Romani Studies

Assimilation, invisibility, and the eugenic turn in the "Gypsy question" in Romanian society, 1938–1942

Romani Studies (2011), 21, (2), 177–205.

Abstract

The gradual assimilation of Roma since their emancipation in the 1850s had, by the interwar period, prompted the emergence of the Gypsy Question, a wide-ranging debate on whether and how Roma should be assimilated, in which all strata of Romanian society participated, including the Roma themselves. By 1938, eugenicists dominated the debate over the Gypsy Question, declaring them "the greatest racial threat to Romania" and advocating their sterilization or complete removal from society. Typhus outbreaks in 1940 (prior to Antonescu's installment as head of state) provided the first opportunity to begin the separation of Roma. Arguing that nomads posed a danger to national health, gendarmes and health officials collaborated in placing them in labor camps located within Romania. As a strong indicator of the degree to which eugenic discourse penetrated into the public sphere, we also find Romanian civilians adopting the trope of Roma as a health threat to push local authorities to take action against them. The occupation of Transnistria in 1941 paved the way for Antonescu and his cabinet to order the deportations.

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Author details

Thorne, M. Benjamin