The persecution of Romani people – History item of the month

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Nencioni, Chiara. A forza di essere vento: la persecuzione di rom e sinti nell’Italia fascista. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2024. Trevisan, Paola. La persecuzione dei rom e dei sinti nell’Italia fascista: Storia, etnografia e memorie. Roma: Viella, 2024.

This month’s history item is double, as I unfortunately skipped the month of April after dedicating the month of March to Women’s History Month.

The books I’m writing about today have almost the same title, and they were both published in early 2024, possibly by mere chance. I first decided to order La persecuzione dei rom e dei sinti nell’Italia fascista: Storia, etnografia e memorie by Paola Trevisan, and then, when I searched for this title on the platform of one the Library providers, I found A forza di essere vento: la persecuzione di rom e sinti nell’Italia fascista by Chiara Nencioni (A forza di essere vento is a quotation from Fabrizio De Andrè’s 1996 song Khorakhanè dedicated to the Romani people).

Both volumes retrace the overlooked history of Romani people in Fascist Italy on the basis of archival documentation compared with testimonies and historical-ethnographic research. The Fascist regime indiscriminately implemented policies on those who were defined as zingari, “gypsies”, vagrants foreigners to be rejected and expelled, then subjected to confinement and forcibly transferred (in particular from Venezia Giulia and Venezia Tridentina) to the southern regions and, eventually, when Italy was at war, they were interned in locations scattered across the peninsula and in concentration camps.

To the regime, all people living a nomadic lifestyle could be considered zingari. There never was the intention of categorising Romani people and distinguishing between the two main subgroups that still constitute 0.25% of the Italian population, Rom and Sinti (Nencioni 2024, 29). This lack of a systematic approach resulted in a haphazard enforcement of rules over the Italian peninsula and in the impossibility of knowing how many Romani people lived in Italy at that time. In 1937 the counting requested by the chief of police resulted in 2,200 people, whereas in September 1940, when they ordered the arrest of all the zingari on the Italian territory, 878 people were eventually detained (Trevisan 2024, 19).

Of course, these two books do not unfold the history of the Romani persecution in the same way. Trevisan’s approach is that of expanding on the historical context laying the bases of the Fascist oppression. Part of her work is dedicated to Romani people in Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries, on the identification, registration and criminalisation of Romani people in Europe and on the concepts of eugenics and race applied to the Romani ethnicity. Trevisan then expands on the various stages of the policies enforced between 1900 and 1945. Conversely, Nencioni focuses on the concept of Porrajmos – the Romani word used to describe the Romani Holocaust – then on the various stages of the persecution from 1922 to 1945 and finally on the concentration camps located in Italy.

These books mirror each other in many ways but they also complement each other in the first-hand accounts of the Romani oppression. While Trevisan uses the letters that Romani people wrote to the Ministry of the Interior during their confinement or their imprisonment in concentration camps and uses them throughout her book, Nencioni transcribes oral interviews carried out by other projects in the second part of her volume.

These important works, shedding light on the forgotten persecution of a segment of society which still suffers discrimination, are classified at 945.00491497 – Nencioni’s will be in the New Book Display at the Library entrance until 18 June.