The Image of Roma in Art History


Anna Lujza Szász

Naming the Bodies of Roma in Fine Art


My research aims to give names to artists’ Roma subjects.1 It aspires to reclaim their significance, to breathe life into them and reconstruct their agency. It wishes to find out who the models were: to unfold their life stories and to offer them a place in history not only as empirical ‘objects’ of art but also as ‘subjects’ who are placed in power relations and are unique as well as embody agency, historical awareness and autonomy.

I focus on Szolnok, and on the work of artists at the end of the nineteenth century as well as on the work of the art colony around the 1930s. I would like to explore the world of the colony not only by analysing and critically approaching their paintings but also by telling the story of the colony through the experiences of Roma.

Further, I aim to develop a critical way of thinking while looking at paintings of Roma, exploring their content, the artists’ intention in framing and composing the image, the ways in which the subjects are depicted and other specific details. I wish to argue that only by unfolding the aesthetic structure of images can we respond in an ethical and political manner.

Szolnok and Its Roma Population

Szolnok is located in eastern Hungary. The town’s first Roma settlement was called Cigányváros [‘Gypsy town’], which used to be around the water tower in the direction of Eger. It might have been established around the eighteenth century at what was then the edge of town. Later, as the town grew, Cigányváros became an integrated part of the townscape and a huge part of its Roma population scattered around the town, mostly concentrated in the Tabán area, the marketplace and the red-light district. In the interwar period, a new lumpenproletariat district evolved in Szolnok; known as Kisgyep, it was populated mostly by Roma. Nowadays, Cigányváros has disappeared without a trace, while Tabán and the area around the marketplace have been modernised. Kisgyep still exists, however, as well as several other smaller settlements on the edge of town.2

The colony is located at the crossroads of the rivers Zagyva and Tisza, built upon the ruins of a castle. The role of Szolnok in the Hungary art scene had been significant since the middle of the nineteenth century. It owes its discovery to an Austrian painter, August von Pettenkofen, who visited Hungary during the 1848/49 revolution as a war-painter of Austrian troops. For thirty years, between 1851 and 1881, he visited the town almost every year and spent one or two months there. He found a number of new themes, among which his favourite was painting the Roma community. He was keen on painting the weekly fairs; the fruit and vegetable sellers, the pottery sellers, the peasants arriving on carriages and the Puszta landscape of the Pannonian Steppe. His style and the audience’s Oriental tastes made his works of art easily recognisable.

As a consequence of his fame and influence, Pettenkofen attracted many painters to the town, both Austrians (Johann Gualbert Raffalt, Leopold Carl Müller and Otto von Thoren) and Hungarians (Lajos Deák-Ébner, Gyula Aggházy and Pál Böhm). In 1901, an artistic association was formed in Szolnok with the aim of building houses as studios and conducting life in the colony. The basic idea and the goal of the association was to

‘develop public taste by espousing fine art and industrial art, and to bring connoisseurship and virtuosity into the national civilisation’.

The opening ceremony of the twelve studios was held in 1902. Although the outbreak of World War I rendered life in the colony almost impossible, work was disturbed but still continued in the interwar period. World War II, however, destroyed Szolnok and ruined the colony, with more than four thousand paintings lost. The renovation and reconstruction of the buildings started slowly after the war, and although some of the artists returned or began working in Szolnok, it never recovered fully from its trauma, neither did it regain its former strength and attraction.3

The town has experienced a cultural and economic boom in the last twenty or thirty years. With its topography changed, new and colourful buildings were established, but the Tabán (alongside the Zagyva river) and Cigányváros preserved their beauty and character.

In these parts of town the visitor might have encountered narrow streets and tiny, one-storied buildings. In the view of one commentator,

‘It was a piece of the East, an immediate Marrakesh or Egypt; it carried in itself the nomad life and the chaos of the Puszta for those Viennese artists who got tired of pursuing the genre.’4

The train barely came to Szolnok; although the line between Pest and Szolnok opened in 1847, it took a while (until 1855) before it was possible to travel by train between Vienna and Szolnok. The River Tisza would not be regulated until much later, from 1880 to 1890. The river played a significant role in transportation, for the country’s required supplies of grain and fruit were shipped to Szolnok and then transported by train to Pest. The city was also famous for its marketplace.5

‘Black Bodies’

In general, in line with Éva Kovács,6 I argue that the colony’s attitude towards the Roma was hierarchical. The ‘colonisers’ believed that their curiosity and enthusiasm regarding a number of colourful details could be satisfied with the imagined East.

