Academic journal article Romani Studies

Wlislocki's Transylvanian 'Gypsies' and the Discourses on Aryanism around 1900

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Wlislocki's Transylvanian 'Gypsies' and the Discourses on Aryanism around 1900

Article excerpt

During the nineteenth century, the concept of 'race' gained in significance and stridency; at the same time, the importance of an 'Aryan' genealogy for Germans was emphasised to an ever greater degree in many contexts. Against this background, Heinrich von Wlislocki's investigations are particularly controversial as he categorised 'Gypsies' as Indo-Germanic people especially because of their myths, poetry, fairy tales, and legends, concentrating on the Kortorar. Wlislocki does not in principle oppose the forced act of assimilation, but rather opposes the thoughtless destruction of a fictitious 'German-Aryan' past. The Gletecore, whom Wlislocki deprecated as 'without culture', admittedly do not illustrate this 'childhood of the German folk'. A paradox can be seen in Wlislocki's discourse on the 'Gypsies' as 'Aryans' in that he attempts to include the 'Gypsies' in a fictional 'German-Aryan' genealogy rather than embed them in society as an ethnic-cultural minority. Later, during the Nazi era, the (disputed) 'Aryanism' of the 'Gypsies' was also turned into a 'foreign Aryanism' because a primitive developmental stage was attributed to them. Against this background, the article discusses in detail Wlislocki's positions, especially those in Vom wandernden Zigeunervolke, and relates them to contemporary ethnology as well as to the writings of Heinrich Moritz Gottlieb Grellmann, Johann Rüdiger, and Isidor Kopernicki.

Keywords: Wlislocki, Aryanism, mythology, Kortorar, Gletecore, musealisation, Indo-Germanic ancestry (of Gypsies), National Socialism, Grellmann, Rüdiger.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, 'Aryanism' developed into a powerful discourse in Germany, especially due to the necessity of building a 'German identity after the founding of the Reich in 1871 (Poliakov 1993; See 1994). Anthropological, ethnological and sociological writings stated the superiority of those who were 'Aryans' (Kroll 1998) and the inferiority of those who did not belong to this 'race', but were Semites or even Slavs. I shall stress only certain aspects of this discourse that increasingly developed into a repressive and aggressive political and social practice around 1900, those aspects relevant for the 'Gypsy' policy of that time.

In the following, I will use quotation marks for the German term 'Zigeuner', which I translate as 'Gypsy'. I am of course aware that the German term was constructed by the majority society as a discriminating denomination (in contrast to Sinti and Roma). The same applies to the constructs of 'Aryanism', 'Aryans', 'Indo-Aryans', and 'Rasse'/'race', which were used with discriminatory purposes.

'Gypsies' and the discourse on race and Indo-Germanic roots

Houston Stuart Chamberlain recapitulated the ideas on 'Aryanism' in his work Die Grundlagen des 19. Jahrhunderts [The foundations of the 19th century] from 1899 (Chamberlain 1903) and finally asserted the concepts of a so-called dominant 'Aryan race' and of racial purity. The latter discipline was meant actively to control the evolution of a population with regard to 'race'. Chamberlain's idea also laid the groundwork for the development of a later state-controlled apparatus to control, persecute and finally murder non-'Aryan people, so-called 'Semites' and other groups that did not comply with the postulates of racial purity in the period of National Socialism. In his Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines [Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races], Arthur Gobineau argued as early as 1853 against the intermingling of 'races' and in favour of the domination of the so-called superior 'Germanic'/'Aryan race' (Gobineau 1853-1855). During the second half of the nineteenth century these ideas became increasingly radical, reinforced by the German national (völkisch) movement and its organisations (Puschner and Schmitz 1996; Puschner 2001) such as the pan-Germanic, anti-Semitic, expansionist and nationalist association Alldeutscher Verband, officially founded in 1891 (Hering 2003). …

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