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Section: Life before the Holocaust

Pre-war Roma life

A Roma woman washing clothing in a tub in the 1930s, as a young girl smiles in the background.
Three young Roma women walk together along a road in 1930s Europe.

Roma (or Romani) are people who left northern India approximately a thousand years ago. They arrived in central Europe and Germany by around the early fifteenth century.

There are various distinct Roma groups, or tribes, including Sinti, who are mainly based in Germany, and Lalleri, from Czech lands. Some itinerant communities in Europe are not Romani, such as Irish Travellers. Roma, Sinti and Traveller communities have historically been referred to as Gypsies in Britain and as Zigeuner in Germany. On this website, Roma is used as a collective term for Roma, Sinti and Traveller communities.

Prior to the Holocaust, around one million Roma were living in Europe. As many as 500,000 were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.

In contrast to the stereotype, in the first half of the twentieth century many Roma and Sinti had stopped travelling continually, and become permanent residents of cities. With permanent residency, many also took up regular day jobs in various professions. In addition to Romani, the traditional language of Roma based on Sanskrit, most Roma spoke the language of the country in which they dwelled.

Roma continue to be persecuted and marginalised today.

Hans Braun

The testimony of Hans Braun, a boy from Germany who would later be persecuted at the hands of the Nazis, describing his childhood.
The testimony of Hans Braun, a boy from Germany who would later be persecuted at the hands of the Nazis, describing his childhood.

Courtesy of The Wiener Library.

Hans Braun was a Sinti born in Hannover in 1923. Over summer, Hans’ family travelled around Germany with a carnival, and in winter were settled in one location.

Above you can read his recollection of his childhood. This recollection is an excerpt from the Donald Kenrick collection in The Wiener Library archives. Kenrick undertook a significant research project into the fate of Roma during the Nazi period in the 1960s, and donated his research to The Wiener Library.

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