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. You’ve captured sensational, heart-wrenching images and for sometime now with your new camera, you are a rage. Quite commendable.
        What’s unusual for me though was your writing. Such powerful, moving words for a righteous cause crushed my heart.
        You should do this more often Cindy. It feels good to hear your thoughts, a glimpse of your soul.

  1. This is naive on my part but are they considered “gypsies”? Or is that too simplified? They remind me of the movie Golden Earrings with Ray Milland and Marlene Dietrich–how they were treated. It’s just plain wrong.

  2. The total humility in those postures is a lesson for us all. Cindy the poignant artistry in your photographs begs (sorry about that) for publication to reach a larger audience. Nat Geo, PBS, BBC, Smithsonian? It needs telling. —– I would be honored to be allowed to reblog this, or use as the basis of some drawings, but I hesitate to ask as I do think these (and probably many others) are too personal. But I am asking anyway. May I? —- Yes, If I had to do so, I would beg. Have done. I was not so humble. I was both terrified and furious.—– Hmm Could heritage have something to do with fernweh? —- Bear

    1. The comments are making me teary. I should have known that my wordpress colleagues would “get” this. I have so many more images in my memory of the children, the babies, the mothers, on the pavement all day, day after day, walked by, and ignored as if invisible. Every once in a while some one will notice them. I want to take more photographs but I won’t get back until next year. Please use the images, reblog, anything we can do to help lend them the voice they require. Thank you~

  3. This is so sad we are in the year 2013 and things like this make me sick, no one should be treated like this, I am glad you tell them about your heritage and thanks for sharing these pictures. sending blessings to all!

  4. Thanks for sharing these. So many ignore them, My great-gran was Rom as well. A lot of her family – my family – just disappeared in the Holocaust. Her branch survived purely by being in the UK at that time. The Rom are wonderful people, with a rich oral history and heritage.

    1. Yes and their wonderful music, their incredible kindness, their strength in the face of ridiculous adversity, their sense of community, their ethnic and cultural identity, all continuing to be trampled on. Kicked out of countries. I am so pleased to learn we are cousins!

  5. Thank you so much for this post. My father’s side of the family was Romany. I know almost nothing of my family history because my father, aunts, and uncles never discussed that part of who they were. How sad they felt they couldn’t. Unfortunately, all of them have passed away so now there is no one left to ask. It’s so important to keep speaking out.

    1. Yes, this is similar to me. I only recently found out I am partially Polish as well. The histories of the Eastern Europeans are hidden somewhat. My grandfather changed his name from Doscolof to Angell at Ellis Island at the recommendation of the staff in order to avoid the racist attitudes towards Slavic people at that time. His real name was Tryon Doscolof. It was changed to Paul D. Angell. Imagine having to lose your ethnic identity in order to blend in. He ended up being a judge, but he was also always a slav, with an accent, despite his phony name. One of many sad things about all this, is that people like you and I, don’t really know much about our real ethnic and cultural identities. I am mining information while my mother and aunt are still alive. My Roma great-grandmother was named Sultana. You and I a share common history. Thank you.

      1. Yes we do! I think it’s wonderful that you’re able to talk with your mother and aunt. Thanks again for your post and your poignant photos.

    1. Yep. That’s it. The tears are coming now. I should have known that I could expect this response from my fellow bloggers. But it is very moving for me to receive it. Thank you~

  6. You have touched on a very important topic! In fact your post brought tears. We must NEVER condone bullyism. We live in a perilously divided world, where sharing resources is becoming more difficult. I am committed to seeking peaceful outcomes even in my everyday world.

    “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
    Elie Wiesel

  7. More and more the world is heading down this road of allowing fellow human beings to become the inivisible ones that they can ignore and pretend do not exist in their comfortable world…it is equally tragic that humans can be so selfish and cruel to one another. Senseless.

  8. Not only was your commentary and images informative, but each provides its own visual storytelling. Thanks for showing a side of Italy that I’ve never experienced or known its history.

      1. You give realities we only hear of faces that we can see and thus something beyond an abstract understanding of what is. Don’t thank me; it is I who should thank you.

      1. Do continue to photograph and publish such pictures, Cindy. People often screen-out the unpleasant and history makes a habit of overlooking “voiceless” minorities. But images confront; they are hard to ignore.

        1. I was thinking about what you said about their genocide in the holocaust being over looked which is so true. They get a sentence on a plaque in Berlin. But I suppose what is the most frightening to me is how thoroughly they are ignored today. Thank you again Russel. I am glad I met you~

  9. Such a strong and tragic story you have caught in your photos Cindy and using black and white along with your narrative gives great feeling of despair these Roma people must endure.

