Yenish people

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Yenish at Lake Lauerz, Schwyz, Switzerland, 1928
Two Yenish in Muotathal, Switzerland, ca. 1890
Geographic distribution of the Yenish (2007 upload, unreferenced)[unreliable source?]

The Yenish (German: Jenische; French: Yéniche) are an itinerant group in Western Europe, living mostly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and parts of France, roughly centered on the Rhineland. They are descended from members of the marginalized and vagrant poor classes of society of the early modern period, and emerge as a distinct group in by the early 19th century.[1] In this regard and also in their lifestyle, they resemble the Scottish and Irish Travellers. Most of the Yenish have become sedentary in the course of the mid-19th to 20th centuries.


The Yenish people as a distinct group, as opposed to the generic class of vagrants of the early modern period, emerge towards the end of the 18th century. The adjective jenisch is first recorded in the early 18th century in the sense of "cant, argot".[2] A self-designation Jauner is recorded 1793.[3] Jenisch remains strictly an adjective referencing the language, not the people, until the first half of the 19th century. Jean Paul (1801) glosses jänische Sprache ("Yenish language") with so nennt man in Schwaben die aus fast allen sprachen zusammengeschleppte spitzbubensprache ("this is the term used in Swabia for the thieves' argot which has been conflated from all sorts of languages").[4] An anonymous author in 1810 argues that Jauner is a deprecating term, equivalent to "cardsharp", and that the proper designation for the people should be jenische Gasche.[5]


Many Yenish people in Germany became sedentary in the second half of the 19th century. The Kingdom of Prussia in 1842 introduced a law forcing municipalities to provide social welfare to permanent residents without citizenship. As a consequence, there were attempts to prevent Yenish people from taking permanent residence.[6] Recently-established settlements of Yenish, Sinti and Roma, dubbed "gypsy colonies" (Zigeunerkolonien), were discouraged and attempts were made to incite the settlers to move away, in the form of various forms of harassment, and in some cases physical attacks.[7] By the late 19th century, many recently sedentary Yenish were nevertheless integrated into local populations, gradually moving away from their tradition of endogamy thus being absorbed into the general German population. Those Yenish who did not become sedentary by the late 19th century took to living in trailers.

The persecution of gypsies under Nazi Germany beginning in 1933 were directed not exclusively against the Romani people but also targeted "vagrants who travel around after the manner of the gypsies" (nach Zigeunerart umherziehende Landfahrer), which included the Yenish and people without permanent residence in general. [8] Travellers were scheduled for internment in Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Neuengamme.[9] Yenish families began to be registered in a Landfahrersippenarchiv ("archive of travelling families"), but this effort incomplete by the end of World War II.[10] It appears that only very limited numbers of Yenish (compared with the number of Romani victims) were actually deported: five Yenish individuals are on record as having been deported from Cologne,[11] and a total of 279 woonwagenbewoners are known to have been deported from the Netherlands in 1944.[12] Lewy (2001) has discovered one single case of a deportation of a Yenish woman in 1939.[13] Another documented Yenish victim of the Nazi policies is Ernst Lossa (1929–1944), who was interned and euthanized for mental illness.The Yenish people are mentioned as a persecuted group in the text of the 2012 Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism in Berlin.[14]


In 2001, Swiss National Councillor Remo Galli as speaker of the foundation "Zukunft für Schweizer Fahrende" reported an estimate of 35,000 "travellers" (Fahrende, a term combining Sinti, Roma and Yenish), both sedentary and non-sedentary, in Switzerland, among them an estimated 20,000 Yenish people.[15]

From the 1920s until the 1970s, the Swiss government had a semi-official policy of institutionalizing Yenish parents and having their children adopted by members of the sedentary Swiss population. The name of this program was Kinder der Landstrasse ("Children of the Road"). What was ostensibly intended as a charitable effort to remove children from what was perceived as precarious conditions in a criminal milieu of homelessness and vagrancy was later criticized as a violation of the fundamental rights of the Yenishe to family life, with children separated from parents by force without due criminal procedure, and resulting in many of the children suffering an ordeal of successive foster homes and orphanages.[16] In all, 590 children were taken from their parents and institutionalized in orphanages, mental institutions, and even prisons. Child removals peaked in the 1930s to 1940s, in the years leading up to and during World War II. After public criticism in 1972, the program was discontinued in 1973.[17]

An organisation for the political representation of travellers (Yenish as well as Sinti and Roma) was founded in 1975, named Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse ("Wheel Cooperative of the Road"). The Swiss federal authorities have officially recognized the "Swiss Yenish and Sinti" as a "national minority".[18] With the ratification of the European language charter in 1997, Switzerland has given the status of a "territorial non-tied language" to the Yenish language.

