Project Nr. 4051-69207

On the Way between Persecution and Recognition.

Forms and Views of Social Exclusion and Integration:

Yenish, Sinti and Roma in Switzerland from 1800 up to Present Time




Research Time: 1. Juni 2003 - 31. Mai 2006
Project Leader: Thomas Huonker
Co-Researcher: Stéphane Laederich, Venanz Nobel, Samuel Hegnauer
Board: Hedy Betschart, May Bittel, S. Borri, David Burri, Cornel Ciurariu, Michele Galizia, François Gerzner, Heiko Haumann, Stefan Heinichen, Robert Huber, Daniel Huber, Helena Kanyar Becker, Thomas Kessler, Cristina Kruck, Vreni Müller-Hemmi, Kemal Sadulov, Paul Schirmer, Ernst Spychiger, Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Patrick Vogt, Uschi Waser, Willi Wottreng, Regula Ziegler
Project  grants: Swiss National Fund (75%), Swiss Cantons (25%) 




  1. Project Summary


The project intends to present and describe in details the different phases of the exclusion and integration of Jenische, Sinti and Rroma in Switzerland and in border regions. This study will be conducted from multi-cultural and minority-based historical perspective.


The temporal distribution of such phenomena, the therein contained conflicts, laws and developments is broken by short periods of disruptions (1800, 1850, 1920, 1970) where the behaviour towards these minorities changed. These changes will be analysed especially in view of the parallel nation building in Switzerland and the resulting homogeneisation and resulting exclusion tendencies. 


The driving forces of these disruptions, the views of the people involved in these changes, the concepts used are in conflict and interaction with the somewhat slower and more continuous general behaviour in the periods preceding those changes. The local differences in the culture and views of the majority need to be integrated into this analysis (border areas / interior of Switzerland; French, German and Italian speaking parts of that country; Catholic / Protestant; rural / urban;  social standing).


On the other hand, the specificities, common behaviour, adaptation and self-views of Jenische, Sinti, and Rroma and their sub-groups are to be taken into consideration. This in conscious contrast to the used terminologies – often pejorative and non-differentiating - prevailing in the different phases in the scientific, political or media discourse (“Gauner”, “Homeless”, “Vagabund”, “Zigeuner”, “Itinerant salesman”, “Unwelcome”, “Foreigner”, “Genetically inferior”, “Travellers” etc.).  These terms and the labelling of these minorities, their grouping under “one hat” negating their different cultures and ways of life did not further mutual understanding. In more recent times, these elder stereotypes and generalisations gave way to a partially romantically inclined view summarised in Switzerland under the term of “Fahrende” or “Travellers” covering all the various groups who, in the mind of the general population are “Gypsies”, even though a majority of those are not travellers. 


The new methodologies of the Social sciences have developed methods and become increasingly interested in these views, often containing implicit or explicit ratings. The works of Paul Ricoeur and Hayden White are but a reference to this interest, here in a more meta-historical and philosophical direction, with a special interest in the narrative structures,, self-views and temporal aspects.[i]


The cultural differences, peculiarities and common point of these groups, their behaviour faced with the effects of the various policies will be analysed based on self-statements of members of these various groups. The project does not aim at presenting all facets of these differences and common points, something which is currently being done in new research, rather, it aims at analysing behavioural differences pertaining to the process of integration and exclusion based on such oral documents.

The project does not aim at covering the entire thematic field and as such is not to be understood in the sense of  the “histoire totale”, a form often found in the French school. However, the view over a long period of time can be seen as sharing some of the aspects of the school of “Annales” developed in France[ii]  The differences between this project and the concept of the advocates of the “histoire totale” is to be found first in the somewhat more critical approach of this project towards sources but mostly due to the fact that in the timeframe and means at our disposal, the underlying concept of an encyclopedic knowledge – the basis of an “histoire totale” – is certainly beyond our means. In addition, the structure itself of the wider NFP 51 project, with several subprojects covering different views as well as many new or newer sources on the topic at hand means that several parts, topics, regions and regional differences as well as several historical timeframes have already been covered or are currently being researched. Our aim is thus to cover some of the gaps that have so far attracted little – if any – attention and cannot be interpreted as being a major “tell-it-all” endeavour.


While a consequent part of this research will involve traditional archival activities, we will also use oral history, i.e. the access to the central questions of integration and exclusion via testimonies of individuals of the various groups. This approach will be an important part of our work and will allow us to contrast the different views and opinions expressed in written sources to their effect on individuals. This contrast and the use of testimonies allows one a deeper analysis of the processes as well as a deeper understanding of the long-term evolution and the various critical phases, especially in the understanding of the forces at hand, be they continuity or forces of change.