  10. Hi Cuz,
    These pictures have a stunning honesty about them that is even further enhanced by the black/white media. It’s a situation that, sadly, exists all over the world where prejudice and hate are permitted to inflict their atrocities on people whose only fault or crime is to be poor. The pictures and your commentary really bring their plight to fore. You really should be submitting work like this for publication. ~Paul~

    1. Thank you Paul. Sometimes I think people try and find reasons why it is okay for certain people to suffer in this manner, ofen times the reasons people find are racial, with the Roma this is certainly the case. It is a situation where an entire race of people, slaughtered in the holocaust, discriminated against and rejected today, are dismissed as less than human because they are “bad” people. I guess I just have a profound discomfort with unfairness and cruelty anywhere and the Roma have experienced way too much of both. I knew with your sensitivity that you would understand this Paul and I thank you. Hugs~

  11. I’ve never been to Europe but I’ve often listed to complaints about “Roma” or “gypsies” as everyone calls them. Using the word “gypsie” makes it easy to ignore the obvious poverty of these people. Every time I hear the complaints I never think these people must be horrible, I think “my God, they have no land to call home.” It saddens me as it does to see the homeless on this side of the world. If ever I walk by a person or persons in obvious dire need and I think that somehow their situation is their fault or that they are scum – May God strike me with lightning at that moment. I am always filled with an sadness and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness because I can’t take their pain away. Thank you for sharing and bringing an invisible people visible.

  12. Your photographs evoke guilty feelings. When I was in Europe recently, particularly in Prague, I too noticed these poor souls on the street. Unlike panhandlers in the USA, many were bent over in what looked like prayer. Of course I had no idea what thoughts were actually going through their heads but it made you wonder if they were really praying or just evoking a heart pull on easy American tourists. I never contributed to these people but always wondered afterward whether I should have.

    1. How honest and courageous of you to say this. How good of you to feel guilt. Thank you.
      It is hard to know what to do when confronted with unfamiliar, destitute people. It’s too much sensory impact to process right away.
      After almost thirty years working as a clinical social worker, I often now feel most comfortable giving money directly to people who need it. I have seen too many organizations redirect monies intended for people into administrative endeavors. I have in fact see this in every organization I have worked for.
      Two things work for me in doing this though, the first is research to find out, who are these beggars? What is their history? Why are they doing this? With the Roma the results of this research are staggeringly tragic and has been for many, many generations. It is a history of continuous rejection and displacement, in country after country. It is occurring now as I write this. The woman and children are hiding more now to avoid eviction.
      The second thing is to actually approach the people with a smile and a handshake. The results will surprise and amaze. These are human beings, just like us, and their gratitude is like a ray of sunshine on your soul.
      I suspect, knowing you a little bit, that you will try this the next time you are in Europe.
      Thank you my friend.

  13. Your message is very powerful Cindy – through your eyes and words you allow us to experience the quiet and unnoticed. Black and white couldn’t have been a more better choice for creating an image that is profoundly sad – heartbreaking.

  14. Your photos are beautiful but sad and your post so important, and reminded me of the people in these dire situations I came across when travelling in Italy, whether in the subway or in the streets. I don’t know their story or origin and had not heard the word ‘Roma’ back then or indeed knew whether they were Roma or of different ethnicities. But whatever the race or nationality is, it’s just a devastating existence especially where children and the elderly are victims too.

    1. Yes, my sentiments exactly. And yes there are in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, all the the cities of Europe. It is so good to hear from you Halim. I have been thinking of you lately wondering what you were up to. It is especially nice to hear such a compassionate response from you, but then, from you, I would expect no less. Thank you~

  15. A very thought provoking post Cindi. Thank you for opening my eyes to this issue. To answer your question ~ yes I would steal to feed my children ~ and beg probably. We don’t appreciate how lucky we are.

  16. Thank you for sharing this post — it has been an education, both in pictures and text. Your photos show much feeling and heartfelt concern for the needs of these people, and it is hard to see them without being stirred to compassion.

  17. Wow this post has tugged at my heart strings! No body deserves to be treated as invisible!! We are ALL God’s children!! It is so cool that you stand up for those special people!! I will have their wonderful souls in my prayers tonight! Thank your for sharing their story!!

  18. I have always taught my children to be respectful of all people. We all need kindness – I remember taliking with a man who I thought might be homeless. He didn’t want charity, just the ablitiy to walk freely up and down the parking lots to look for fallen change so he could buy a cup of coffee. I would smile at him and ask about his luck. And he always smiled back. And I made sure to not pick up the loose change that was in the parking areas I knew he frequented.