Wildness, criminal behaviour, dirt and deviance all functioned as primary markers for Roma, and these images still continue to inform the way Roma are perceived and represented in contemporary Hungary in relation to non-Roma.

Sander L. Gilman interrogates the representation of ‘blackness’ in the iconography of female sexuality in late nineteenth-century art, medicine and literature. He regards icons as manifestations of realities, as widely believed and known codes of our world, while also considering art, medicine and literature as pedagogical, performative and discursive sites which contribute to the social construction of ‘black’ and ‘white’ bodies.

Gilman does this by analysing works of art such as Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1867) and Nana (1877) as well as William Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress (1731). There is a special emphasis placed on art as a system of representations which produces meanings and maps our understandings of the world. The author argues that in the history of art, the black female body has become not only the sexualised other in the culture where they live but also the sign of illicit sexuality. As he writes,

‘Black females do not merely represent the sexualised female, they also represent the female as the source of corruption and disease’.7

The public discourse around and the pathologisation of prostitution added to the conception of the black female body, and the latter was slowly bestowed with the inner and outer characteristics of the prostitute: the prostitute became the essence of the black female. Later, the author looks into medical investigations and explores the ways in which the body of the prostitute became synonymous with the body of the black female. The figure of the Hottentots became the ultimate marker of black inferiority:

'The primitive is the black, and the qualities of blackness, or at least of the black female, are those of the prostitute. The work of a student of Lombroso’s, Abele de Blasio, makes this grotesquely evident: he published a series of case studies on steatopygia in prostitutes in which he perceives the prostitute as being, quite literally, the Hottentot – an icon which embodies the difference between the European and the black. The perception of the prostitute in the late nineteenth century thus merged with the perception of the black. Both categories are those of outsiders, but what does this amalgamation imply in terms of the perception of both groups? It is commonplace that the primitive was associated with unbridled sexuality.’

Sander L. Gilman

Finally, Gilman gets to the point that as a matter of the pathologies of the black female body, such as the genitalia or the buttocks, black bodies became not only sexualised but also diseased and deviant.

Exploring the genealogy of racialised knowledge and the ways in which it structures identities emphasises the need which each society has acquired since its inception: the production of a group of people ‘as a fixed reality which is at once an “other” yet entirely knowable and visible’.

In eastern European societies, instead of the ‘Black’, it is the ‘Gypsy’ who has become the stereotypically racialised and eroticised ‘Other’: the ‘dirty’, the ‘uncivilised’, the ‘criminal’, the ‘poor’, the ‘outlaw’ etc., in other words everything that the majority is not or wishes not to be.

As the Hungarian composer, Ferenc Liszt wrote:

‘To our eyes this people seems to lead what is practically an animal existence [...] A race having neither any religion nor any law, any definite belief or any rule of conduct; holding together only by gross superstition, vague custom, constant misery and profound abasement; yet obstinately persisting, in spite of all degradations and deprivations, in keeping its tents and rags, its hunger and its liberty. It is a people which exercises on civilised nations a fascination as hard to describe as to destroy; passing, as it does, like some mysterious legacy, from age to age; and one which, though of ill-repute, appeals to our greatest poets by the energy and charm of its types.’8

Ferenc Liszt

Liszt suggests that Roma live outside European law and order and conduct their lives on the basis of a meaning-system created by them but recognised as primitive by the ‘civilised’ nations.

In the age of Liszt, the typical figure in the iconography of Roma was the musician. They were worshipped while they were playing and were depicted with dignity and as non-Roma, which was the pledge of their talent. The antonym of this image – the other side of the same coin – is the wild, uncontrollable, freedom-loving nomad. Photographers tended to be more interested in the latter, since they regarded Roma as carriers of an archaic culture. Another reading of these images is that Roma represented the ‘otherness of our ourness’, the image of an internalised one which can be addressed in every Hungarian.