On the one hand, the program of interviews will cover a broad sample so as to encompass a broad base and gain a general overview of the topic in its variations. The Ariadne thread of those interviews will be loosely based on the chronological and biographical data from the interviewed people. This will allow the researchers to dwell at will on some specific topics, depending on the subject at hand. These loosely structured interviews will be used on the one hand as a background for the research, for example in the reconstruction of individual destinies, completing the results obtained in more traditional fashion. These interviews will be partially transcribed.  


On the other hand, a small sample of interviews will be transcribed in their totality and will be interpreted, commented according to the methods of  the qualitative biographical research[iii].   


Several aspects of the advantages of narrative interviews over structured or quantitative approaches – as presented by Bettina Dausien in the context of gender – can be extended not only in the work with women of the groups at hand, but much more generally do apply to those minorities. This constitutes a difference to the general “Ansatz” and to the usual disinterest of the research to the self-representation. To use this approach in a successful manner means that one has to approach interviews not with a catalogue of specific questions but rather, that one has to use the narrative background to ask more specific question, clarifying the understanding on a purely ad-hoc basis. In the case of victims, for example Rroma victims of the Holocaust, this approach has proved much more efficient at extracting the facts and at getting at the core of the involved processes. Not only does this allow the interviewed a more personal narration, an especially important fact in this case, as it allows one to gain an insight in the processes whereby the person has managed to survive, but is allows the researcher a much wider view and to work with cross-referencing and cross verification.


During and after the transcription, the establishment of such cross-references as well as of a general index will allow a critical assessment of these interviews. It will allow to research for commonality, repetitions, specific aspects as well as to connect the referred events to more traditional written sources. This will allow one to use transparent criteria to select the most relevant and interesting testimonies.


Depending on the length and interest, some of the interviews that will be realised in the framework of this project will be selected, transcribed in full and will be included in the presentation. A special section will be devoted to this smaller sample and will be used to illustrate aspects of the subject of this research, this especially for the latter timeframes in our scope. Whenever possible, the inclusion of pertinent written sources as well as – if available – the various dossiers of the individual at hand will be included. Amongst individuals for which such sources are not readily available, interviews will nevertheless be included in the presentation. These can be analysed by other means as we have already sketched above.


Besides the interviews that we will conduct, we will also use existing ones realised over the last decades. It should become apparent, that the increasing acceptance and sensibilisation of the general population towards those minorities should and will reflect itself in their testimonies and in the presentation thereof.


The selection of the interviewed and the evaluation of these interviews will also analyse gender and generation specific aspects and will be conducted along the methodology of Oral History[iv]. These interviews can be conducted by two of the three researchers in the mother-tongue of the subjects and thereafter translated (the original transcriptions will be made available whenever such an interview will be used). Due to the long term work of the researchers with organisations and individuals of the Jenische, Sinti and Rroma in Switzerland and in Europe, the access to a representative and qualitatively high sample of individuals is guaranteed. It has been demonstrated by the work of the researchers at hand but also in a more general framework, that finding members of those minorities which are willing to be interviewed is possible whenever based on a mutual understanding ands respect, this in spite of negative and even racist approaches that may have been used in the past. This goal is achievable within the timeframe of the project and within the scope the presented methodology. This represents not only a research need but also a  presentation of these minorities whose voices have for a long time never been listened to.[v].


Oral history, in the form of interviews over these questions recorded with various members of these minorities will take an important place in this work and will complete the views presented in references and archives. These interviews will also take into account generation and gender differences within these communities and are in line with the new methods of oral history research. Two of the three researchers will be able to conduct these interviews in original language. Due to their long term work with various organisations representing Jenische, Rroma and Sinit in Switzerland and other countries, it will be possible to find a representative sample of people to interview.


1.1            Account of the State of research in the Field


In the old Swiss Federation,  foreigners , especially "Zeginer", "Heiden" and Jews were associated under generally pejorative epithets such as "Herrenlose Gesindel" or "Vagabonds" and were expelled often with  brutal methods. The exclusion methods that were applied to those “Vagabonds” were branding with hot iron, flogging, slavery in the galleys, were declared “vogelfrei”, that is, that anybody could kill them without any penalty, were hung when they managed to return to the country. The exclusion methods against Jews, on the other hand, were the ghettos, forbidden trades and activities, special clothing distinguishing them from the general population, periodical and often violent pogroms, up to the confiscation of property and the stake.


These measures against “Vagabonds” are documented in the resolutions passed by the ‘Tagsatzung” – the main organ of the old government of Switzerland – as well as in may local legal documents that also document the various pogroms against Jews. Legal residency was forbidden or at least limited, travellers were for example  only tolerated for a forthnight per year during the so-called "Fekkerchilbi"  - a market- in Gersau. Jews were forbidden to settle anywhere in Switzerland but for two small villages in Argau - in Lengnau and in Endingen.


Such measures remained in place after the failure of the liberal settlement policy well into the second half of the 19th century. The emancipation of the Jews started in 1866 with the right to settle and the equality in front of the law and continued in 1874 with the freedom of religion.


