The Reluctant Roma Cannibals of Romania
Sep 20 2012
If you haven't clicked it yet, the heartwarming video above features an old Romanian man talking about gypsies cutting off some little girl's extremities and eating them. If that wasn't enough, aspiring filmmaker Romeo Tiberiade has gathered up 25 more hours' worth of this depressing testimony for a documentary he's making about the deportation of Roma people from Romania to Transnistria during the Holocaust. Romeo, who also works as a counselor to the Roma community in the Dolj region of Romania, and is a gypsy himself, started making his film back in 2008 in order to show that it was not only the Jews who suffered when the Germans went crazy a little less than a hundred years ago. Nazis hated gypsies, too.
The film is not completed yet; he wants to cover every region of Romania where survivors can still be found before he actually makes something of his footage. But in the meantime, Romeo agreed to talk to me about his project and the reluctant infant eaters he'd met or heard stories about so far.
VICE: Hi Romeo. Why are you making this documentary?
Romeo Tiberiade: For me, it’s very important to make a documentary that can be used as an historic archive of these events, so they don’t remain urban legends. The Roma survivors are now very old and soon no one will be alive to tell their tragic story. I hadn’t known about the Holocaust of my people until my grandparents told me that they, and my parents, were also taken to the concentration camps. This caused me a lot of pain.
Caption: "My name is Romeo Tiberiade and I am a real gypsy from Craiova."
What’s the story of your grandparents?
Ion Antonescu, the military leader of Romania at that time, ordered that only the gypsy nomads should be taken, because they were giving his regime grief. But he ended up deporting all of them. My grandparents were taken on the 13th of September, 1942, according to the National Archives. Grandma was 23 and Mum was ten months old. The family was separated once they entered Transnistria. Grandpa was taken to a different camp, but he managed to escape and move to the camp in which my grandma was forced to live. They lived there in horrible conditions, without medical treatment, until 1944.
So they didn’t even receive first aid treatment?
If they got sick they were treated with holistic medicine made from scraps by the elder gypsy women. Many died from typhus. The dead weren’t released form the camps. They just rotted and made others sick. After a while, they made a mass grave a few meters away from the camp. The militias, called "Ciolovec" by my people, hurled the people who seemed sick there, to hasten their deaths.
Caption: "The worst was that whenever a baby died they would bake him and eat him out of hunger.”
Did they receive food or water?
At first, yes, they received water and a ration of 500 grams of polenta per day. But it was only for the ones who worked. They worked in the fields for more than eight hours a day. The ration, of course, wasn’t enough for the larger families. Some escaped at night to rob neighboring villages and camps to feed their children, but the closest was about eight miles away. They ran all night so they could return by morning, when they had to start work. After a few months they didn’t even receive the ration and then the horror started.
Where did they sleep?
Wherever they could. Most had to live in holes dug in the middle of the field, next to a barbed wire fence. They used pieces of cardboard or fur that they found while working as roofs for their burrows. They survived two years like troglodytes. Even though these makeshift roofs protected them from some of the rain, the soil was still wet so they were living in mud pits. Most were separated by clans, but some were all alone. In time, many were moved from one camp to another.
Caption: "Whenever somebody got sick, they would let him lie like that for eight days. If he didn't get better, the ninth day he was dumped.”
Were they separated from the Jewish people?
Not always. Though the Jews were treated worse than the Roma people. They weren’t even allowed to work for their rations. But, after a while, they applied the same measures to the Roma as well. They were starving so they started eating each other. They had to cut down some of their children so the others wouldn’t starve. I got sick and cried when I heard this.
So they had to eat their children?!
I have filmed four or five testimonies of this. One of the Romas from the Argintari clan told me that, when one of his children died, he had to carve up his son’s buttcheeks and thighs and roast them on the fire to feed the rest of his kids. Others told me that they simply had no other choice than to stab their living children for food.
Caption: "And after the dogs ate, we were forced to eat as well."
Did the survivors receive any reparations from the Romanian government?
A very small number of them received a subvention of between four and six thousand euros. The rest only received a pat on the back. The law states that one can receive the status of Victim of Deportation from the National Archives either with the testimonies of two other survivors in front of a notary, or by suing the state. Seventy-year-old people don’t have the time or the money to do this. The system works only in a few regions of Romania. A few years ago, one lucky gypsy managed to obtain his status with a letter to the president, but that was in the political campaign.
Did the Roma from your region receive anything?
Because they weren’t recorded by the soldiers who were doing the deportations they didn’t receive a damn thing. It’s not even that much money, just 40 euros a month, which they should receive until their deaths. They keep coming to me to ask for help. I tried to take them to the ones who manage the fixed incomes given by the state in our region, but they were just told, "So, sue us!" Even though the Romanian state did this to them, they don’t even want to partially assume what they did by giving them a little financial aid. Discrimination has always been a problem in Romania.
What was most difficult about making this documentary?
The main problem was traveling through the country with a film crew only on my salary. Some of the people were also hesitant to talk to me, because I forced them to relive horrible moments from their past. The rest were willing to help me and asked me to help them get their rights back. My main advantage was the fact that I spoke their old language, Romani, but also that I spoke the language of their hearts.
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