The Romani people have been persecuted for centuries. Often pejoratively referred to as “gypsies” or Roma, the Romani are known as gitanos in Spain, Kale in Finland and Portugal, Manush or gitan in France and Travelers in Scandinavia. Although many people have preconceived ideas about them, few know anything about their history. Here are 3 surprising facts about Europe’s largest ethnic minority group:

1. The Romani come from India:

The Romani people hail from northern India. Although the language has split into several dialects, many of the words and grammatical rules of the Romani language are virtually identical to those of the Hindi language. A 2012 study, published in the journal Cell Biology, analyzed genomic data from 13 Romani communities across Europe:

“The researchers concluded that the Roma people left northern India about 1,500 years ago; those Roma now in Europe migrated through the Balkans starting about 900 years ago. These data confirm written reports of Roma groups arriving in medieval Europe in the 1100s.”

Roma-Bern-Migration

2. There are Romani populations on every occupied continent:

By 1500, the Romani people had reached every country in northern and western Europe. In some Eastern European countries, such as Romania and Bulgaria, they form up to 12 percent of the total population. There are Romani populations on every occupied continent.

Romani-Migration

The migration of the Romani people through the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe. The key shows the century of arrival in that area, e.g. S.XII is the 12th century

3. The Romani were persecuted by the Nazis:

The Romani were the second-largest group of people killed on racial grounds during the Holocaust. They were deemed “racially impure” by the Nazis and up to 1.5 million died in concentration camps. In 1982, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt publicly acknowledged that the Roma “were persecuted for reasons of race. These crimes constituted an act of genocide.”

Roma-Nazi-Persecution

Romani woman with German police officer and Nazi psychologist Dr. Robert Ritter