My Escapade with the Roma / Gypsies

Already there have been several responses to my recent article about the DNA ancestry test. (Click here to go to that post.)  Some are curious about my experience with the Gypsies (or “Roma” people), at the ripe old age of a two-year old toddler, an experience which gave my Mother grey hairs.   

Well, here goes. In those days – the early 1930’s of the Low Lands – small bands of wandering Gypsies in caravans often came to our door, asking for water, and whether anything needed to be fixed such as pots and pans, or have knives sharpened.   We didn’t have running water, just a pump, although my grandmother had a well.

Painting by Vincent van Gogh of Roma Gypsy wagons

Others wandered the streets with a portable organ, or an organ on wheels -- always accompanied by a monkey. The monkey wore a suit and a red Fez hat.

Organ Grinder with Monkey

These organ grinders would also knock on doors, asking for pennies, if owners hadn’t already thrown them coins from an upstairs window. When they came to the door, it would be the monkey, hat in hand, begging for pennies. 

It was on such an occasion that Mother gave me a penny to give the monkey. I was two years old, and just able to walk, without falling over.  Mother was busy in the kitchen, and I simply followed the monkey and the Gypsy.  And landed in the caravan.

It was not a case of being kidnapped from our front door, more one of me following them. But of course this man who came to our door must have gone straight to the caravan with this 2 year old, blond, roly-poly, healthy little boy, who I’m sure was welcomed with the traditional open arms and passion of the Gypsies. Vaguely I remember the painted wagons and hearing violins and accordions.  But memories of faces or whatever happened eluded me. 

I was gone for a long time, I learned much later. Here is how the Interpol and local police found me.  An uncle of mine (brother of my father), was a photographer.  It was then the fashion to make photos of newborns in their birthday suit lying on a soft sheep’s hide.   The photos were taken every year up until about the age of three to five. So my parents had several photos of me, one as a newborn then one at age one and age two.  The photo at age two was given to the authorities who circulated it everywhere.
 Here is the very photo Interpol used to help find me.

Six months later, I was spotted when the caravan crossed from Belgium into the Netherlands.  Healthy and strong. 

And that’s how Mother’s hair became grey from worry, and how I was rescued. 

Father was a peace-loving man, and did not lay charges against the Gypsies, so they were not punished.

Now, eight decades later, I still wonder if these wandering people transferred their nomadic spirit and nature to me, since I’ve had a great love of travel and adventure all my life. One thing for sure, I love gypsy music.

Henri van Bentum

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