This association of Roma with inner human instincts, with wildness, with individualism, with lack of control, with waste and with barbarism is a crucial factor in understanding the figure of the Roma in thought as well as the hidden impulses of the Hungarian ‘self’. Although at the turn of the last century Roma were represented as exotic strangers, the gaze of the majority changed a decade later and looked at them as sexualised, illicit bodies. Similarly to the situation with ‘black bodies’, all the desires and fears of the ‘white’ were projected onto the ‘body of the Gypsy’.

In other words, on the one hand Hungary became part of the Orient – the market and the Puszta, among other things, piqued the interest of western European painters – while on the other hand the magic of nomadic or ‘Gypsy’ life became the centre point of their works, and wildness/exoticism or dirt/deviance functioned as the primary markers of Roma.9

The Problem of the Archive

As I argued in the beginning of this essay, I believe it would be a viable route to find out the identities of the models who stood for decades in front of painters from the art colony: to unfold their life stories and offer them a place in history not only as empirical ‘objects’ of art but also as ‘subjects’ who are placed in power relations and are not only unique but also embody agency, historical awareness and autonomy.

This task has not been easy so far. Similarly to the Holocaust archives, in which I encountered the problem that ‘testimonies about Romani experiences during the Holocaust often reach us refracted through a Jewish lens [....]’ thus ‘results of a search for the term “Gypsy” or its equivalent in the catalogues of Holocaust archives [...] will inevitably bring up mostly Jewish testimonies’,10 in this case, too, most of my search results bore witness to the fate of the Roma.

Hence, most of the sources which I looked through are embedded in the narratives of the majority as well as being shaped by them.

Let me first mention some of my sources: firstly, there are local press reports on burglaries, fights and trials; secondly, there is a registry of voters from the 1930s and 1940s which could provide family names and addresses; thirdly, there are documents from the county court, manor and township, as well as litigation documents; finally, there are documents that focus on hygiene. Unfortunately the archive of the colony was burnt down in a fire in the 1940s, and hence personal letters etc. are not available for research.

The Name of the Model Is György Nana

There is one model with a name: György Nana. He often stood as a model for August von Pettenkofen and Sándor Bihari, and even carried Pettenkofen’s equipment.11

Pettenkofen, who was originally a lithographer, served as an Austrian soldier in the 1848–49 revolution, but then he exchanged his weapon for a paintbrush and started painting and making illustrations about the battles. Either the fact that his father was born in Hungary or his friendship with Georg Plach led to Pettenkofen’s attraction to Hungary, and he spent the summers in Szolnok from 1853 until his death in 1881. The first time he visited this part of the country was in 1853, as evidenced by some of his sketches of the Tisza river.

He was interested in three themes in Szolnok: the colourful movements and arrangement of the crowd (in the market, where the Fehérlófia pub and the Magyar Királyi Szálló café were sited), the ‘Gypsy’, and the simple life of the peasant. His attraction to the ‘Gypsy’ was based on racial differences, appearance, habits and the original and unique lifestyle:

‘The Gypsy is the Bedouin of the Great Plain. While dispossessed and poor as a dervish in the desert, having but a leaky tent, a hovel looking like a ground squirrel’s hole, one or two nags and lots of children, they nevertheless rejoice and enjoy life [...].’12

We should also consider his working method: he would make hundreds of sketches in Szolnok and then elaborate just a few of them back in Vienna.13

Sándor Bihari was thirty years younger than Pettenkofen. His parents barely made ends meet and he experienced deep poverty and a tough childhood as a Jew. He was already in his mid-twenties when a benefactor discovered him and supported his studies abroad, in Paris. In 1885 he moved to Szolnok and later became one of the founders of the colony.14

Pettenkofen’s work Der Fechter [The Fencer] introduces us to a man wearing a loose shirt and a pair of trousers. He seems to be fighting, for his fists are clenched; perhaps he is between two punches. His shirt is half-open – it might have been torn by his opponent. He seems tired and wild but focused. He might need to protect himself. The rest is up to the viewer to imagine: what the purpose of the fight could be, who his opponent is, how the fight will end, etc.

