- Estimated Gypsy population: 25,000. Gypsies probably first reached Austria in the 15th century. From 1758 Maria Theresa began a policy of settling nomads and assimilating them. She prohibited Gypsies from living in tents, wandering, dealing in horses, speaking in Romani, and marrying other Gypsies. All of these decrees were ignored by the Gypsies, or "New Hungarians" as she wished them to be called. By the 20th century, however, the majority of the Gypsies were at least semisettled, traveling only in the summer.In 1924 a Gypsy primary school opened in Stegensbach, Burgenland, and seems to have operated successfully after a difficult start. No provision was made in the school program for classes in Romani, German being the only language used, but it did include special subjects like the violin and Gypsy history, as well as a topic entitled "Die Zigeuner als Landplage" [The Gypsies as a National Plague]. The Nazis closed the school in 1938.Austria was annexed to Adolf Hitler's Germany in 1938, and the measures already operating against Gypsies in Germany were applied to Austria. Gypsies were fingerprinted and forbidden to leave the country. In June 1938, sporadic arrests began of Romany men, who were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. In autumn 1939 several hundred women were arrested and sent to Ravensbrück camp. An internment camp was then set up at Salzburg (Maxglan) to hold Gypsies in readiness for a planned deportation to Poland that did not happen until much later. In November 1940 a forced labor camp was opened at Lackenbach. The families were permitted to live together, but conditions in many ways resembled a concentration camp. The highest total of inmates was 2,300 in November 1941. Many died in the early years from the poor conditions and were buried in the nearby Jewish cemetery. In 1941, transports containing 2,000 persons were sent from Lackenbach to the Jewish Lodz Ghetto, mainly women and children. Few survived. A further 2,600 Gypsies were sent from Austria to Auschwitz, including many from the Salzburg camp, which was closed.One bright chapter in this sad story was the action of Baron Rochunozy, who was determined that none of the families who worked for him should fall into the Nazis' hands. He helped them to escape across the frontier to Hungary and was later forced to flee himself. Toward the end of the war, conditions were improved in Lackenbach camp as the prisoners were put to work helping the German war effort and many were able to survive. Two-thirds of the approximately 11,000 Austrian Romanies and Sinti are estimated to have perished during the Nazi period.After 1945, those Gypsies who had been imprisoned in Lackenbach or Salzburg did not get any compensation until 1961. It was not until 1988 that they were put on the same basis as those who had been in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. In 1948 the minister of the interior issued a circular warning, using Nazi terminology, against the "Gypsy plague" and Gypsies passing themselves off as ex-concentration camp prisoners.The small number of Austrian Romanies and Sinti surviving the Holocaust has been augmented by immigrants coming to work, in particular from Yugoslavia, and more recently by refugees from Eastern Europe. Considerable anti-Gypsy feeling persists among the Austrian population at large. This sentiment surfaced in 1995 when a sign appeared near the Romani settlement of Oberwart in Burgenland reading (in German) "Romanies back to India." When four Gypsies tried to remove it, a bomb blew up, killing all four. The Austrian playwright Elfrieda Jeleneck wrote a play on the subject but, because of the racist attacks on her, decided the play should have its performances in Hamburg and not in Vienna. The probable perpetrator was to commit suicide in prison.The first Gypsy organization in Austria, Verein Roma, was founded in 1989 in Oberwart and was followed by other groups. In 1993 some Gypsies were given recognition as a Volksgruppe (ethnic group) - a status shared, for example, by the Hungarians and Croats. The 5,000 or so Gypsies recognized as the ethnic group are those who belong to families who have been in Austria for three generations. They have some legal rights as a result of this status. There is now a Romani advisory council (which includes non-Romani representatives) that advises the prime minister. A fund (Roma-Fonds) has been set up to provide after-school help for Gypsy children.The unrecognized Gypsies are in a precarious situation, as they are affected by a number of laws for aliens (e.g., the Asylum Law of 1992 and the Aliens and Residence Laws of 1993). Neither the police nor the authorities have been particularly helpful to these Gypsies. In 1996, Nicola Jevremovic and his wife were beaten by police after a traffic incident. Their complaint ended up with their being given suspended prison sentences for "resisting arrest."The Romano Centro, Vienna, acts as a cultural and advice center for many Romanies. Other associations, including the Kulturverein Österreichischer Roma (Cultural Association of Austrian Roma), are also based in Vienna. A Documentation and Information Center was set up in 1996 in the capital with government support. Recently workers at the University of Graz have developed an extensive collection of reading materials in the Burgenland dialect of Romani.See also Carinthia.
Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . Donald Kenrick.