GENO - Appel Spécifique Génocides et violences de masse

Dislocations and Resistances. Persecutions and Genocidal Violences of Roma, Sinti and Travellers in Western Europe, 1940-1946. – ROMARESIST

Dislocations and resistances. Persecutions and genocidal violences of Roma, Sinti and Travellers in Western Europe, 1939-1946

This project studies, following a comparative and transversal approach, the persecutions against the Roma and Sinti, designated as “Gypsies”, “Zigeuner”, “Zingari” or “Nomads” in the geographical arc including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Occupied Slovenia. The cross-analysis of the stages and mechanisms of a persecution includes a study of the trajectories at the level of individuals and collectives, based on a survey that is both historical and ethnographic.

A new approach on the persecution stages and on the effects of the persecutions

The RomaResist project envisages the study, following a comparative and transversal approach, of the various dimensions of the persecution of collectives designated as “Gypsies” (“Zigeuner”, “Zingari”) or “nomads” in Western Europe. In the context of World War II, Roma, Sinti and Travellers were targets of multiple persecutions and genocidal violence, the chronology and intensity of which varied greatly in different parts of Europe. The often deliberate concealment and belated recognition of these persecutions contributed to the marginalization, in historiographies and national memories, of facts which led to the physical elimination of more than 100,000 people across Europe and the irreversible dislocation of pre-war Romani societies. Knowledge of the different phases of genocidal violence against this population is now well advanced for Europe under the direct control of the National Socialist regime (the Reich) and the peripheral territories of Europe at war. In Western Europe, the logics at work and the distinct modalities of specific genocidal violence, combined with targeted or conventional violence, remain to be defined as a whole. This project thus wishes to lay the foundations for a comparative and transnational study of the modalities and effects of a multifaceted persecution and poses the hypothesis of variations in the intensity of the genocide in Western Europe. Based on a cross-study of repressive actions and the mechanisms at work, inscribed in the European chronology of anti-Gypsy measures, the research carried out combines ethnographic observation, based on a close knowledge of Romani societies, and research in archives in order to identify the nature of a social dislocation and the conditions of survival face to the persecutions. The first objective of the project is to better understand the chronology and stages of a persecution and to establish a typology of the persecutions. Various systems are studied in particular: targeted censuses and nominative identification of people; deprivation of personal property; phases of harassment and repeated controls; house arrest; police roundups and arrests; all forms of detention (prisons, internment camps, repressive camps, concentration camps of the KL system); targeted deportations (in particular to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp); episodes of summary executions. The second objective is to draw up an inventory of the paths of persecution, individual and collective, through an investigation that is both historical and ethnographic. The collection of testimonies is the subject, for France, Belgium and Italy, of a complete census and these collection works are intended to lead to the deposit of the collections in cultural and archive centers.

In order to produce a comprehensive historical understanding of the persecutions of the Roma, Sinti and Travelers in Western Europe, a cross-referencing of the data collected makes possible to draw up a comparative chronology of the policies of control and repression. Based on a precise review of all the decisions taken and the steps observed, the implementation of specific repressive policies are analysed at the local, regional and national level, as well as at the level of occupied Europe by the National Socialist authorities. A synthetic framework of global and local temporalities and dynamics therefore emerges and makes possible to multiply case studies and microhistorical approaches centered on the living conditions and trajectories of the target subjects of repressive policies. The work is organized according to the territories studied by geographical area and a referent coordinator centralizes the data collected, by area. Special attention is paid to the numerical dimension of all types of persecution. In France, research has made possible to study all the repressive measures (house arrest, internment, spoliation, imprisonment, deportation) and to understand the overall logic of each field of repression. In Belgium, research is focused on the preparatory censuses and the arrests of the deportees of “convoy Z”, headed for Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1944. In the Netherlands, the organization of the convoy of May 19, 1944 is the focus of a study which addresses the planning of arrests and the trajectory of victims during the war, until spring 1944. In Italy and occupied Slovenia, the traces of internment and house arrest make possible to identify and describe the different regional scales and dimensions of repression. The research efforts focus on the conditions of Roma and Sinti in Italy-occupied Slovenia and on the 1943 changeover that led to the German occupation of Italy, producing cases of deportation of Roma and Sinti in the system of the KL. Local and national archival resources, combined with the collections of the International Tracing Service (Bad Arolsen), the German archives of the Bundesarchiv (Berlin), the collections of the USHMM, the Grattan Puxon collection (Wiener Library, London), archives of the Gypsy Lore Society, make possible to define the principles of persecution at work and make possible to search the paths of individuals or targeted groups: multiple life paths and studies of trajectories are also based on an extended collection of written and audiovisual testimonies produced since 1945. The results produced by a specific collection of testimonies in the Italien, French and Belgium area are particularly used in the studies regarding this areas.

