Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Internment of Italian Sinti in the Province of Modena during Fascism: From Ethnographic to Archival Research

Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Internment of Italian Sinti in the Province of Modena during Fascism: From Ethnographic to Archival Research

Article excerpt

The persecution and internment of Gypsies in Fascist Italy is still a topic that has not been addressed either at a historical level or at a political one. During ethnographic research in an Italian Sinti community I collected the first testimonies on their internment, which took place between 1940 and 1943 in a village in the Apennines. To date, their testimonies have not been reported in any historical work, nor have they aroused any interest in cultural institutions responsible for safeguarding the memory of the crimes and persecutions during the fascist regime. In order to support the stories remembered by the Sinti, I used archival material connecting the historiography on civil internment during fascism with the gypsies' parallel internment. This interweaving of ethnographic and archival research has allowed me to shed light on the incongruities and the shortcomings in the documentation on the persecution of the Gypsies in Italy during fascist regime.

Keywords: Gypsies, fascism, persecutions, memories, civil internment, confinement, ethnography, archival researches, Italian Sinti, Italy

1. Political claims and historiographical gaps: The persecution of Gypsies during fascism

To date, the persecution and internment of Gypsies1 in Fascist Italy is still a topic that has been addressed neither at an historical level nor a political one. In the current study, using an approach in which ethnographic and archival research have been integrated, it has been possible to document the reasons for this lacuna and to reconstruct the memory lapses of the majority society on this matter. In particular I will compare what has so far emerged from the treatment that fascism reserved for the Gypsies (Karpati 1984,1993; Masserini 1990; Boursier 1996a, 1996b, 1999; Osti Guerrazzi 2004; Corbelletto 2008) with the research I have conducted on the internment camp of Prignano sulla Secchia, a small village in the province of Modena (Torre et al. 2003; Torre et al. 2005; Trevisan 2010). The testimonies on internment during fascism which I have collected form part of a wider ethnographic research project on the relationship between the uses of writing, movements for political claims and the history of education amongst the Sinti of Emilia2 (Trevisan 2004, 2008).

Of course, the Gypsies' internment forms part of a larger problem of civilian internment by the fascist regime, an argument which, on its own, is rather neglected by Italian historiography (Carolini 1987; Capogreco 1999, 2004) despite the pioneering work of Antoniani Persichilli (1978). The archivist at the Central State Archives of Rome, Antoniani Persichilli, published the first work on the legislation and the archival sources for the study of internment in Italy, which

introduced in 1938, was governed by the laws of war and was decided - without appeal - by the Ministry of the Interior. It has also been applied, from the beginning of the war until the armistice, as a preventive measure for public safety [...]. With the entry into the war in June of 1940, civil internment was used against all those who still did not fit the mould of public order and national security, which was outlined as early as 1925-1926. (Antoniani Persichilli 1978:77-9)

The disinterest at the historiographical level should be understood in light of the myth of the 'good Italian which, as the Italian historian David Bidussa (1994) reminds us, has permitted an entire nation not really to pay for the consequences of their past, and inappropriately to use the comparison with what happened in Nazi Germany. My intention is to avoid this paradigm so as not to diminish what happened in Italy to the Rom and Sinti.

Regarding the Rom and the Sinti, one should add to this consideration a political problem; acknowledging them as part of the dramatic events of the past regime is similar to giving them the instruments for negotiating their present-day position with respect to the majority society. …

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