Austria contains other minority groups that are not defined
as such by law but are perceived as minorities by the general
population: Gypsies, Jews, and foreign workers. Gypsies and Jews
have been in Austria for centuries, although a sizable number of
Jews came to Vienna during the nineteenth century from other
parts of the Habsburg Empire. The presence of a large number of
foreign workers dates from the 1960s.
Roma and Sinti, or Gypsies as they are generally called,
arrived in Austria in the fourteenth century. An eastern, nomadic
people, originally from India, they wore colorful clothes, had
their own language and customs, and exchanged goods for survival.
Men usually either made pots and other brass objects or were
musicians, while women told fortunes or sold handmade goods and
fruits from their wagons.
A Gypsy's life centered on the family and the larger group,
with individual achievement playing an insignificant role.
Marriage with a non-Gypsy typically meant exclusion by the
community. Disapproval or punishment by the community was a much
more serious reprimand to a Gypsy than any legal action by the
The attitude of Gypsies toward work and saving differed from
that of the majority group in that they generally aimed at
earning enough to meet "the needs of the day." When food or money
were needed, the Gypsy code permitted as a last resort stealing
from wealthier people. Preferring to feel free and unhindered,
Gypsies attached little importance to the accumulation of
property, choosing instead a life of wandering and bartering.
Only later during their time in Austria did they build semipermanent dwellings. Even so, Gypsies preferred to live among
themselves on the outskirts of towns and cities.
Because of these habits and attitudes, Gypsies were
mistrusted by the Austrian population. Gypsies were seen as lazy,
disorderly, and dirty, and regarded as thieves, criminals, and
prostitutes. In the eighteenth century, laws were enacted that
banned their migrant way of life and established "colonies" for
By the late 1930s, an estimated 11,000 Gypsies lived in
Austria, predominantly in the province of Burgenland. Because of
Nazi racial doctrines, more than half of them were deported to
concentration camps during World War II. By the war's end, only
an estimated 4,500 Austrian Gypsies survived.
At the beginning of the 1990s, as many as 40,000 Gypsies
lived in Austria, mostly centered in the provinces of Vienna and
Burgenland. Although they more often speak German than the
traditional Romany or Sinti languages, they are by no means
assimilated into the larger society. Many Gypsies attend Austrian
schools, but their academic performance is below average, and
they see schooling as a hindrance to freedom. Young men who have
completed apprenticeships are described by their employers as
hard-working and honest. They generally do not become long-term
employees, however, particularly if they are living away from
their families. Young women usually work in factories or as
Data as of December 1993