Roma and Travellers are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Europe. For centuries they have suffered discrimination, racism and persecution, which resulted in the murder of over half a million Roma during the Second World War.

National governments and international organisations are trying to overcome segregation, stigmatisation and marginalisation of Roma and Travellers and to fully integrate them into society. Key to integration is the education of both Roma and non-Roma.

Knowledge of the history and culture of Roma and Travellers is still marginal or inexistent among the general public.

An integral part of this educational process is mutual knowledge about the common history that Roma and Travellers share with all non-Roma in Europe. The horrific crime against Roma has been widely ignored and they have received little or no compensation for their suffering or lost property. It took decades for Roma to go public with their stories, giving testimony of the racist Nazi persecution and demanding justice and recognition as victims of genocide.

Promotion of the teaching of Roma and Traveller history and the Roma Holocaust and inclusion in school curricula and textbooks, also through training of trainers and teachers is one of the expected results of the Council of Europe Strategic Action Plan for Roma and Traveller Inclusion (2020-2025).

A little bit of history

Roma are originally from central/northern India, from where they started migrating westward some 1000 years ago. Their language, Romani, belongs to the Indo-Arian language family and is similar to Sanskrit. The first Roma groups arrived in Europe around the 14th century, possibly earlier. Initial enthusiasm about their arrival, when they were taken for pilgrims or their skilled craftsmanship was appreciated, was followed by a long period of rejection, discrimination, deportation, internment and persecution, culminating in the Roma Holocaust during the Second World War, when some 500 000 Roma and Travellers were murdered in extermination camps and elsewhere. Contrary to common belief, almost all Roma are sedentary, whereas Travellers are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group not ethnically related to Roma.

Important commemorative days are: 

  • 8 April – International Roma Day
  • 2 August – European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day
  • 5 November – World Day of Romani Language

The Roma Holocaust 

Roma's persecution, which had lasted for centuries, culminated in genocide under the NS regime. Defined as a “problem”, “asocials”, and “racially inferior”, the Roma were arrested and murdered in the German Reich and the German-occupied territories.

Because of the ideological contradictions, Roma's persecution was carried out in a far less coordinated way than that of the Jewish population. For instance, several Roma were still in the army in 1943, even though that very army was involved in the genocide of Roma in the East, and even though thousands had already been killed in concentration camps. These army members were deported directly from the front to Auschwitz, sometimes even with medals of honour. Over half a million Roma were murdered during the Second World War.

   Visit the Roma Genocide webpage 

Interview with Roma Holocaust survivor, Marin Constantin, who witnessed mass brutality in Nazi-controlled Ukraine during the Second World War

Year : 2011
Country : Romania
Language : Romanian with English subtitles

2 August - European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day