Since their appearance in the Balkans over nine centuries ago, the Gypsies have doggedly refused to fall in with conventional settled life. When, in the fifteenth century, they knocked at the gates of western Europe in the guise of pilgrims, they aroused intense curiosity as well as suspicion, and theories proliferated about their provenance. They remain a people whose culture and customs are beset with misunderstanding. This book describes their history. The story opens with an investigation into Gypsy origins, using the evidence of language and culture to identify their Indian ancestry. The author then traces the Gypsy migration through the Middle East, Europe and the world. They became renowned for their metal-working, music, fortune-telling, healing and horse-dealing. But right from the start they outraged latent prejudices in the settled populations they moved among. Governments sought to bring them to heel and they were harassed, outlawed, hunted down and banished. In what is now Rumania they were enslaved from the fourteenth century until the mid-nineteenth century; in 1725 the Prussians made the Gypsies into legal vermin and decreed that they could be hanged without trial; in Spain, in 1749 all Gypsies were rounded up, to be set to forced labour; in Switzerland, from 1926 to 1973, a respectable children's charity practised institutionalized abduction. Persecution reached its apogee when the Nazis embarked on outright genocide: in this forgotten holocaust perhaps half a million Gypsies lost their lives. The ethnic tensions in today's Europe mean that the pattern of antagonism continues. And yet this is in many ways a story of achievement. For the Gypsies managed, with no literate tradition, no state and no national identity, to preserve a distinctive heritage over centuries of vicissitude. How and why they did so are the twin themes of this book.
About Angus M. Fraser
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Published October 1, 1992
by Blackwell Pub.