The Image of the Gypsy in German Christendom

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Since the arrival of Gypsies in the Germanic realm in the fifteenth century, Christian attitudes towards them and their religious beliefs have differed significantly from those towards Jews and Judaism. For better or worse, Jews and Judaism have played a much more dominant role in Christian consciousness than the Gypsies. Such differences have been reflected in the way the religious element is depicted in German images and stereotypes of the two minorities throughout the centuries. From the fifteenth century onward, Christian societies have not recognized the Gypsies' claim to be true Christians, and regarded them as pagans. However, their alleged paganism has never provoked a religiously motivated persecution. During the Enlightenment Gypsies became a target for 'civic correction' (Bürgerliche Besserung). Although this had much in common with the so-called 'civic improvement' (Bürgerliche Verbesserung) that was directed towards the Jews, the latter usually lacked the overt Christianizing component which Enlightened preachers called for in the case of the Gypsies. As the traditional negative image of the Jew underwent a process of secularization during the nineteenth century - becoming a figure responsible for all negative aspects of modernity rather than the murder of Christ - the image of the Gypsy remained more or less intact. In fact, German attitudes towards Gypsies have not only been negative; romantic stereotypes have co-existed with pejorative ones from the time of their arrival to the present day. During the Third Reich, the Nazis regarded 'the Jewish problem' as much more central to their agenda than 'the Gypsy question'. Christian attitudes toward Jews and Gypsies continue to diverge in the post-Holocaust period, and have been apparent in some Christian interpretations of the Shoah and the Porajmos.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-85
Number of pages11
JournalPatterns of Prejudice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 1999


  • Antigypsism
  • Antisemitism
  • Gypsies
  • Gypsy religion
  • Holocaust
  • Jews
  • Porajmos
  • Roma
  • Sinti

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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