In the first half of the XIXth century, correctional or social institutions, even prisons were created , often with the official goal of the internment of “Vagabonds”. In the reglement of the first Swiss police corps, the so-called “Landjäger”, the surveillance and expulsion of “travellers” stood at the centre of their duty. In their book centred on the region of Bern, Meier and Wolfensberg wrote that “With the institutions and the police corps, the bourgeois state created until the middle of the XIXth century, the instruments of a successful repression of the lower Vagabonds stratum of society, an instrument that prevented them from living how they chose”


Shortly after the creation of the new Swiss Federal State, starting in 1851, people without official papers and travellers were arrested in the so-called "Vagantenfahndung" - a search and arrest wave against "Vagabunds", photographed and of course questioned. This procedure decided, often against the will of the cantons and localities, who was to be granted citizenship and who was to be deported. These methods have already been described extensively in the literature.


Which families, groups or individuals were granted citizenship, which ones were expelled needs to be investigated both in view of the applied criteria and in view of a representative sample of cases. It seems that, generally speaking, neither Sinta nor Rroma had a chance to be granted citizenship.


As in the case of other people without citizenship, Travellers only had for the first time the official rights of  and parenthood – something that was to be used extensively against them later. Some well known Jenische families managed to obtain their citizenship papers well in advance of the campaign to force settle them or to expel them. Nevertheless, they often remained unwelcome second-class citizen. In both cases, when they either acquired or were granted citizenship in a commune – mostly in the mountains – they often had no access to the usual citizen rights (grazing cattle, cutting wood etc.) and as such were subjected to a precarious economical situation.  One will need to analyse whether they were limited in their ability to work in their new communes, – taking mostly menial farm work – and whether they managed to acquire property or gain a political influence.


They often kept their traditional way of life, as travelling salesmen. They were exposed to the authorities' chicanery, for example in the need of having "Patents" to exercise their trade and specially taxed by the state. In addition, the federal authorities forbade families with school-aged children to travel. This might have been cause by overlapping concerns, for example that of eradicating this way of life, contrasted with the wish to help the children succeed in school.


The mere existence of the Jenische in Switzerland was thus precarious, both financially and in their juridical status. Their language and culture were threatened. A Swiss criminologist wrote in 1864 "Die Geschichte des Gaunerthums in der Schweiz"  - the history of petty criminals in Switzerland - a title that hints at the widely accepted views that Jenish is a language of criminals - a slang, and that travellers were generally to be looked upon under the suspicion of criminality. In this work, he states that "Only the best able […] still knew some Jenisch words.”


In view of the already existing laws such as in Lucerne (1825) whereby Jenische children were taken away from their parents and of the still current forced settlement, von Reding wrote: “What still can be saved from these people will be seen when all have the truly homeless have been raised to the full citizen status by the enlightened action of the federal authorities and when their children have been given a normal education.”


Already during the 19th century, many of the parents and children of the so-called “traveller families” landed in the newly created “Correctional” or “Saviour” institutions or in the orphanages and institutions for the poor of those communes where they were force-settled. This ever growing “Archipelago” of institutions soon became one of the largest farm business in Switzerland. There are but few studies on some of these institutions, but a modern analyse of the social history of these institutions is still missing. This project will cover some of these institutions, insofar as they are relevant to our goals. For example, Belechasse, Realta, Witzwil as well as some other institutions of various communes who had become the home of these Jenische such as Einsiedeln or Obervaz.


From the en of the 19th century onward, something that was to take its full meaning later on, the institutionalisation of travellers into “homes” did not happen solely on the grounds of poverty or on social grounds but more and more on the grounds of psychiatry. The doctor in psychiatry, Josef Jörger from the commune of Vals, where a Jenische family was settled for many years was the precursor and justified this view through his decades of research that resulted in the publication of "Psychiatrischen Familiengeschichten"(Jörger 1905, 1918, 1919) – psychiatric family histories. These publication, besides genealogical trees, also contained a glossary of the Jenische language.

Central actors of the “Eugenics” movement such as Auguste Forel, Ernst Bleuler, Ernst Rüdin and Alfred Ploetz were helped to publish Jörger’s work in return of which, Jörger took over the Eugenic view of the separation into “erblich Minderwertige” – genetically inferiors – and “erblich Höherwertige” – genetically superior. He of course counted Jenische to the former class.


The well know Dr. Ritter, one of the central figures in the persecutions of Sinti and Roma in Germany under Hitler, referred in may of his works to Jörge’s research


In 1924, Jörger recommended the systematic removal of children of “Vagabonds” families, a procedure that was to be institutionalised under the auspices of the “Hilfswerk für die Kinder der Landstrasse”, a sub organisation of the Foundation Pro Juventute, with tentative co-operation of the federal, cantonal and communal authorities. These vagabonds, in the eyes of the government and of Pro Juventute were a “dark speck on the cultural order of Switzerland of which that country was so proud of”.