Bihari’s painting Bíró előtt [In Front of the Judge] narrates a whole story. We see Roma musicians charged with some offence and taken to the local judge for justice. The hierarchy between Roma and non-Roma is immediately visible, not only through their outward appearance but also by means of their pose and gestures. The Roma seem as if they have survived a fight: the violin is broken and a bloody handkerchief is hanging out of the pocket of one of the Roma. They seem to be complaining about the fight as if it was an undeserved attack than rightfully seeking justice.15

It is an interesting exercise to look for differences in how the fighter and the musician are represented, and consider how one approaches these differences. In my view, both are exposed to some powerful other and have to fight. Nonetheless, I see more dignity in Bihari’s painting. In this case, the emphasis is less on someone’s attributed (imagined) qualities and more on language, a skill that has to be learned and practiced in order to prevail. In this painting the subaltern is speaking.

Life in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

The life of the art colony came to an abrupt halt in World War I: the majority of the painters had to perform military duty while their relatives were expelled from the colony and a field hospital was set up in the studios.

Following the end of the war, life slowly returned to the colony. The first public exhibition was opened in 1927 and a new era was set to begin with Vilmos Aba-Novák, Tibor Pólya, Pál Pátzay, Eszter Hollósné Mattioni, Adolf Fényes and Ferenc Chiovini. In the following I will focus on the 1930s through the lens of historical documents. This historical period in Hungary as well as in Europe generally is fundamentally characterised by the racialisation of various groups of people. Thus, although my research is interested in naming the local Roma population, the backbone of my analysis is to unpack the transformation of the ‘Gypsy question’ into the ‘Gypsy problem’.

While looking through documents in the archives in order to understand what happened in Szolnok in the 1930s with the local Roma, I did indeed encounter names. Just as the model named György Nana was painted at some point in the early 1920s, so too did the following Roma inspire artists in the 1930s:

János Nagyhajú, Lajosné Nagyhajú, Lászlóné Fazekas, Samu Rostás, Mária Pege, János Rozsár, Gábor Frigor, Pálné Rozsár, Józsefné Kadet, Róza Rozsár, Zsigmondné Rozsár, Lajos Horváth, István Nagyhajú, Béla Varga, Gáborné Horváth, Istvánné Nagyhajú, Sándorné Sántha, Lajos Frigul, Sándor Spiru, Mihályné Horváth, Piros Bagi, Lajos Szabó, Gusztáv Kóré, Rózsi G. Nagy, János Raffael, Menyhért Kállai, Sándor Horváth, Miklós Raffael, László Kiss, Péter Barna, Sándor Farkas, Lajosné Károlyi, István Kovács, Györgyné Balog, László Mondok, Sándor Kökény, Ferenc Göncző.

Let this text be a small monument to them. In the following, I will mostly rely on my research in the archives and make an attempt to introduce the Roma in Szolnok by looking at archival documents. I should note that these texts were produced in a historical period that was particularly influenced by racist ideologies, and thus a critical mind is needed to unfold a narrative – and become familiar with the names and the people – deprived from the violence within which it was born.

The Nazi persecutions of Roma were ‘de-centred’ and ‘de-synchronised’. This means that although there was general agreement on considering Roma to be enemies of the regime and thus anti-Roma regulations were coupled with racist conceptions, there was neither a central order nor any synchronised implementation of the persecution. According to Kapralski:

'Nazi persecution of Roma can be fully understood as neither a consistent implementation of the centrally conceived murderous intention nor as a contingent side-effect of the relations between different sectors of the Nazi apparatus of power but rather as a multilayered phenomenon that has not been governed by a single mechanism.’16

Slawomir Kapralski

The lack of consistent implementation suggested that various levels of the authorities were able to shape the measures against Roma and put them into action. The Eastern Allies seemed more assiduous in the processes of ‘liquidation’ and ‘annihilation’ and also had more freedom to choose their tools; however, generally speaking, the ways in which the crimes were committed and their intensity resulted from the intersection of local relations, ideologies, networks and interests. The lack of synchroneity or regularity suggested not only different forms of persecution but also constantly changing anti-Roma policies, which also meant that the target groups differed as time went on. Another difficulty in identifying Roma victims stemmed from the euphemistic usage of language by the Nazis in order to obscure coercion.

