The Bread Winners: Roma & Sinti of Europe

I had decided to take some photos of the Roma in Europe on my most recent trip. I have never photographed them before out of deference to their privacy. But I have been reading about increased rates of forced evictions of the Roma/Sinti in several European countries including, France, Italy, Romania and Serbia. There has also been an uptick in human rights violations against them, and crackdowns on them in their refugee camps. Amnesty International has taken on their cause. I have always noticed widespread prejudice against the Roma in Europe. This time I still saw the Roma on the streets but I didn’t see the previously present mothers with their young children. They are becoming the invisible people.

Click to access pol100222013en.pdf

I talk to everybody when I travel. On this trip I surveyed taxi cab drivers, hotel staff and sales people. I asked people, where are all the Roma women and their children? I got answers such as, “They are disguising themselves so they can steal better.” “They are a dishonest people and will rob you.” “They hide and lie and cheat.”
Whenever, I hear this, I cheerfully pipe up with, “Really, my great-grandmother was a Roma, so that makes me a Roma too.”
I am always curious about their reactions. They basically just said my great-grandmother was scum and so was I as her relative. Just like I don’t like bullying, I don’t like bigotry either. On this trip out of the dozen or so people I talked to, no one stood up for, or said anything positive about the Roma.

I do sometimes see people being kind to the Roma. Talking to them, giving them money, treating them like human beings, and this always raises the spirits. But the Roma are for the most part, present but invisible.

Would you beg if your children were starving? Would you steal?
The Nazis carried out a major effort to entirely annihilate them. The sign above is from the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Now countries are trying to send them to other countries. The Roma, because of their displaced status, frequently have no birth certificates, no citizenship status, no rights.
Their status seems somewhat similar to undocumented workers in the United States.

Believe me I am not saying that we do a better job. We don’t. I do notice that the Roma have always been rather uniquely voiceless though.
I talk with them. Like oppressed, homeless people anywhere, I find them to be incredibly grateful when someone bothers to notice them, or reach out to them, or help them in some small way. So simple. So important.

I plan to continue photographing them when I travel and when I see them. I am proud of my Roma heritage. For more information on the Roma, check out these links.


Balkan Genocides: Holocaust and Ethnic Cleansing in the Twentieth Century (Studies in Genocide: Religion, History, and Human Rights) [Hardcover]
Paul Mojzes

152 thoughts on “The Bread Winners: Roma & Sinti of Europe

  1. As a psychotherapist like you, and as a human being – one race, human – I am staggered at yet another example of man’s inhumanity to man. We are trying to take away the Roma’s dignity, which is something none of us have the right to do. Thank you for giving your people a voice with your pictures and your post.


  2. I really don’t comprehend how it happens that this race of people are forced to their knees this way, heads down, hat out. Really, people think the whole race cheats/will steal from you? REALLY? I can’t imagine thinking any one thing of a whole race, yet it goes around and round and around.

    Love how you said your grandmother was Roma. I actually heard two Polish men in the sauna chatting and one said, “No, wouldn’t trust a black man”. I was so incensed. I said my mother was Polish, which they didn’t mind a bit, and added that my father was black. They were dumbfounded. I’m not saying you’re not Roma! I’m just saying I said that to see their reaction, to have them think.

    But people are so ugly bigoted, they hardly stalled.

    A worthwhile contributions is this, Cindy. I wish we could change this sweeping injustice.


    • Bigotry is taught, not natural. You have to work to instill it in children’s brain. Sadly, some people still do this. Can you imagine the boringness of a world where everyone was the same? Our cultural differences, sexual preferences, religious or non-religious beliefs, all our differences, make us individual and interesting. What I particularly resent about the Roma is their genocide has not been given appropriate attention. WWII is a good example. They were decimated and tortured. Not only is this almost ignored, but their victimization CONTINUES today. This is inexcuseable to me. They need a voice and they needs basic human rights now. Thank you for your empathy.


      • It is heartbreaking to know that anyone is treated this way. Why haven’t they been talked about the way the Jews were after the war? The world deserves to know how your people were treated – still being treated. How sad it is to know that people haven’t changed.


