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On August 2nd and 3rd 1944, several thousand Roma and Sinti were massacred at the Zigeunerlager in Auschwtiz-Birkenau concentration camp.
An estimated 600.000 to 1,5 million Roma were exterminated during the Holocaust. As a percentage, that makes Roma the ethnic group most affected by the Nazi killings. Over 90 percent of the Roma population of Austria, Germany and Estonia was exterminated by the fascist regimes.
Below, Mrs. Miranda Vuolasranta, Vice-President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum speech, pronounced in Strasbourg, on 25 April 2006, for the commemoration of the Day of Shoah.>
"Dear Yom ha Shoah and Samudaripe commemoration day participants,
I’m deeply touched and honored as a Roma for the opportunity to take part in this Yom ha Shoah or as we say in Romanes Samudaripe Commemoration organised here in Strasbourg by the liberal jewish movement of France. This day, we commemorate the deportation of Jews, Roma-Manouches and other groups during World War II.
This commemoration of Jews, Roma-Manouches, Armenians and all other groups deported to the death camp, is important signal still today. Taking account the rampant racism in Europe today, these messages is more topical than ever. We have to unify our forces to fight against the growing racism in Europe. History have a tendency to repeat it self…this is visible and the signs of this intolerance can be seen in the air, although the international institutions such as Council of Europe, European Human Rights Court and the European Union are constantly fighting for equal human rights and rights to social services for everybody.
The tune of this statement is rather strong, but at the same time it is appealing to each listener here today, the Jews, Roma, Manouches, Alsatian and foreigners, to listen the first echos, after the World War II, of the most forgotten part of the Nazi-era….namely the Roma/Sinti genocide. This appeal asks you to recognize the pain and continuation of similar suffering of Roma- Sinti population in today’s Europe, after nine centuries of common European history and 60 years after the horrors of Holocaust.
On August 2nd and 3rd 1944, several thousand Roma and Sinti were massacred at the Zigeunerlager in Auschwtiz-Birkenau concentration camp. Historians differ on the exact number killed on that night. In order to make room for incoming Jews from Hungary, a decision was taken to liquidate all “Gypsies”. Men were sent to work, so that the German guard would have an easier task in rounding up women, children and elderly for the gas chambers.
Germans who took part in the slaughter later described it as the most difficult moment in the war for them, as Romani women struggled to hang on to their children. The crematorium burned all night.
We are reminded that while politics and even borders in Europe may change, the threat which extreme nationalism poses to Roma and Jews is a constant. We are reminded of the need to work together, to demand to be seen and respected as Europeans equal to others.
“In the case of the Jews there are not merely a few criminals, but all Jews rose from criminal roots, and in their very nature are criminal. The Jews are no people like other people but a pseudo-people welded together by hereditary criminality…The annihilation of Jews is no loss to humanity but just as useful as capital punishment or protective custody against other criminals.” , this was stated by Gobbles, 1944.
A researcher into the Roma Holocaust suggests that Gobbles’ discourse, with the small change made above replacing the word “Jews” with “Gypsies,” would be as popular today as it was 60 years ago, in a Europe characterized by strong, but still largely ignored, anti-Gypsyism.
An estimated 600.000 to 1,5 million Roma were exterminated during the Holocaust. As a percentage, that makes Roma the ethnic group most affected by the Nazi killings. Over 90 percent of the Roma population of Austria,Germany and Estonia was exterminated by the fascist regimes.
The Nazi Holocaust against Jews was not forgotten and rightly so. Continuously excluded before and after the second war world, the Roma have remained in often-abysmal poverty at the very margins of European societies, and have been unable to replicate the well-deserved attention given to the Jewish Holocaust.
The Roma Holocaust is nowhere to be found in European educational materials. The genocide against Roma is carefully kept at the very margins of academic research, as well as the horrendous colonial abuses against people sometimes considered to be worth less than cattle.
The 8 to 12 million Roma in Europe remain Europe’s most vulnerable group, according to various studies and reports of European institutions. Roma continue to face strong rejection from the ethnic majorities. The Roma Holocaust is either denied by national governments, or unknown to the majority population. According to polls in Malta and uxembourg, even in these countries with no Roma, strong negative prejudices make “Gypsies” the most despised ethnic group.