In spring 1936, the Race Hygiene and Population Biology Research Centre in Germany was established under the directorship of Robert Ritter in order to

‘reveal with exact methods the root causes of social developments in the biological, i.e. ultimately in the laws of heredity in order to legitimise the eradication of the unintegrated and the unproductive.’17

Although the racist motive was clear in the persecutions, the choices of words such as ‘work shy’, ‘Gypsy menace’, ‘Gypsy question’ and ‘anti-social’ represented a concealment or masking of the real meaning of the system.

The implementation of crimes against Roma in Hungary fits well into the duality described above. The transformation of the cigánykérdés [‘Gypsy question’] into a cigányprobléma [‘Gypsy problem’] occurred smoothly, with marginalisation and exploitation becoming persecution by means of institutionalisation and forced categorisation, parallel to the events in Germany.

On 2 October 1912, Gábor Tóth, a member of the municipal council in Tiszaföldvár (eastern Hungary) tabled the following motion:

‘The honoured General Assembly shall appeal to the Government of the Hungarian Kingdom in the case of solving the “Gypsy question” nationwide. A bill shall be introduced which prevents the flood of vagabond Gypsy caravans from looting our country.’18

Legislative measures and judgements meant that categories which once had been abandoned developed ever more interfaces with the political sphere. In Hungary, Article no. XXI/1913 on ‘vagrants who are a public menace’ stipulated that travelling Roma and individuals responsible for indictable offences could be sued and forced to do communal work.19

Although the state always viewed Roma as an administrative problem,20 this article was the first to provide a legal framework to send ‘travelling Roma and other individuals’ into the penal institution of workhouses unless they settled down and followed the majority’s regulations on hygiene and purity. Esztergom, in northern Hungary, was one of the earliest to impose restrictions – and in fact the other counties merely followed its provisions and suggestions.

In 1913, the municipality of Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County issued a statement advocating Esztergom County’s proposal – which had been published on 30 August 1912 – on the subject of regulating the ‘Gypsy question’ nationwide.21 As the statement argued, this ‘question’, which had developed into a ‘sea snake’, should be regulated and handled with the inclusion of the following stipulations: firstly, the ‘Gypsy’ population should be registered within three years including fingerprint identification; secondly, any ‘Gypsies’ who lacked identification or were considered a threat to one’s property or to public safety or appear to be incapable of maintaining a family should be removed from the country’s territory. No ‘vagabond Gypsies’ should be allowed to enter the country. This statement was followed by other supporting statements such as those by Szabolcs and Lipót counties.

In 1916, the first large-scale round-up of Roma took place throughout the country. In 1922, the municipality of Heves County issued a statement advocating Győr and Komárom County’s proposal to regulate the ‘Gypsy question’ nationwide.22 In this statement the municipality considered the following seven steps to be necessary:

  1. Listing the ‘Gypsies’ in all gendarmerie districts and prohibiting their free movement as well as forcing them back to their registered place of residence;
  2. registering their horses and other means of transportation;
  3. issuing ‘Gypsy’ identity cards which contained not only their personal data but also their fingerprints – these IDs were only valid in Heves County;
  4. ‘Gypsy’ carriages to be kept by the local authorities;
  5. permission from the local authorities to be required if a ‘Gypsy’ intended to leave their registered place of residence;
  6. in the latter case exceptions could be made if one were considered trustworthy, had a steady job or went to work regularly. The head of the local authorities would become responsible if they committed a crime during their vagrancy;
  7. anyone who could not identify themselves would be handed over to the authorities.

The statement concluded by emphasising the efficiency of its regulations, claiming that public health and safety conditions had improved since the movement of ‘vagabond Gypsies’ had been restricted and overseen.

Thus, the statement suggests that similar actions should be introduced nationwide to achieve complete success in the ‘Gypsy question’. Police round-ups were legalised several years later in 1928, parallel with German legislation,23 and henceforth local administrations and municipalities were authorised to wreak distress upon the life of Roma.

Introducing round-ups was presented as an inevitable step in imposing preventive security measures on a group who were indiscriminately considered to be socially dangerous. It brought a new definition to travelling Roma, who became not just those who were unable to present official documentation of their homes but also those who were said to be vagabonds, work-shy, unemployed or seasonal workers as well as those who travelled around for work (i.e. itinerant artisans). Round-ups – organised twice a year from early 1929 onwards – sought to close in on every single travelling Roma, closed the borders for Roma newcomers and put hygienic and penal measures into effect. Furthermore, each county introduced its own local regulations against Roma, in line with the broader social environment and generally hostile attitude.

