Title: The Anxiety of Proximity: The "Gypsy Question" in Romanian Society, 1934-1944 and Beyond
Name: Benjamin Thorne
Year: 2011
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

My project's primary goal was to identify the underlying social and cultural dynamics that contributed to the Romanian government's deportation of over 24,000 Roma to camps in occupied Ukraine during World War II. In particular, I wanted to examine the origins of anti-Roma prejudice, to what extent such prejudices changed over time, how they informed public policy from the ground level of local government up to highest echelons of state administration. Other important questions the project sought to address are how the public reacted to, and to what extent they participated in, the deportation measures, as well as how Roma themselves saw their position in Romanian society and responded to the increasingly xenophobic climate of the 1930s and 1940s.

In researching these questions, I found that throughout the twentieth century, Romania struggled with the issue of modernization, and for many elites nothing marked their country's "backwards" status so much as the Roma. Debates on modernization, urbanization, and the content of Romanian national identity became inextricably linked with discussions of whether and how to assimilate them. Efforts to transform or exclude Roma from the 1930s to the deportations of 1942- 1944 may be seen, I argue, as an attempt to halt or limit their assimilation. In the process, the policies of Romania's wartime dictator, Ion Antonescu, empowered local authorities to implement their own solutions to the Gypsy Question, while simultaneously exposing and exacerbating the very insecurities that initially prompted the deportations. For this reason, and the changing tides of the war effort, the deportations ended abruptly. I also see significant links between the wartime deportations and anti-Roma policies of the communist period. While these policies did not officially survive the transfer to a postsocialist society, their imprint may be seen in the mutual mistrust and resentment between Roma and Romanians today.

I have conveyed some of these findings in the form of a published article, "Assimilation, Invisibility, and the Eugenic Turn in the 'Gypsy Question' in Romanian Society, 1938-1942" (2011: Romani Studies vol. 21 nr. 2, 177-205), at conferences, as well as international symposia and workshops held at the University of Leicester, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Södertörn University, Sweden. My ultimate goal is to see my research published in the form of a book. Thanks to a WINGS faculty development grant from my university, over the past summer I undertook one month of additional archival research in Romania, visiting several provincial archives. I embarked on a collaborative research project with a colleague, Michelle Kelso of George Washington University, visiting sites in Ukraine of former camps run under Romanian administration. We studied memorials left by local Jewish organizations in Odessa and other locations, and through oral interviews we were able to identify the possible location of at least one unrecorded mass shooting.

Bibliography: Thorne, M. Benjamin. "Assimilation, Invisibility, and the Eugenic Turn in the 'Gypsy Question' in Romanian Society, 1938-1942" (2011: Romani Studies vol. 21 nr. 2, 177-205)