The fact that Anti-Gypsyism remains an acceptable form of racism in Europe is due largely to ignorance. Abominable acts against Roma during their more than nine centuries in Europe are well documented, but like the Roma Holocaust, shielded from public knowledge.
“Take your hands off our children” posters, featuring a picture of a Roma person, spread all around Lombardia with a striking resemblance to pre-Holocaust propaganda against Jews. The fact that Anti-Gypsyism remains an acceptable form of racism in Europe is due largely to ignorance. Abominable acts against Roma during their more than nine centuries in Europe are well documented, but like the Roma Holocaust, shielded from public knowledge.
Stealing children is a baseless prejudice used against Roma and repeated to saturation in the mass media. The fact that in January 1940, over 200 Romani children were murdered in Buchenwald, Germany, as test subjects for the crystals later used in the gas chambers, has still to make it to a mainstream media article or reportage.
Research on anti-Gypsyism is generally taken with skepticism, if the Roma are not themselves blamed as mainly responsible for the racism against them. An adequate reaction addressing the roots of discrimination against Roma in Europe has so far not been attempted. In the best case, anti-Gypsyism is simply ignored and left outside mass media and political attention.
In January 2005 the European Parliament passed a resolution on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, but refused to include a specific reference to the Roma Holocaust or the rampant anti-Gypsyism in Europe. The Israeli and Polish Presidents present at the commemoration in Auschwitz provided a remarkable exception, as they both mentioned the Roma victims of Holocaust.
Ironically, the best-known statement made about Roma by the European Commission is the one which Ambassador to Slovakia, Mr. Eric Van der Linden, made where he proposed to remove Roma children from their parents and put them into boarding schools. “It may sound simplistic,” the Head of the EU Delegation said in May 2004, “but it is, I think in the root of the cause that we need to strengthen education and organise the educational system in a way that we may have to start to, I’ll say it in quotation marks, force Romani children to stay in a kind of boarding schools from Monday morning until Friday afternoon, where they will continuously be subjected to a system of values which is dominant in our society.”
On February 11, 2005, the French public television TV 5 broadcasted “Delinquency: the route of the Roma”. Sensitive to anti-Semitism and arguably trying to curb Islamophobia, a good part of the French mass media seems to have found a good scapegoat for racist speech - Roma. Reportage which would have severely damaged diplomatic relations with USA or Israel, if directed against Afro-Americans or Jews, and would have been regarded as incitement to racial hatred, was received as normal. The program, “C dans l’air,” suggested the need for specialized police forces as an obvious solution to tackle Roma characterized by the members of the discussion panel as criminals, prostitutes, child kidnappers and Mafioso. Typically, the show did not include a single Roma or Roma expert.
During the Nazi regime, such a “special” body was created under the name of Zigeunerzentrale, “professionally” preparing the way towards the death camps for the Roma and Sinti.
Awareness of basic human rights issues and discrimination remains very low in general. The Roma Holocaust is largely ignored or unknown, and public opinion remains strongly against Roma. Mindful of their electorate, the political class takes few risks, and bends to a shameful low. A good part of the mass media just follows the lead.
This year, some things are unchanged since the 1940s. Many people in Europe believe in the superiority of their own nation and culture. Roma are too often seen as foreigners in lands we have called home for centuries. Many Roma live in poverty. However, much is also very different since the 1940s. Many governments, in their discussions at the Council of Europe, have recognized the need to go from making policies about the Roma, to discussing with Roma and making policies together. The European Roma and Travellers Forum, through its December 2004 Partnership Agreement with the Council Of Europe, is given the chance to be a true partner in dialogue with European institutions and to improve the respect for our people’s human rights.
The difference to this reality can be made by you and me, all those humans owning a balanced conscience and a healthy sense of right and wrong. We can change the future and we must work together for equal human rights for all human beings in our earth, so that the famous sentence “never more” will cover not only Jews but all those being in danger to be treated in inhuman way.
Thank you /Develessa"
Vice-President of the ERTF
From United States Holocaust Memorial Archive.
"A group of Gypsy prisoners, awaiting instructions from their German captors, sit in an open area near the fence in the Belzec concentration camp."
The Photo is in the Public Domain