The French Porajmos: Roma, Romani, Yenish, Manouche, and Sinti People in the WWII Concentration Camp of Montreuil-Bellay, France



The genocidal experience of the Pořajmos is a central case in studying the failures of reparation politics of segregated populations. The brutality of the Pořajmos (a Romani word for “devouring”) — the period between 1939 and 1945 when European Roma, Romani, Yenish, Manouche, and Sinti people were persecuted and killed across Europe — is often overlooked in France as a result of ongoing prejudice by the government and broader French society. Broaching this subject requires great sensitivity, especially when considering the comparative acknowledgement
of victimization across Europe during the period of Nazi Germany and the subsequent efforts and choices to emphasize certain communities for reparation and compensation after the War, i.e., Po
řajmos, Shoah or Pink triangle prisoners. Yet, when thinking about this community in contemporary France, we are faced with the impossibility of an authentic attempt for reparation by the government when the political and intercultural networks of this community are overpowered by an administration that continues to deport the very people they claim they want to heal.
We are equally faced with the following question: to whom the administration addresses an acknowledgement when considering the different treatment of the survivors of Pořajmos, populations who arrived after 1945, as well as Roma French citizens?

Henty Funambulist 1
The concentration camp of Montreuil-Bellay, while in operation (date unknown). / Courtesy of Jacques Sigot.

This article offers an analysis on the choices of patrimonialization — the means through which cultural heritage is both materially and immaterially established — of certain built heritage, with a specific focus on an concentration camp wedged between a national highway and railway track on the outskirts of Montreuil-Bellay, Mid-Western France, the largest concentration camp of the 31 camps that existed in France for “nomads.” In doing so, this article tries to understand how racialized institutions are protected in a way to perpetuate a dis-remembrance of collective memory and national identity. The case of Montreuil-Bellay highlights the incoherence of the practical application of the universal principles of the French Republic for minority communities.