Sinti and Roma have been present on the Italian peninsula for many centuries. However, censuses conducted both before and after Italian unification (1870) did not include the category of ‘Gypsies’. Sinti were to be found primarily in central and northern Italy and worked as itinerant performers (musicians, acrobats, circus performers and merry-go-round operators). Since vagrancy was punishable by law, only families that managed to obtain proper licences to engage in those occupations avoided being repeatedly detained by the police. By the early 1900s, the majority of Roma in the southern part of the peninsula had a place of residence or permanent address and worked primarily as brokers or traders of horses and as tinsmiths. Around the turn of the twentieth century, many foreign Roma and Sinti entered Italy, despite repeated directives prohibiting their entry.
Expulsion of ‘Foreign Gypsies’
Soon after the fascist regime took power in 1922, a series of directives was issued that banned the entry of ‘foreign Gypsies’ or ordered their expulsion. In particular, Sinti and Roma who did not have identity documents were taken by force to the borders, without the neighbouring countries being informed. This was especially the case for Sinti and Roma from Venezia Giulia and Tridentina, as they often had not been assigned any nationality after the annexation of the two regions to Italy (1919).
Internment under the Fascist Regime
Starting in January 1938, the fascist regime decided to confine ‘Gypsies’ in southern Italy. The police measure affected mostly Roma from the Istrian peninsula (about eighty people), who were sent to Sardinia, and Sinti and Roma from the province of Trieste. In 1938, the fascist regime introduced anti-Jewish legislation, which made no mention of Roma and Sinti, who, as a result, were not registered or categorised on a genealogical basis.
With Italy’s entry into World War II in June 1940, the fascist regime ordered the internment of anyone judged to be ‘dangerous’ for the nation, including political opponents, foreign Jews, the nationals of ‘enemy states’, ‘Gypsies’ and many others. The detainment and subsequent internment of Roma and Sinti was conducted under directives signed by the head of the police, Arturo Bocchini, and, after his death in November 1940, by his successor, Carmine Senise. There was no systematic internment and it affected only Italian Sinti and Roma without a place of residence and all foreign Roma and Sinti. Around 350–400 Sinti and Roma were sent to internment camps in southern Italy (in particular to Tossicia, in the province of Teramo, and to Agnone, in the province of Campobasso), while around 600 were interned in isolated villages (known as ‘internment in localities’), especially in central and northern Italy, well away from borders and military installations. In both the internment camps and localities, food was scarce and hygiene conditions were terrible.
Deportations under German Occupation
With the fall of fascism (July 1943) and the Allied landings, Roma and Sinti managed to leave the internment areas designated by the regime before the arrival of the German troops. During the German occupation (1943–1945) and the concomitant establishment of the Italian Social Republic, some tens of Sinti and Roma were deported to Germany as Italian Military Internees, forced labourers and ‘Gypsies’. The latter consisted of Sinti and Roma captured above all in the provinces of Udine, Triest, and Ljubljana, which were under the direct administration of the Reich. These people were sent to extermination camps.
No Official Estimates of Murdered Roma
No official estimates exist of the number of Sinti and Roma murdered. The fascist regime did not order the killing of Sinti and Roma; however, we do know that Roma children died owing to the terrible living conditions in the Gonars concentration camp in the province of Udine, where Yugoslav civilians were interned. In the province of Ljubljana, which was under Nazi occupation, more than fifty Roma were deported to Auschwitz in November–December 1943; we do not know how many came back alive. The names of about ten Sinti and Roma who took part in the Italian Partisan resistance are known.
After 1945, there was no juridical investigation into crimes committed against Sinti and Roma. No compensation has ever been awarded to Sinti and Roma interned in fascist camps. Only in 2000 did the Italian parliament establish a Remembrance Day (27 January), but it made no reference to the persecution of the Sinti and Roma Only three sites where Sinti and Roma were interned carry plaques commemorating their existence: Prignano (province of Modena), Tossicia (province of Teramo) and Agnone (province of Campobasso).