Yenish organisations[edit]

  • Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse (Switzerland)
  • Jenischer Kulturverband (Austria)
  • Jenischer Bund in Deutschland und Europa (Germany)

Film and television[edit]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ See e.g.: Leo Lucassen: A Blind Spot: Migratory and Travelling Groups in Western European Historiography. in: International Review of Social History 38 (1993), 209–23; Leo Lucassen, Wim Willems, Annemarie Cottaar: Gypsies and Other Itinerant Groups. A Socio-Historical Approach. London u. a. 1998; Wolfgang Seidenspinner: Herrenloses Gesindel. Armut und vagierende Unterschichten im 18. Jahrhundert. in: Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins, 133 (1985), 381–386; Wolfgang Seidenspinner: Jenische. Zur Archäologie einer verdrängten Kultur. In: Beiträge zur Volkskunde in Baden-Württemberg, 8 (1993), 63–95.
  2. ^ The 1714 reference refers to the Rotwelsch cant, not its speakers, with no implication of an itinerant lifestyle. Friedrich Kluge: Rotwelsch. Quellen und Wortschatz der Gaunersprache und der verwandten Geheimsprachen. Straßburg 1901 (reprinted 1987), 175f.
  3. ^ Jauner is reported as a Rotwelsch term for vagrants in Swabia. Johann Ulrich Schöll, Abriß des Jauner- und Bettelwesens in Schwaben nach Akten und andern sichern Quellen von dem Verfasser des Konstanzer Hans. Stuttgart 1793. The author of the 1793 work identifies the vagrant populations of criminals as a recent phenomenon, originally due to vagrant soldiers in the Thirty Years' War and reinforced by later wars.
  4. ^ Jean Paul, Komischer Anhang zum Titan (1801), p. 108.
  5. ^ Anonymous, "Die Jauner-Sprache", in: Der Erzähler, Nr. 34 (24 August 1810), 157f., Gasche is itself a Rotwelsch term, derived from the Romani term gadže "non-gypsies". Yaron Matras, "The Romani element in German secret languages: Jenisch and Rotwelsch" in Matras (ed.), The Romani Element in Non-Standard Speech. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz (1998), 193–230.
  6. ^ Verordnung über die Aufnahme neu anziehender Personen vom 31. Dezember 1842, Neue Sammlung, 6. Abt., S. 253–254; Verordnung über die Verpflichtung zur Armenpflege vom 31. Dezember 1842, ebenda, S. 255–258; Verordnung über Erwerbung und Verlust der Eigenschaft als Preußischer Untertan vom 31. Dezember 1842, in: ebenda, 259–261.
  7. ^ Ulrich Opfermann: „Mäckeser“. Zur Geschichte der Fahrenden im Oberbergischen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert; in: Beiträge zur Oberbergischen Geschichte, Bd. 5, Gummersbach 1995; 116–128.
  8. ^ Wolfgang Ayaß, "Gemeinschaftsfremde". Quellen zur Verfolgung von "Asozialen" 1933–1945, Koblenz 1998, Nr. 50.
  9. ^ Ulrich Opfermann: Die Jenischen und andere Fahrende. Eine Minderheit begründet sich. In: Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung. 19 (2010), 126–150 (148–150).
  10. ^ Zimmermann, Michael, Rassenutopie und Genozid. Die nationalsozialistische „Lösung der Zigeunerfrage“, Hamburg 1996, S. 153, S. 436. Ulrich Opfermann: Die Jenischen und andere Fahrende. Eine Minderheit begründet sich, in: Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung 19 (2010), S. 126–150; ders., Rezension zu: Andrew d’Arcangelis, Die Jenischen – verfolgt im NS-Staat 1934–1944. Eine sozio-linguistische und historische Studie, Hamburg 2006, in: Historische Literatur, Bd. 6, 2008, H. 2, S. 165–168,
  11. ^ Michael Zimmermann, Rassenutopie und Genozid. Die nationalsozialistische „Lösung der Zigeunerfrage“, Hamburg 1996, 174; Karola Fings/Frank Sparing, Rassismus – Lager – Völkermord. Die nationalsozialistische Zigeunerverfolgung in Köln, Köln 2005, 211.
  12. ^ Michael Zimmermann, Rassenutopie und Genozid. Die nationalsozialistische „Lösung der Zigeunerfrage“, Hamburg 1996, 314.
  13. ^ Guenther Lewy, „Rückkehr unerwünscht“. Die Verfolgung der Zigeuner im Dritten Reich, München/Berlin 2001, 433.
  14. ^ Vollständiger Text auf den Informationstafeln des Denkmals, Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum Deutscher Sinti und Roma, Pressemappe, S. 16–20, pdf
  15. ^ Rahmenkredit Stiftung „Zukunft für Schweizer Fahrende“, in: Nationalrat, Sommersession 2001, Sechste Sitzung, 11. Juni 2001. [1]. Mehr (1979) already claimed "about 20,000 Yenish", among them only "a handful of families who are still travelling" ("eine Handvoll Sippen, die noch reisen würden", Mariella Mehr: Jene, die auf nirgends verbriefte Rechte pochen. In: Tilman Zülch (ed.), Freimut Duve: In Auschwitz vergast, bis heute verfolgt. Zur Situation der Roma (Zigeuner) in Deutschland und Europa. Reinbek 1979, 274–287 (276f.)
  16. ^ Thomas Huonker, Regula Ludi, Roma, Sinti und Jenische. Schweizerische Zigeunerpolitik zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. Beitrag zur Forschung, Veröffentlichungen der UEK, Band 23 (2001) (abstract).
  17. ^ Le Temps (Geneva), December 12, 2007, "Le passé enfin écrit des enfants enlevés en Suisse", an historical study spanning the years from 1926 to 1973.
  18. ^ Since autumn 2016, the Swiss federal authorities officially declare: "With the ratification of the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe of 1 February 1995 on the Protection of National Minorities, Switzerland has recognized the Swiss Yenish and Sinti as a national minority—regardless of whether they live travelling or sedentary."[citation needed]