In the year 1942, a draft provision called ‘On the Regularisation of Gypsy Life Domiciled in Esztergo’ proposed to ‘discipline’ Roma and transform them into moderate, decent, civilised and hard-working citizens. Roma meant every individual of Roma origin (i.e. there was no distinction between travelling and settled Roma) as well as anyone who lived with them. This not only involved regular round-ups, but Roma were also subjected to medical examinations and forced to work. The proposed provision came into force in 1944 and led to the establishment of Roma internment camps and to deportations in spring 1944.

Before the Szálasi regime took power in October 1944, Roma were viewed as dangerous elements in society with respect to public security, hygiene and public morals. This was an important precondition for the round-ups, which were organised to settle or eliminate them.24

At the end of 1934, the mayor of Szolnok issued a resolution on the basis of which he ordered the expulsion of Jánosné Kulcsár (a widow), István Nagyhajú and József Nagyhajú, ‘Gypsy’ residents of Szolnok, and stated that they should demolish their own homes. The order claimed that the houses were built without the permission of the authorities and were unfit for human habitation.25 In response to the resolution, István Nagyhajú and József Nagyhajú gave notice of appeal on 6 December 1934, expressing the necessity to stay in their homes until spring came and requesting that the authorities postpone the evacuation:

'[...] we need the flat at least until the end of the winter season even though it is a weak makeshift. If it was demolished it would be even worse welcoming the winter under the deep blue sky. We do not have money to rent a flat, we barely make ends meet on a daily basis. [...]’26

István and József Nagyhajú

In early 1935, the alispán (deputy leader of the district) accepted the complaint made by Ferenc Tamási and his associates against Jánosné Kulcsár, István Nagyhajú and József Nagyhajú. The complaint argued that their living conditions raised issues regarding public sanitation, fire safety and animal healthcare, and consequently the resolution ordered the aforementioned three residents to destroy their homes within thirty days. There was no room for appeal.27 As far as the living conditions were concerned, a short note by a local engineer on the quality of the houses in Vonó Street might bring the reader to a better understanding of the then situation:

'the houses were constructed of mud and wood while the roof was made of tin, tar or tiles, and their floor space was no bigger than twelve square metres.’28

At the end of 1935 the chief medical officer, István Elek, reported on the public sanitary situation in Szolnok. In his conclusion, Elek identified the ‘Gypsy’ population living in Kisgyep as a ‘threat to public sanitation’. Their living conditions and eating habits meant that they could trigger epidemics, he claimed, and thus he suggested demolishing their houses, imposing strict police inspections as well as deporting those who did not have a steady job or were not originally from Szolnok.29

Resolution I. 6320/1936 ordered the demolition of the following houses, which were considered dangerous and unfit for human habitation: Istvánné Bujdosó (Kisgyep), István T. Kovács (10 Nyúl Street) and Borisz Vitorisz (20 Dráva Street). The owners were ordered to complete the demolition by themselves within ninety days, while the building inspection office were to report on progress when the ninety days were over. The owners had fifteen days to give notice of appeal.30

In reaction, Borisz Vitorisz, the resident of 20 Dráva Street, gave a notice of appeal against the mayor of Szolnok’s decision (in resolution I. 6320/1936) to consider the house dangerous and unfit for human habitation, and thus to expel the residents. Vitorisz argued that the house itself was not dangerous and should not be demolished, as this would make him homeless. The winter had caused damage to the house, but he always repaired it when spring came. The year 1936 was more challenging because a ‘Gypsy woman’, Bertalanné Nagyhajú, had moved into the house without his permission and without paying anything, a fact which he had reported to the local police. This situation delayed the renovations, but Vitorisz claimed that within two weeks the house would be in better condition and its demolition would be unnecessary.31 Unfortunately there are no documents in the archive which allow us to follow Vitorisz’ struggle.