The founder and leader of the this “Foundation”, Alfred Siegfried, via questionnaires to the authorities, created a list and a genealogical tree of Jenische families and calculated the number of children to be removed.  Until 1973, the foundation, according to nowadays available numbers, removed 619 children from their families. Until now, only a handful of cases were comprehensively studied – in relation with official documents, only two so far, the story of branch of this organisation written by Leimgruber, Meier and Sablonier (financed by the confederation) and the memories in three volumes of Peter Paul Moser who included whatever documents from Pro-Juventute he could obtain on his case as well as the work of Graziella Wenger-Waser who reconstructed the life of her brother whom she only learned about at his burial and which is based on the testimonies of people who knew him as well as on its dossier from Pro-Juventute[vi]. Our project will concentrate on the question as to how and why certain cantons show a large number of interned people, while others have almost none and will focus on cantons that are financing this project.


In many Swiss cantons, other institutions, such as the social and welfare authorities or the non governmental “Seraphische Liebeswerk” followed suit and also removed children from their families. This removal of children and associated measures such as the interdiction of marriage, forced abortion and sterilisation for “genetically inferior” people occurred in Switzerland a bit earlier than in other countries and concerned not only Jenische but also other groups and were made considerably easier through the introduction of the Civil Law Book of 1912. Nevertheless, many of these near abductions occurred in a legal grey zone.


After the first few random tests, a fully comprehensive research of the Welfare documents, of the various institutions  is required. This goes beyond the sole scope of this project and should and will hopefully be included in other NFP-51 projects. Many institutions were involved in the persecution of Jenische: Welfare authorities, for example the well known one of Bellechasse in the Canton of Fribourg, were many Jenische were interned over long period; many Psychiatric institutions in several cantons etc.  The archives of these institutions were, with a few exceptions, not available for historical research, although this is meanwhile high on the agenda of historical research.


Institutions such as Witzwil, Thorberg or other homes for women and children also played an important role in the exclusion of foreign Travellers, Sinti and Roma. The liberalism of the 19th century, in the name of free travel, finally managed to remove the interdiction in Switzerland of the entry of travellers. But, already in 1888, the border cantons – with a concordat, then the federal authorities in 1906 returned to a much stricter view on the entry of “Gypsies”. The basis of this “defence” strategy were institutionalised in 1913. They covered the arrest, the internment in institutions with separation of families, registration and expulsion of all “Gypsies” whereby it was the police’s responsibility to determine who was or was not a Gypsy. The justification of these measures fell under a “Threat” of the State due to those travellers. These regulations remained in place from 1913 till 1973.


The expulsion of three Sinti families failed due to the opposition of the neighbouring states – up to near military confrontation at the borders – and these families were tolerated and granted a stay in 1936 . They only obtained their Swiss citizenship in the last decades of the 20th century.


The Swiss register of Gypsies was closely connected with other Institutions such as the Munich “Zigeunerzentralle” that was later transferred in 1936 to Berlin in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt. Another institutions with whom the Swiss co-operated was the Interpol International Gypsy register, transferred in 1940 from Vienna to Berlin. These registers were part of the foundation of the annihilation of Roma and Sinti and of travellers in Nazi Germany.


The Swiss “defence” against foreign Gypsies did not only remain in force during World War Two, where it prevented refugees to escape from the Holocaust, but it lasted till 1972 and was only discontinued under pressure of diplomats and of the “Zigeunermission”.


Without knowledge of the authorities, many Roma from Eastern Europe and the Balkan, Manouches, Sinti and Gitanos nevertheless managed to settle in Switzerland after the war, as early as the 1950’s. These were often either refugees or foreign workers and settled in the whole of Switzerland. One of them, Jan Cibula, is one of the co-founders of the International Romani Union (1971).


Only after the closure of the “Kinder der Landstrasse” program, in 1973 – mostly thanks to the resolve of one single journalist, Hans Caprez – were Jenische organisations to be founded. The first one (1975) is the “Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse” whose newsletter, “Scharotl” continuously appears since that date. This gave the Swiss Jenische a platform in which they could expose their memories, views, and it proves to be an important source documenting the change of attitudes and the growing recognition of Jenishe, Rroma and Sinti in Switzerland, a change that started in the 1970’s.


Prio to this date, and with the notable exception of the writings of Albert Minder, a Jenische from Bern, there are almost no documents that present the views of this minority. One has to rely solely on police and institutional interviews and document to actually reconstruct the views of the Jenische prior to 1970. Interviews with elder travellers will allow one to contribute to this reconstruction of the views and attitudes of this minority.  Only after the break that occurred in the 1970, to which the writings of Sergius Golowin contributed, does one see the publication of various memoirs of Jenische. Having organised themselves allowed Jenische to recover and declare their identity after years of repression. These memoirs and views of Jenische, Sinti and Rroma will form an important part of this project.


