <http://www.aghba.org/>
Arisztid Z. Personal Interview, 1, June, 2008.
Donna M. Personal Interview 5-25-08.
“The Patrin Web Journal: Romani Culture and History by Ian Hancock and another unnamed guy.
The Patrin Web Journal.  21 January 2002. 15 may 2008 <http://www.geocities.com/~patrin/> 
Nin`alu. “Famous Gypsies”. 25 May 2008. <http://www.imninalu.net/famousGypsies.htm>
Yahoo Answers.Gypsy/Gypsies 15 May 2008. <http://answers.yahoo.com/search/search_result;_ylt=Albj9sJcdBUp1k_LjsUK.Ybpy6IX;_ylv=3?p=Gypsy>


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