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    Diverging Fates - Travelling Circus People in Europe under National Socialism

    2017, January - 2018, December

    This two-year project examines the histories and divergent fates of circus owners, circus families and performers in Europe under National Socialism. It is made up of an international team of five researchers and coordinated by the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki.

    Exploring the various histories of circus people

    In Europe during the Nazi era, circuses were immensely popular forms of entertainment. At the same time, many circuses had been owned and operated by generations of Sinti and Roma, Jewish and Yenische families, with performers from across the world and of all backgrounds, including people with physical disabilities and those of African and mixed descent.

    Circuses were, therefore, able to cross national borders, cities, towns and villages. Some circuses would hide people during roundups, saving lives; in others, travelling circuses people were easy targets of the Nazis and their allies. As a site of both permitted leisure and possible subversion of established power relations, as well as the site of racial and social mixing outlawed by the Nazi regime, circus owners and circus people featured, at one and the same time, as possible beneficiaries, victims, lifesavers and resistance fighters.

    August Sander: Circus Artistes, 1926–1932

    August Sander: Circus Artistes, 1926–1932
    © Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; KUVASTO, Helsinki, 2017


    A new area of focus

    Despite the significance of this complex and multi-faceted history, there has been little research carried out on the fate of circus people before, during and after the Nazi period.

    This research objectives are to document the lives, repressions, deaths, but also the survival strategies of travelling circus people in a European comparison during the Nazi period. 

    More information

    This two-years project is supported by the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.


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