    I think, at least in my family, when that older generation came over they wanted to forget those troubles. And while the streets were not paved with gold or honey they did the best with what they had. We never felt like we didn’t have what we needed. Which was the love of family. And it just got harder when folks moved out of state, retired – had to follow jobs. So much was lost. The language they chose not to share, stories they thought belonged untold. My Father-in-law served in WWII – he would only share with us humorous stories, he would not speak of the horrors. It wasn’t until after he passed that we found a chest of his that my Mother-in-law never saw opened. Some family members wanted to disberse the items, even sell them. My husband though, was able to keep the chest and it’s contents. While there were no written stories we could catch a breif glimpse into that time in my father-in-law’s life.

    You are doing a unique and wonderful service to photograph the Roma/Sinti you see. I hope that you can also get names and perhaps a few stories to share. It is disheartening to know that some people have a darkness and fear only wanting to cast negitive shadows where none need to be. Because I think if one goes back far enough we are all related.

    Continued success on keeping your own family history as well as the Roma people more than just a passing memory.

    1. Oh Jules. What can I say to this except thank you my friend. I am so glad you decided to share this. I am finding out about common family histories with fellow bloggers that I couldn’t have imagined, from different parts of the world. And yes there is a decided reluctance to discuss the events of WWII by those traumatized by it, the last of whom are aged now. I had the first real conversation ever with my almost 90 year old uncle who was a POW shot down over Germany, about a year ago. The issue I have with the Roma is that their experience in WWII has not been adequately addressed, on top of the fact they are experiencing continuing persecution and marginalization based on race today. And not enough people are noticing. I have been unbelievably gratified to see the level of conern among my fellow bloggers, you included. I knew you and some of your story so I am not suprised, but I am grateful none the less. Thank you Jules.

  19. Thank you so much, Cindy, for educating me on this injustice. I was unaware of the plight of the Roma people, but I believe that we are all cells in God’s body, so it hurts me to see this social genocide.
    You are such a compassionate person to spread a little humanity on the “untouchables.” It reminds me of when a friend and I were talking to a black man in South Africa. He started crying because he said that no one who was not black had ever talked to him with respect before. Every smile, donation, and act of kindness matters. Thank you for all you do. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

    1. It is heartening the community we have here at wordpress among our fellow bloggers, most of whom are intelligent people of conscience, interested in pursuing social justice for all people in our small world. Bloggers like you Koza. Thank you and hugs to you~

  20. A new side of Cindy, photo journalism! Good for you, showing the world not just all the pretty pics you take, but another side of life.
    Yes, I think I would beg, maybe steal to feed my kids, if I had children.

    1. Thank you Resa! And thank you for your honesty. Yes, this has been my emphasis for most of my life. Only since I retired have I been able to focus on the lighter side of life. But maybe, now I’ll include some of both.

  21. Great post. It is always amazing how easily people are willing to blame the victims. What is it that the Roma did or got accused of doing as they first moved into Europe that makes them the everlasting scapegoats?

    1. Yes that is interesting isn’t it. Possibly just be outsiders, different, as they migrated around. You can trace active discrimination aginst them for centuries, really more. They didn’t hide and try to blend in like my grandfather did when he came to America for example. They stayed together and kept to their culture. This was probably enough to make them scapegoats. insane isn’t it?

  22. Poignant photos Cindy. At the weekend I attended a talk given by the Dalai Lama. His message was compassion. He says we are social animals and if we see ourselves as one of 7 billion people and not one apart, or above, or different from the 7billion people we can make this, the 21st Century, the Century of Peace. So, first we would like at the Roma, not as Roma only, but as people of the 7 billion who have equal rights with all the rest of us to the benefits and joys of the world. If we think like this then, by reason alone, we are required to be compassionate to all people. Well, I hope I have paraphrased that properly but his remarks seem timely in the light of your post. Your compassion is evident in your post and your photos.

    1. Yes I think this summarizes my beliefs perfectly. I noticed an unusual thing when I first had children. I was already working as a therapist and clinical social worker, but I felt an even increased responisilbity towards all children, as if I was every mother’s child. I really noticed parents who didn’t feel this way. Narcissists who valued their children because they were “thiers.” This narcissim is rampant in the west, and ironically is the source of untold personal unhappiness and a plethora of visits to therapists. Selfishness never makes you happy and it doesn’t make anyone else happy either.
      True happiness comes from compassion and empathy.
      Thank you my compassionate friend for knowing this~

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  25. Luanne

    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.

    1. 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~

      1. Luanne

        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.

  26. 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

    1. 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.

  27. 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.

    1. 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.

  28. 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

      1. Well, I have sent him the link to your page. His name is Bil. The book is very long and unpublished, but maybe he can send you chapters or something. Will let him know. Smiles. . . .Anne

  29. 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.

    1. 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~

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    1. 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~

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  33. All people have the right to exist and be treated with dignity and ideally shown some understanding for their plight. Thanks for sharing, your pictures are quite revealing.

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