The views and desires of the “Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse” as well as of other organisations such as the “"Fahrendes Kulturzentrum”, “Naschet Jenische”, “Romano Dialog” or “Schinagel” have contributed to a change of attitudes in the media, politics and, to a lesser extent among the general population. The attitude towards them is getting more positive and there are more and more accepted, although in many places this only happens hesitantly and they still often incur setbacks in their actions. The old and new wishes of these organisations are: More places to stay with their caravans; removal of the required patents to exercise their trades, a restriction on the works of travellers that stand is stark contrast to the liberal nature of their trade and of the use of creative niches in the economy; payments to the victims of the “Foundation Kinder der Landstrasse”; state subsidies for organisations, support for the arts, music, events etc.; exhibitions and so on.


One of the goals of this project is actually to document and understand the changes of attitudes towards and representation in the press and in politics of Jenische, Roma and Sinti – especially in view of political correctness, continuity of stereotypes – positive and negative, romanticism etc.


In the last few years, the Swiss federal authorities have taken a leading role in supporting and mediation on behalf of the Jenische among others, with the publication of various reports  (Bericht 1983, Zürcher-Berther 1988, Leimgruber/Meier/Sablonier) or in the form of a parliamentary decision on the creation of a foundation Stiftung "Zukunft für Fahrende" – the result of the decisive action of Ernst Sieber. The Swiss parliament did not ratify the ILO convention 169 on the rights of “indigenous” people on the grounds it would have resulted in a creating a platform on which the collective rights of travellers could be claimed; a parliamentary report of April 2001 on the application in Switzerland of the European parliament resolution on the protection of national minorities nevertheless recognised for the first time the existence of Swiss travellers. This report also refers to the wishes for the removal of direct and indirect discrimination against this minority. There is a dire need for action on the authorities’ side, especially at the cantonal and communal level, to apply the new anti-racist norms as defined, but also to satisfy the requirements of the rights of minorities as agreed by the European commission and the UNO. One needs to document differences and inconsistencies of action within the various organs of the government – between the human right specialists of the EDA and the various local and cantonal entities.


The efforts of Switzerland to account for its acts has a certain pioneer role, especially in view of the fact that, with the exception of a newly founded association in Austri – Jenisches Kulturverband – Jenische outside of Switzerland have no association fighting for their recognition of for the recognition of the deeds that they have been submitted to.


In academic circles, several works, a few of which not yet published are a testimony of the current interest to give a voice to the minorities and to their increasing integration[vii].


To summarise, the study of the current and earlier situation of Jenische, Sinti and Rroma in both Switzerland and in neighbouring countries has long been a neglected field of research. In addition, one needs to correct the often biased methods and conclusions of many a former study in which these minorities have been slandered and misrepresented.


1.2            Accounts of one’s own Research in the Field


a.     Thomas Huonker – the project leader – made a first attempt in his book published by the Radgenossenschaft - “Fahrendes Volk – verfolgt und verfremt” to let members of this minority express themselves. In this book, taking an equal amount of space one finds on the one hand an historical account and on the other, 11 interviews (5 men, 6 women) of Jenische. This publication is one of the earliest that tackles the question of Eugenics in Switzerland. After many other publications among which a school book and work as a consultant in various documentaries on Travellers, followed work on behalf of the Bergier commission. This book was first published as a report in 2001 in Bern and then as book with the title “Roma, Sinti, Jenische. Schweizerische Zigeunerpolitik zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus” and was written together with Regula Ludi. It documents the “defense” against the entry of these minorities into Switzerland between 1913 and 1972 as well as their expulsion during the times of the Holocaust. In 2002, upon request of  the “Sozialdepartements der Stadt Zürich” a report called „Anstaltseinweisungen, Kindswegnahmen, Eheverbote, Sterilisationen, Kastrationen. Fürsorge, Zwangsmassnahmen, ‚Eugenik’ und Psychiatrie in Zürich zwischen 1890 und 1970“ was published, covering various aspect of the social and institutional repression against Jenische. The destiny of Jenische that had to suffer some of these measures is extensively documented.


b.     Stephane Laederich has been working with Rroma for over twelve years, first as a free-lance project manager in Eastern Europe for various NGOs and for the last 5 years as executive director of the Rroma Foundation. He is currently publishing a comprehensive book on Rroma, their history, language, various groups, traditions (1’400 pages) together with a Russian Rroma linguist Lev Tcherenkov of the Institute of Natural and Cultural Heritage in Moscow. Beside this publication, he has published several reports on the situation of Rroma in various countries as well as held several conferences on the subject. He has been teaching at the University of Basel (Historischen Seminar) on this subject in the Summer Semester 2002. He is currently preparing another publication on the dialect of the Russian, Polish and Baltic Rroma.


