Sinti and Roma in the German Empire

1871 — 1914

Germany

Discrimination & Inequity

The systematic and legally sanctioned persecution of Sinti and Roma begins with the establishment of the German Empire (Kaiserreich). They are forced to settle down and have to bear an identity card declaring them as Sinti or Roma.

Although the history of persecution and discrimination of Sinti and Roma in what is present day Germany, begins in the 15th century, it was through the establishment of the German Empire that it took on an extensive and coordinated character. The regulations of 1871, which are frequently referred to by the racist label “Gypsy Regulations”, restricted the rights of Sinti and Roma living in the German Empire, and furthered discriminatory and criminalizing prejudices against them. They were now required to have German citizenship in order to receive travel trade licenses. Many came from Eastern Europe and had no right to German citizenship. Legally, they were considered “foreigners” and were driven away.

Roma and Sinti with German citizenship are not threatened with deportation. However, they are denied their entitlement to the principle of equality laid down in the Prussian constitution as well as to the legal principle of the presumption of innocence until guilt can be proven. Solely because they belong to a particular group, they are considered criminal and deceitful.

In 1896 the Chancellor of the Reich decreed a ban on the issue of travel trade licenses to Sinti and Roma. An intelligence service was introduced in 1899, with the goal of implementing the regulations and restrictions and conducting a systemic census of Sinti and Roma. Special identity cards were issued for Sinti and Roma, which they had to carry on their persons at all times and produce when asked. Police stations were required to report every migration of Roma and Sinti to the coordinating authorities.

On an order of the Bavarian ministry of the interior, all existing regulations were summarized in the 1905 guidelines for the “removal of the gypsy plague”. The racist, anti-Roma legislation was heightened during the Weimar Republic (see also: Roma and Sinti in the Weimar Republic, 1926-1929). The data collected through censuses during the German Empire and the accompanying surveillance practices established over decades was later used by the National Socialists for the systematic persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma in concentration camps (see also: Roma and Sinti during National socialism, 1936-1945).