The intermediate results of the program made possible to deepen the study of national and regional dimensions, based on monographic but also cross-sectional studies. A book presents the various forms of resistance and opposition as well as the attempts made to escape the persecution at work in France (Foisneau, 2021). Another book deals with the general conditions of persecution in Italy between 1940 and 1945 (Trevisan, to be published in 2022). This study compares the mechanisms at work: targeted internment, a house arrest system, regional harassment logic, particular phases of transport and displacement, in particular of groups from occupied Slovenia. An overview article, based on a comparative analysis of measures on a European scale, underlines the gaps observed between the various plans for extermination and persecution in Europe and contextualizes the conditions of persecution in the West (About, 2021). The published proceedings of meetings coordinated by the Universities of Liverpool and Cambridge made possible to highlight the work of the RomaResist teams and to extend the work established at the start of the program: a study on trauma memories and the analysis of testimonies (About , 2019, 2022); an in-depth study of repressive forms in France at the end of the war (Foisneau, 2020, 2022); the study of the persecutions suffered by a family between Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, concerned both by a conflicted definition of the citizenship of the Roma and Sinti and by the registration of the persecutions in the context of police pressure exerted from the beginning of the 20th century (Trevisan 2019, 2020, 2022). An in-depth case study concerned the administration of the Roma and Sinti populations in the north of France and occupied Belgium: an analysis thus summarizes the state of play of the authorities involved and the balance of powers that make arrests possible. (Heddebaut, 2020); another work looks more specifically at the conditions of deportation from Mechelen to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, including all racial deportations from Belgium (Schram, 2020). The persecutions carried out in annexed Alsace-Moselle were studied on the basis of census, police targeting and identification measures, preludes to deportations planned in 1943 (Leroy, 2021, forthcoming); another study from the same territory considers the persecution of the Roma and Sinti in all the repressions practiced against a group of so-called «undesirable« populations (Leroy, Stroh, 2022, forthcoming). All of this work also led to the preparation of a special issue of the Revue d'histoire de la Shoah, for which the call for papers was closed at the beginning of October 2021: the planning of this issue made it possible to trace the perspectives which will be conducted until the end of the current program.

The perspectives, initiated by the extended team of the RomaResist program, make possible to clearly define the future perspectives and to consider the writing of an overview article which will present the different aspects of a persecution, apprehended at the global scale of western European territories. A series of monographic works will also make possible to deepen the original dimensions of the persecutions and to experiment with new methods of writing, both historical and ethnographic. The works on Belgium and the Netherlands will, for example, make it possible to understand the conditions of arrest and detention of Roma and Sinti in the transit camps of Mechelen and Westerbork, in January and May 1944, and will scrutinize the regional dimensions of the phases of census and roundups. Research will focus on the social effects of internment in Italy between 1940 and 1943. New and original approaches will make possible to completely renew the knowledge on the French case: the study of transfers within the network of internment camps, the study of specific deportations from the Poitiers camp at the beginning of 1943, the examination of house arrest in its rural and urban forms, will make possible to better understand the daily persecution, the continuous harassment of the authorities on isolated collectives, deprived of resources and sometimes forced into hiding. Several studies will address the violent effects undergone by the Romani collectives in France at the end of the war, under the atrocities committed by the soldiers of the SS “Das Reich” Division or following the arbitrary and sometimes deadly measures decided during the early stages of the Épuration. Research on the specific persecutions suffered by the Roma and Sinti of annexed Alsace and Moselle will make possible to better understand the effects of the mass evacuations between 1940 and 1941 and the administration of specific deportations, from Saarbrücken and Strasbourg, in March 1943, to Auschwitz. This work will be supplemented by perspectives based on unpublished archive files, whether it concerns the study of the perception of persecution by French society, the analysis of photographic sources relating to the internment of nomads, the biographical and trajectory analysis of the actors, victims of persecution, the study of particular professional fields, such as that of fairgrounds and circus artists in France between 1940 and 1946. Another section also emerges from the study of memorial phenomena, between narrative elaborations in tension, a difficult process of recognizing places of memory and knowledge of the material dimensions of persecution, involving the analysis of spoliations, material damages and imperfect compensation mechanisms put in place after the war.