c.      Venanz Nobel has been active for the last twenty years in human right and public relation work on behalf of Jenische Sinti and Rroma in both Switzerland and in other countries. He has been an active member of both the Radgenossenschaft der Landsrtasse as well as of the Zigeuner-Kulturzentrum. He was the co-producer of a documentary film on Jenische (“Abfaahre, immer nume abfaahre", 1984). Since then, in numerous publications, he has devoted himself to documenting the situation of Jenische in Switzerland. Besides this, he also works as antiquarian and book seller. Especially relevant among his more recent work, one finds “Bitte recht freundlich...!”,  “Über die Zigeuner”,“die Fotographie und meinen Zwiespalt”,(in: Urs Walder, Nomaden in der Schweiz, Zürich 1999), as well as his conferences at the university of Basle, his text on “Jenische Geschichte und die Betonjenischen” soon to appear as a book and his conference at the Swiss National Exhibition.


1.3            Detailed research Plan


1.3.1       General Scope and Goal of the Project


The project’s goals and scope centre on the analysis of the perception, prejudices against – be they positive or negative - and situation of Rroma, Sinti and non-Rroma groups such as the Jenische in Switzerland.


Since our project focuses on a relatively long period of time – spanning the mid XIXth century to the present days – the aim will be to identify relatively long phases where continuity of attitudes, laws and views prevailed as well as to identify and analyse in greater depth the relatively short periods of historical breaks in this continuum. The specific changes of attitudes, laws and their origins will constitute the scope of this latter analysis.


During the period that interests us, there have been relatively long phases with constant roots– be they laws, perceptions etc. – followed by rather short periods of changes of attitudes towards Gypsies. Understanding how these periods came to be, documenting the various factors bringing this changes are at the core of our proposal. Our attention and research will focus on both the self-perception of Gypsies in Switzerland, the view of the external world towards them as well as the interactions between the two.


The obvious phases that can easily be documented are best summarised in a small diagram, whereby one should keep in mind that the dates indicated therein are in no way covering all aspects of the changes of attitudes towards these minorities.












Nation building in Switzerland and the consequent homogenisation and exclusion

Construction of the “Swiss” and of the “Foreigner”


State and para-state

sponsored repression and racism


Change of attitudes – romantism and human rights










Understanding the sources of the prevailing views and attitudes during those longer “stable” phases as well as analysing the factors, interactions and effects at the origin of the periods of changes are our main focus. For these short periods of changes, an understanding of the various forces at play, be they leading or preventing changes are of central interest.


The various aspects and factors of interest to us in those periods of upheaval are summarised in the following table.


Internal View

External View

State Institutions

Self perception and views through interviews (now and before)

Scientific works and theories

Laws – the reflection of the prevailing general attitudes towards Gypsies

Oral history

Media and their representation of Gypsies, minorities etc.

Integration and acculturation


Public opinion, discourses

All levels of the state: Local, cantonal and federal

Social standing

Social standing

Social Statutes

Police and administrative interviews / documents

Police and administrative or scientific studies interviews / documents



In our research, the state as such and the measures it undertook, the laws it issued, will be used only as a reflection and documentation of the general prevailing attitudes and of the forces of changes rather than as a research goal as such.


The typical and prevailing external view of Gypsies, Travellers, Vagabonds etc. and their influence on these various levels, institutional and others presented in the above table will be reconstructed and analysed whereby historically relevant factors such as nation building, nationalistic and racist ideologies are to be integrated.  It is on those levels that the research of sources will concentrate. The gathered material will then be analysed, cross-referenced in view of both the historical timeline and the various levels, and will allow us exact analysis of the processes at hand in the relevant periods. As there are bound to be many relevant documents describing the same effects or ideas pertaining to our research, the sources will have to be selectively chosen. Two main possibilities are open:


i.                 The thorough analysis of a few selected key years, whereby all relevant factors that brought a change of attitude that can be documented at both the institutional level and in the external and internal view of Gypsies are studied and a picture of the forces at hand during such changes emerges.

ii.               A follow up and analyse of attitudes or laws reflecting them over a longer period, understanding their impact on the various opinions and social standing, for example in the media, in public opinion and discourse etc.


The internal view or self-perception of Gypsies (Rroma, Jenische) is to be contrasted with the other levels. For the early part of the period at hand, this will be most difficult for us, as oral history sources are difficult to follow prior to ca. 1850. Written sources, such as documents, police or administrative  (social workers, doctors, psychiatrists etc.) interviews of members of these minorities will nevertheless allow us to analyse this self-views and underscore the emerging picture.


