Evie Cawte, René Cassin Intern
The theme of this year’s Gypsy, Roma and Travellers Heritage Month is “Weaving Journeys”, which prompted an exploration into the interwoven nature of the Jewish community and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, our history of inter-community relations, and the importance of our continued acts of solidarity and allyship.
Before World War II, the Jewish-Gypsy and Romani communal relations in Europe, and Eastern Europe in particular, flourished. In the early 20th century in Sofia, Bulgaria, Jews, Gypsies and Turks cohabited together in an inter-ethnic quarter. In Romania, Shtetls (small Jewish towns) such as in Ştefăneşti routinely welcomed Roma traders and blacksmiths. In Hungary, Jewish musicians collaborated with Roma orchestras that composer Franz Lizst called these bands Jüdische Zigeunerkapellen (Jewish-Gypsy orchestras). In many Eastern European Countries, Gypsy musicians played at local Jewish festivals and events.
Sadly, the Jewish community also shared the experiences of the Holocaust with the Gypsy and Roma communities. On the intentional destruction of the Romani community, one high-ranking Nazi official stated, “In the same way as the National Socialist state has solved the Jewish question, it will also have to settle the Gypsy question once and for all”. It is estimated that the death toll for the Romani community was between 220,000 to 1,500,000 people. Unfortunately, following the end of the war the Gypsy and Roma communities were not recognised as an affected group in the Holocaust by the German government. It is only since 1982, when the West Germany Government and 2011, when the Polish Government recognised the Romani genocide respectively, that Romani survivors finally received reparations. Here in the UK, the Holocaust Memorial Trust includes the Nazi persecution of the Gypsy and Roma communities in its Holocaust education.
From a shared history of persecution, discrimination and intolerance, human rights were born. The communities’ interwoven experiences have led to allyship, standing in solidarity with each other and the promotion of human rights. Both have experienced first-hand the corrosive effect of casual and embedded prejudice, so both understand the importance of protecting human rights.
Our communities do not only share a tragic past, but we also share similar values and traditions. Each culture sees family as the root of happiness, as well as an inspiration for celebration and rejoice. Likewise, we have cultural practices rooted in food, music, and cultural law. We have Kugel, and they have Pedogo. They have Ederlezi and we have Hava Nagila. We have Halakha, and they have Romanipen. Most importantly, we both share a sense of pride in our communities’ history, culture, and celebration.
Even with the sadness of the past, the Gypsy and Roma communities are an inspiring example of perseverance, pride, and progress. The greatest outcome, as we see also in the Jewish community, is to be both proud of our culture and joyous in our practices. The Jewish community, interwoven with the Gypsy and Roma community, standing for both cultural pride, solidarity and human rights, is the greatest stand against marginalisation and persecution. Our histories are no longer focused on fear and tragedy, but instead on hope and friendship.
During this month of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Heritage Month, René Cassin continues to stand in solidarity by sharing the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller Heritage Month resources and messages of allyship and friendship.