Resolution II. 6320/1936 concerned public sanitation and a general inspection in Kisgyep. The mayor of Szolnok ordered the residents of Kisgyep to show up at the town’s building inspection office and request a residence permit, as well as correct the deficiencies observed during the inspection within three months. The following residents were listed: Gusztáv Kóré, Rózsi G. Nagy, János Raffael, Menyhért Kállai, Sándor Horváth, Miklós Raffael, László Kiss, Péter Barna, Sándor Farkas, Lajosné Károlyi özv., István Kovács, Györgyné Balog, László Mondok, Sándor Kökény and Ferenc Göncző. Furthermore, the mayor ordered the engineering office to hold inspections every two weeks in order to ensure the refurbishment of the houses in question and to supervise the construction of toilets. Finally the mayor ordered the chief medical officer to mark houses which were ‘inhabited by Gypsies’.32

Resolution III. 6320/1936 came from the mayor of Szolnok, Sándor Kerekes: as summer was coming and to protect the area from typhoid, the chief medical officer was ordered to patrol the ‘Gypsy settlement’ in Kisgyep and disinfect their homes and toilets with slaked lime on a weekly basis. The municipality was to provide the slaked lime. Furthermore, the Medical Office should supervise the ‘Gypsies’ to ensure that public health and sanitary requirements were met.33

In 1939 the following Roma owned houses in Dráva, Vonó, Báthory, Délibáb and Bihari Streets:34 János Nagyhajú: 1 Dráva Street, Lajosné Nagyhajú, widowed: 3 Dráva Street, Lászlóné Fazekas, widowed: 17 Dráva Street, Samu Rostás: 19 Dráva Street, Mária Pege: 22 Dráva Street, János Rozsár: 24 Dráva Street, Gábor Frigor: 32 Dráva Street, Pálné Rozsár, widowed: 36 Dráva Street, Józsefné Kadet: 34 Dráva Street, Róza Rozsár: 38 Dráva Street, Zsigmondné Rozsár, widowed: 45 Dráva Street, Lajos Horváth: 48 Dráva Street, István Nagyhajú: 8 Vonó Street 8., Béla Varga: 3 Délibáb Street, Gáborné Horváth: 3a Délibáb Street, Istvánné Nagyhajú, widowed: 2 Báthory Street, Sándorné Sántha: 12 Báthory Street, Lajos Frigul: 16 Báthory Street, Sándor Spiru: 2 Bihari Street, Mihályné Horváth, widowed: 4 Bihari Street, Piros Bagi: 14 Bihari Street, Lajos Szabó: 15 Bihari Street.

The same year the chief of police wrote a letter to the mayor regarding the above streets, stating that on the basis of an inspection requested by János Mátyus and his associates in Dráva, Vonó, Bihari and Báthory Streets, there were twenty-two houses inhabited by Roma families and eighteen of them were themselves the owners. The houses were in bad condition and overcrowded, each with eighteen to twenty people living together; they could more easily have been considered caves than places of human residence. The letter identified the Roma as musicians as well as feather, canvas or pottery tradesmen. They did not seem to threaten public safety, but according to ‘Gypsy custom’ they spent the warmer seasons on the streets and thus disturbed the peace of the other residents. As the frequent inspections to maintain order seemed to be beyond the capacity of local police, the chief requested that the mayor initiate the expulsion of the ‘Gypsies’ from the streets in question.35

In 1937, the chief medical officer reported to the mayor of Szolnok that

'[W]ith regards to the usual check-ups on the Gypsies serious public health concerns were raised against the Jakab family in Törteli Street and the Rafael family in Szél Street. Bearing in mind the fact that on the one hand they are dangerous public health-wise, and on the other hand they are originally not from Szolnok and do not have steady jobs, I request further arrangements to deploy them from the city, if necessary with the help of the police.’36

Chief medical officer

In 1939, residents of Szolnok demanded in a letter addressed to the mayor of Szolnok that Roma families from Dráva and Vonó Street should be expelled and relocated on the outskirts of the city. They argued that ‘Gypsies’ lived their family lives on the streets, that they were loud and disturbed the peace with fights and arguments etc., and that this environment discouraged visitors to come by. The area, they wrote, stank and was dirty. They also claimed that if the locals wished to revolt against this environment the ‘Gypsies’ would have taken revenge during the night.37