The information on the internal history that are extracted from such interviews needs to be cross-checked through several sources, be these other interviews or documents, especially when they are of an indirect form bridging several generations. Such methodology has already been successfully applied in some other cases, such as the departure of Lovara from Hungary and their arrival in Russia. In that case, orally transmitted history went back to the late XIXth century and could be reliably cross-checked for historical accuracy.


Both the internal and external views have to be questioned with respect to stereotyping, romanticism, prejudice etc. The interviews will also serve as a base of documentation of the exclusion and have to be put into relation with the state process that created and fomented this exclusion. They will also provide hints as to the process that led to the changes that occurred. In addition, these interviews will also provide information on the culture and identity of the various groups.


The interviewed persons will be chosen by regions, language, age and gender so as to achieve a balanced and representative sample of the population at large. The long terms contacts of the researcher with these minorities will allow them both the access and the possibility to conduct those interviews in original language.


The reconstruction of specific cases documented in archives have to be related to the views and souvenirs of members of those minorities. Generational changes of attitudes shall be researched – for example the changes between victims of the action “Kinder der Landstrasse”, Holocaust victims, early migrants who arrived in Switzerland from various countries etc. shall be contrasted with the views of their children and grand-children who have grown up under very different conditions.


The documents stemming from the various levels and sources described above will be analysed in view of the various periods and changes as presented in Fig. 1 to understand the dynamics and source of the interaction of the various levels  and regroup them in a model presented here in its simplest graphical form.















1.3.2       Specific Questions – Research Points


The following questions, points will occupy an important part of our research, within the framework and timeline that we are planning to study. A short description of each of these items is given in this paragraph:


i.                 Language and language pattern such as multiple mother tongues, forms of language within the group, dialects (interactions, vocabulary, evolution), patterns of communication within and outside of the groups, status of these languages in Switzerland, various media under all their aspects related to language and linguistic interactions will be the subject of detailed analyses.

ii.               The development of the legal status of Jenische, Sinti and Rroma in Switzerland will be central to our research and will be analysed at factual and personal level in view of the direct or indirect discrimination and in view of efforts to remedy this situation.

iii.             The economical and social stature of the various forms of trades and activities of travelers will be documented in further details. The following questions will be central to this theme: Which groups exercised which trades during which of the relevant periods (traveling salesman, distribution, sale of home-made articles, acting, music, recycling, day labourer, trade etc.)? Where there differing rules and regulations depending on the origin of the people (for example between Jews and Jenische)? How large was the number of people of a group directly involved in such activities? How big an influence on the self-views of that group as well as on the stereotypes of others did these activities take, this especially in the case of trades that were exercised also by the general population (for example in various Swiss regions – Berner Oberland)? What influences did economical cycles  have on such trades? Who were the producers and who delivered the ware that was sold by these salesmen? What are the difference between these professions in urban or in more remote regions? What influence did the industrialization, the new transport possibilities (train, car) and communication possibilities (phone, mobile phone) have on these trades? Regional differences as well as gender related issues shall be studied. There are several hints that the distribution of work and duties within a family was organised differently among these minorities as in the general population. The question of gender related cultural differences between the various groups of these minorities is also of interest.

iv.             The generalisation of mandatory schooling has to be analysed in view of its use as a mean to homogenise, to acculturate and to assimilate minorities. This especially in view of its effect on children of Jenische, Sinti and Rroma, and of the various other forms of repression and of the effect of pedagogic, psychiatric and social measures on the chance of members of these minorities to access various educational directions.

v.               The removal of children from Jenische families, documented as early as 1825 in Lucerne but also in other places way before the foundation of the „Hilfswerks für die Kinder der Lanstrasse“ shall be analysed in further details through the various periods that we have deribed earlier. In the case of the “Hilfswerk”, our focus will be centred on those cantons that are supporting this project. Other questions such as to why cantons such as Uri and Zug did not engage in forced removal while others such as Graubünden and Tessin show a large number of victims as well as other regional differences (for example Romandie / rest of Switzerland). One also needs to understand whether children that were removed from their families and interned in orphanages were effectively and permanently separated from their families.

vi.             From various graphical sources (photos, pictures, caricatures, movies), the various tendencies of the representation of Gypsies in Switzerland shall be analysed.

vii.           Literary tendencies in the representation of Jenische, Sinti and Rroma shall be analysed based on the various works of Swiss authors from various periods such as Pestalozzi, Schiller, Gotthelf, Keller, Hartmann, Minder, Lienert, Inglin, Frisch, Dürrenmatt, Böni, Steiner, Walter and Mehr.





1.     Significance of the planned work

1.1.Scientific significance


The project aims at closing gaps in the current research. One of its aims is to point at potentially overseen gaps in current theories and views as well as to raise new questions. The currently available research on the subject will be re-capitulated and critically analysed especially in view of the question as to how science could and did lend its support to various attempts at assimilation, even destruction of the culture and traditions of entire groups. This project will grant a voice to the minorities it studies. Forgotten stories, views on the subject hall be presented and ordered within the historical framework we plan. The project will be open to both oral and written sources and will contrast those. While the project aims at a scientific audience, it also aims at a large public going beyond specialists such as school, administrations, representatives of various groups or of the majority, media, etc.



