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The fight against the Swiss Yenish and the ‘Children of the open road’ campaign


Meier, T (2008). The fight against the Swiss Yenish and the ‘Children of the open road’ campaign. Romani Studies, 18/2:101-121.

Abstract

In order to eradicate vagrancy in Switzerland, between 1926 and 1973 children of Yenish origin were systematically taken from their parents and placed with foster families, in homes and institutions. With the support of the authorities and under the auspices of the renowned Pro Juventute foundation, the campaign was carried out by the so-called Hilfswerk für die Kinder der Landstrasse (‘Relief Organisation for the children of the open road’). This campaign is nowadays seen as one of the darkest chapters in recent Swiss history, but is little-known outside Switzerland. Firstly the ‘children of the open road’ campaign is described: the aims and the methods, the accomplishment and the institutional network, the extent and the consequences. In addition, due to exceptional access to the files of the Hilfswerk, new findings can be presented. Secondly, the political and ideological context is shown. It is demonstrated that the ‘children of the open road’ campaign was only the rigorous continuation of an assimilation policy, which started in Switzerland after the foundation of the nation state in the middle of the nineteenth century, and which focused on marginalised people in general. Furthermore, it is pointed out that the aims and methods of the Hilfswerk were embedded in abroad scientific discourse about vagrancy and eugenics. Keywords: Yenish (Jenische), Switzerland, Kinder der Landstrasse (‘children of the open road’), gypsy politics, assimilation, vagrancy discourse

In order to eradicate vagrancy in Switzerland, between 1926 and 1973 children of Yenish origin were systematically taken from their parents and placed with foster families, in homes and institutions. With the support of the authorities and under the auspices of the renowned Pro Juventute foundation, the campaign was carried out by the so-called Hilfswerk für die Kinder der Landstrasse (‘Relief Organisation for the children of the open road’). This campaign is nowadays seen as one of the darkest chapters in recent Swiss history, but is little-known outside Switzerland. Firstly the ‘children of the open road’ campaign is described: the aims and the methods, the accomplishment and the institutional network, the extent and the consequences. In addition, due to exceptional access to the files of the Hilfswerk, new findings can be presented. Secondly, the political and ideological context is shown. It is demonstrated that the ‘children of the open road’ campaign was only the rigorous continuation of an assimilation policy, which started in Switzerland after the foundation of the nation state in the middle of the nineteenth century, and which focused on marginalised people in general. Furthermore, it is pointed out that the aims and methods of the Hilfswerk were embedded in abroad scientific discourse about vagrancy and eugenics. Keywords: Yenish (Jenische), Switzerland, Kinder der Landstrasse (‘children of the open road’), gypsy politics, assimilation, vagrancy discourse

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of History
Dewey Decimal Classification:900 History
Uncontrolled Keywords:Yenish (Jenische), Switzerland, Kinder der Landstrasse (‘children of the open road’), gypsy politics, assimilation, vagrancy discourse
Language:English
Date:2008
Deposited On:30 Dec 2008 15:01
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:35
Publisher:Gypsy Lore Society
ISSN:1528-0748

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