  3. Wonderful post of a sad story. Cindy, what do you think of the book Bury Me Standing by Isabelle Fonseca? Have you read it? Really curious your take on it.


    • I did not know of it. But, due to your comment, I researched it and just ordered it at Amazon. It sounds fascinating and compelling. Such a hidden world. I am eagerly anticipating it’s arrival. What an amazing undertaking on the part of the author. Not available on kindle which is a bummer. Did you read it? What did you think? Thank you so much for the lead~


      • I read it years ago, so I don’t remember details, but I was blown away by reading it. I didn’t know anything about this group of people at all (other than visiting Spain and Italy when I was younger and a counterpoint to the refugees in those countries, a woman on our tour from the U.S. was of Roma ancestry. The book is a visceral experience. She’s an outsider who lives with them to write about them. I can’t wait to see what you think.


  4. Such moving pictures Cindy…
    I too have English Romany blood, some generations back, and when I was young, with my very long dark hair, and what someone once called gypsy eyes, it was very obvious ! Yet my sister was blue eyed and fair-haired….
    Growing up in England I thought this was rather glamorous or exotic !!!!
    Did you ever see that wonderful film about the gypsies, going right through from Rajasthan , Egypt, Turkey- all across Europe to Spain.? I saw it five times it was so wonderful – Latcho Drom it was called…
    I see you visited my blog Cindy – how lovely… I still haven;t worked out how to follow yours, ticking the box up on the left doesn’t seem to work… it tells me I’m following, but I never get your posts… so I just have to click on your smiling face when I see it in the likes in other people;s blogs, or mine!!!
    Just had a thought – I can do it on the notifications..
    Like so many others, I love your take on the places you see and photograph…love, valerie


    • So incredibly kind Valerie and quite moving. Thank you. One thing I did not expect was the response from bloggers with Roma heritages. They are several of you. I also am getting excellent referrals on books and now this film that I had never heard of. I will definitely download and watch Latcho Drum. Thank you for informing me of it and thank you for your compassion. It is encouraging to encounter such informed and empathic bloggers.


  5. BRAVO, Cindy — You have absolutely managed to present the Roma, visually and in text, with compassion and respect, and also the advocacy that they deserve. I understand why you have resisted photographing them before — we have all cringed at images of “poverty pornography” that take advantage of the vulnerable — but I think you’ve done this right. Good for you.


    • I had never heard the term “poverty pornography” before, but understand instantly what it means. The error of doing good is that it can be utilized as an ego boost for the do gooder. We see this sometimes with Hollywood celebrities, where one wonders, are they doing this more for the people, or for their own self image? I especially appreciate the sensitivity and understanding your comments reflect on this dialectic. Thank you Penny for your awareness, concern and support.


  6. Wow, so interesting and very informative. I have a friend who wrote a book on Roma. He doesn’t blog , but I am going to send him the link. Thanks ever so much for reading all those posts that hardly saw the light of day! Namaste. . . .. Anne


  7. This is fascinating Cindy, and especially so because when I was little, my father used to call me his “little gypsy.” He was Hungarian and he always lauded the gypsy music of the country and told me how it went from the deepest sorrow to the fiercest joy. He counted the Hungarian Rhapsody in that list. He never spoke negatively, ever, about the gypsies in that country. I thought of them more as circus types who loved the nomadic life in their own little bands of family and friends. And now I learn of this horrible extreme prejudice there and elsewhere in Europe toward the gypsies (including the Romas). Your account is so sad.


    • You are such a wonderful person. Of course you have Hungarian roots, this is why we think the same in so many areas! Your father was right. The music is beyond wonderful. Hugs to you my friend~


  8. Pingback: Ascuns — Hidden « bearspawprint

    • Oh my. I am so incredibly moved by your talent, your compassion and your kindness. I have left you a message on your blog but I still have goosebumps. Toss a pebble into the sea and you may make a wave that can cross an ocean. Thank you my friend for using your talent to give voice and dignity to the voiceless. I am in awe. Namaste~


  9. Pingback: Ascuns — Hidden « bearspawprint

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