1.2.Social and economic significance


This research will sharpen the minds towards mechanisms aimed at exclusion and discrimination. It will document the often difficult story of minorities between exclusion and integration and provide a fist account of the already achieved steps and of the work that remains to be done. It will help the majority to understand and accept minorities. Mutual respect and understanding, multiple cultures, variety is an enrichment for all while the opposite tendencies to exclude people based on gender, religion, language, racial appurtenance and cultural intolerance are a burden on society as a whole, and have a negative influence on science as such. The project shall analyse theories, stereotypes, in view of nowadays concepts but also how, during the different phases that we are describing, one arrived at this new views and acceptance.


[i] Vgl. Paul Ricoeur: Temps et récit. 3 Bde. Paris 1983ff.;  Hayden White: Metahistory. Die historische Einbildungskraft im 19. Jahrhundert in Europa. Frankfurt a.M. 1994.  Zu Ricoeurs und Whites Untersuchungen, die sich sowohl auf ältere Geschichtstheorien und in anderen Werken auch auf die Darstellungen des Holocaust beziehen, sowie zu deren  methodologischer Rezeption in den Sozialwissenschaften vgl. Jörn Stückrath/Jürg Zbinden /Hg.: Metageschichte. Hayden White und Paul Ricoeur. Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der europäischen Kultur im Kontext von Husser, Weber, Auerbach und Gombrich. Baden- Baden 1997

[ii]Exponenten der sogenannten „histoire totale“ sind z.B. Fernand Braudel oder Pierre Goubert; modellhaft für diesen Ansatz steht Pierre Goubert, Beauvais et le Beauvaisis de 1600 à 1730, Paris 1960; vgl. auch Peter Burke: Offene Geschichte. Die Schule der Annales. Berlin 1991. 

[iii] Zur Biographieforschung allgemein vgl. Gerd Jüttemann/ Hans Thomae: Biographische Methoden in den Humanwissenschaften. Weinheim 1998

[iv] Vgl. Fritz Schütze: Biographieforschung und narrative Praxis, in: Neue Praxis, Nr. 3/1983, S. 283-294; Martin Kohli/ Günther Robert (Hg.): Biographie und soziale Wirklichkeit. Neue Beiträge und Forschungsperspektiven, Stuttgart 1984; H.Vorländer: Oral History. Mündlich erfragte Geschichte. Göttingen 1990; Kenneth J. Gergen: Erzählung, moralische Identität und historisches Bewusstsein. In: Jürgen Straub (Hg.): Erzählung, Identität und historisches Bewusstsein. Die psychologische Konstruktion von Zeit und Geschichte. Erinnerung, Geschichte, Identität, Bd.1. Frankfurt a.M. 1998, S.170-202. Als Beispiel für oral history in der Schweiz vgl. Christoph Dejung/ Thomas Gull/Tanja Wirz: Landigeist und Judenstempel. Erinnerungen einer Generation 1930-1945. Zürich 2002

[v] Zum Begriff Respekt vgl. Richard Sennett: Respekt im Zeitalter der Ungleichheit. Berlin 2002. Beispiele für die Bereitschaft von Überlebenden des Holocaust hauptsächlich aus der Gruppe der deutschen Sinti und Roma oder für die Betroffenen des „Hilfswerks für die Kinder der Landstrasse“ zur für sie allerdings oft auch mit schmerzlichem Wiedererinnern verbundenen Zeugenschaft sind die Interviews, die im Projekt "Verfolgungserfahrung deutscher Sinti und Roma unter dem Nationalsozialismus" an der Universität Heidelberg in den Jahren 1985-1986 unter der Leitung von Micha Brumlik, Lutz Niethammer, Helmut Baitsch und in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma erarbeitet wurden; die Interviews in Thomas Huonker: Fahrendes Volk – verfolgt und verfemt,  Jenische Lebensläufe, Zürich 1990; einige neuere Lizentiatsarbeiten mit Interviews von Jenischen oder das Radio-Interview „Ein Kind der Landstrasse“ geführt von Georges Wettstein, Radio DRS, 25.Januar 2001

[vi] Graziella Wenger: Andreas, ein Opfer der Aktion „Kinder der Landstrasse“, in: Helena Kanyar Becker: Jenische, Sinti und Roma in der Schweiz, Basel 3003, S.39-52

[vii] Vgl. dazu insbesondere das Vorwort von Heiko Haumann zu Helena Kanyar Becker (Hg.): Jenische, Sinti und Roma in der Schweiz. Basel 2003