Productions of team members, 2019-2021 (selection)
1. L. Foisneau, V. Merlin, Les Nomades face à la guerre (1939-1946), Klincksieck, 2021. [forthcoming]
2. P. Trevisan, Gli “Zingari” e il regime fascista. Storia delle persecuzioni contro Rom e Sinti in Italia, 2022. [forthcoming]
Special issues of journals
1. I. About (dir.), « Violences génocidaires et persécutions des Roms et Sinti en Europe de l’Ouest, 1939-1946 », Revue d’histoire de la Shoah, 217, 2023 [forthcoming]
Peer-reviewed journal articles
1. I. About, « Des témoins face à l’indifférence. Histoire des témoignages de la déportation et de l’internement des Nomades en France, 1940-1946 », En Jeu. Histoire et mémoires vivantes, 13, 2019, 67-82.
2. P. Trevisan, « Diventare italiani dove finisce la nazione. Il difficile riconoscimento della cittadinanza italiana ai Rom e ai Sinti della Venezia Giulia dopo il primo conflitto mondiale », La Ricerca Folklorica, 74, 2019, 89-104.
3. M. Heddebaut, « La spécificité de la Zone dite “rattachée à Bruxelles” », Tsafon, 79, 2020, p. 17-38
4. L. Schram, « De Malines à Auschwitz. Déportation des Juifs et des Tsiganes du Nord de la France », Tsafon, 79, 2020, 75-96.
5. P. Trevisan, « Austrian “Gypsies” in the Italian archives. Historical ethnography on multiple border crossings at the beginning of the twentieth century », Focaal, 86, 2020, 1-14.
Book chapters
1. I. About, « Traces of Testimonies. Unfinished Narratives and Fragmented Memories of the Genocide of the Roma and Sinti », in C. Donert, E. Rosenhaft (dir.), The Legacies of the Romani Genocide in Europe since 1945, Routledge, 2022, 242-258.
2. P. Trevisan, « Under an assumed name. A Croatian Roma family network between Fascism and the post-war order in Italy », in C. Donert, E. Rosenhaft (dir.), The Legacies of the Romani Genocide in Europe since 1945, London, Routledge, 2022, p. 21-37.
3. L. Foisneau, « Mass arrests and persecution of “Nomads” in France, 1944-1946: Post-Liberation purges or evidence of Anti-“Gypsyism”? », in C. Donert, E. Rosenhaft (dir.), The Legacies of the Romani Genocide in Europe since 1945, Routledge, 2022, 21-37.
4. L. Foisneau, 2020, « French Roma and Travellers’ Resistance: a long struggle », in A. Mirga-Kruszelnicka, J. Dunajeva (dir.), Re-thinking Roma Resistance Throughout History : Recounting Stories of Strength and Bravery, ERIAC, 2020, 233-245.
5. I. About, « Génocide et persécutions des Roms et Sinti en Europe 1933-1946 », in A. Bande, et alii (dir.), Nouvelle histoire de la Shoah, Passés composés, 2021, 123-138.
6. T. Leroy, « “Gypsies” in the police eye. Identification, census and deportation of Sinti and Roma from annexed Alsace, 1940-1944 », in H. Borggräfe, A. Jah (dir.), Deportations in the Nazi Era: Sources and Research, De Gruyter, 2021. [forthcoming]
7. T. Leroy, F. stroh, « Les “indésirables” en alsace annexée », in C. Maurer, J. Schweitzer (dir.), L’Alsace face au nazisme, Éd. Bib. univ. de Strasbourg, 2022. [forthcoming]

In the context of Word War II, Roma, Sinti and Travellers were the target of multiple persecutions and genocidal violence, the timing and intensity of which varied greatly in different parts of Europe. The often deliberate concealment and late recognition of those persecutions contributed to the marginalisation in national historiographies and memories of facts that led to the physical elimination of more than 200,000 people across Europe and the irreversible dislocation of pre-war Romani societies. In Western Europe, in the area including the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy, the composite nature of repressive practices seems to defy any global interpretation: house arrest, detention, internment, concentration, deportation to death camps or the concentration camp network. This project aims to establish the basis for a comparative and transnational study of the modalities and effects of a multifaceted persecution and to propose the hypothesis of variations in the intensity of genocide in the West. Based on a comparative study of repressive actions carried out in Western European territories and the European framework for the genocide of Roma, Sinti and Travellers, the research is based on an unprecedented collection of direct and indirect testimonies from the victims. It will be a question of elaborating a new history, based on singular destinies and family paths, focusing in particular on the modalities of survival and individual and collective resistance. The approach of this project is definitely interdisciplinary, both historically and anthropologically. The project combines research missions in Western European archives centres in order to identify forms of repression, the nature of social dislocation, conditions for survival in the face of persecution and individual and collective post-war memories. This project involves three European partners: the Georg Simmel Centre, CNRS-EHESS (Paris, France), the Libera Università di Bolzano-Freie Universität Bozen (Bolzano, Italy) and the Kazerne Dossin-Mémorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on the Holocaust and Human Rights (Mechelen, Belgium). The main challenge of this research is to achieve a more accurate definition of the facts of persecution against Roma, Sinti and Travellers in Western Europe by involving the descendants of persecuted families in the development of historical knowledge to build an inclusive history of genocidal violence in Western Europe. The aim of this project is to contribute to the official recognition of persecution and genocide by Western European states by disseminating and recording a history that is missing from the state collective memories in Western Europe.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Ilsen About (Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire sur les enjeux sociaux Sciences sociales, Politique, Santé)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IRIS Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire sur les enjeux sociaux Sciences sociales, Politique, Santé
Université de Bolzano

Help of the ANR 154,947 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2019 - 30 Months

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