In 1940, the Szolnok doctor wrote a letter to the chief medical officer on the subject of ‘disinfecting the Gypsies and their houses’, requesting among other things that the houses inhabited by Gypsies in Kisgyep and Cigányváros should be examined, and proposing demolition should they not be fit for human habitation.38

In the same year, a report was written for the mayor of Szolnok by the chief medical officer on the state of public sanitation in Dráva, Báthory and Csokonai Streets, stating the following 1.) The public well at the top of Báthory Street was in bad condition, meaning that sagging cement slabs obstructed the water spout, in turn making the area around the well muddy. The report suggested repairing and levelling the cement slabs. Furthermore, streets such as Dráva, Csokonai, Báthory, Vonó and Délibáb were full of litter, which stank and might lead to epidemics. The report suggested that the authorities should clean the streets and create and maintain guttering on either side. Moreover, police sentinels should notice and report anyone who disregarded the basic principles of public sanitation. 2.) The report went further and stated that the town of Szolnok seemed to struggle with the issue of public rubbish collection. Symptoms of this struggle were, for example, that there were only a few public rubbish bins placed throughout the city, rubbish collection took place once a week and there were only four carts available; however, the city actually required daily collections using approximately eight carriages and from more public and private rubbish bins (with each household having one standardised bin). The report also emphasised the need for disinfecting the bins and introduced the idea of recycling.39

In 1940, a letter addressed to the főispán [leader of the district] took a purposefully gloomy, melancholic tone, with the residents of Kisgyep describing themselves as ‘poor people with large families’ who had to stay in Kisgyep because a large family could not afford a proper flat within the town. In fact, the letter went on,

'[W]e are forced to live in this damned, Vlach Gypsy cave. They are so dirty and live such an immoral and perverted life, and due to their immorality and perversity we fight the greatest struggle to raise [our families] and keep them healthy. These miserable Gypsies bring all kinds of stinky carcasses and they do not even bury their bones and intestines, thus contaminating the air, causing epidemics and threatening our families’ health.’

The letter continued with a plea to relocate the ‘Gypsies’ from the area.40

Naming the Unnamed: A Conclusion

János Nagyhajú, Lajosné Nagyhajú, Lászlóné Fazekas, Samu Rostás, Mária Pege, János Rozsár, Gábor Frigor, Pálné Rozsár, Józsefné Kadet, Róza Rozsár, Zsigmondné Rozsár, Lajos Horváth, István Nagyhajú, Béla Varga, Gáborné Horváth, Istvánné Nagyhajú, Sándorné Sántha, Lajos Frigul, Sándor Spiru, Mihályné Horváth, Piros Bagi, Lajos Szabó, Gusztáv Kóré, Rózsi G. Nagy, János Raffael, Menyhért Kállai, Sándor Horváth, Miklós Raffael, László Kiss, Péter Barna, Sándor Farkas, Lajosné Károlyi, István Kovács, Györgyné Balog, László Mondok, Sándor Kökény, Ferenc Göncző.

These are the names I encountered in the archives. These are people who might have modelled for the painters working in the art colony. The musicians in Vilmos Aba-Novák and Tibor Pólya’s images could have been one or two of the Roma musicians from Vonó Street.

Each name carries within it the history of those times. Reading this essay might have permitted a glimpse into their lives, but we can only hazard a guess at what happened to them when the history of violence smashed the lives of Jews, Roma and other minorities.

Following the German occupation of Hungary, in the summer of 1944 ghettos were created for the Roma population. The first was organised in Kistarcsa, in eastern Hungary, and later it was followed by others in Szolnok, Csongrád, Bács-Kiskun, Pest, Heves and Nógrád counties. The Roma from Szolnok and the neighbouring towns and settlements were gathered and taken away to do forced labour in the agrarian sector. From September onward ‘Gypsy labour battalions’ were recruited and forced to work at war sites, in a similar manner to the Jewish work troops.41 Many of them were taken to larger ghettos and then deported to concentration camps. In June 1944, Szolnok became a military zone, which came as a surprise for the residents who had believed that the war would avoid the town; consequently none of their belongings, including the treasures of the art colony, were spared from the violence. The colony was robbed and demolished; the library and the picture gallery perished. Although Szolnok was liberated in November 1944, the reconstruction of the art colony took years.42

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