William Bila: Berlin's Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism must not be relocated, German railroad cannot be allowed to disrupt it
Several weeks ago a few Roma NGOs found out about the plans of the Deutsche Bahn company to build a new underground railway line in Berlin that would pass directly under the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, victims of the Nazis in World War II. The planned construction could either temporarily shut down or permanently move the memorial to a new location.
That such possibilities could be considered so lightly by the authorities in power after the 60 years of negotiations needed to get this memorial built is unconscionable. Until very recently, this has received almost no attention from the German press and no international mainstream news outlet has covered this story.
Thanks to the quick action of these few community activists, a letter-writing campaign, and a significant public protest, there will be no changes to the memorial site - for now. The lack of consideration demonstrated for the Sinti and Roma, however, remains scandalously shocking.
La Voix des Rroms has been informed that further discussions are still needed to obtain confirmation from the side of both the German Government and Deutsche Bahn that the memorial site will remain untouched. From the side of Sinti and Roma in Germany and around the world, the answer is already clear: The monument should not move, and it will not move!
It took almost 40 years before the German Government officially recognized the persecution of Sinti and Roma communities under the Nazis as genocide, giving in only after a highly-publicized hunger strike in the early 80s by several concentration camp survivors and the chairman of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma, Mr. Romani Rose. It then took an additional 20 years to agree to build a memorial and find an appropriate location for it.
The memorial was unveiled and open to the public less than 10 years ago, yet within a few short months it was almost unilaterally decided that it would be moved. Just like that, it seemed as if the authorities thought they could act effortlessly to remove the monument, which was apparently an insignificant detail.
In order to get the memorial built they needed 60 years of nudging by the practically-unrecognized and almost entirely forgotten Sinti and Roma communities. Hello! We are still here.
While Mr. Rose himself was only informed about this plan several months ago, apparently the railways had already negotiated with the Government for over two years to obtain the necessary approvals to move forward with their plans, neglecting to ever reach out to any Sinti or Roma community organizations during that process. Under the Nazi regime, the railway company and the Government were complicit in shipping Roma and Sinti to concentration camps across the Third Reich.
Any alleged respect for and reparations to the victims that have been offered should be called into question if the memorial does not remain as it is, where it is, untouched. It is clear that the way the authorities are treating this monument is as if it were just some inanimate objects dedicated to the past, but we are alive, and we will keep alive the memory of those who perished because of Nazism.
We have to remind them of that first. Then, we are still waiting for the day where we can say that the monument is just a reference to the past.
But in fact, our duty toward remembrance also serves as a means for resisting the systemic injustices our peoples are still experiencing today. This is about trust: Without a clear decision about the conservation of the monument, we cannot trust the authorities to deal with the current impact of antigypsyism on our safety from violence, on access to housing, jobs, healthcare or education.
This is why we call on the German authorities to take such a decision and definitively prevent any potential changes to this memorial in Berlin. If this period of Germany’s Presidency of the EU ends without having a definitive resolution to this, the European general public will need to question, to a much greater degree, what “Never again” really means, and with that, the moral authority of German exceptionalism will become a burning issue for all of Europe.
What can you do?
You can follow the RomaSintiWireOnline or the Roma Antidiscrimination Network in Göttingen (both on Facebook), for news and updates about the situation. For your information you may refer to their recent press release in German and English by clicking on the hyperlinks here or below.
Also, this petition to stop construction of the railway line still exists (in German) where you can sign or make a donation, as well as sign up for automatic updates (it is up to you to use Google translate to understand it in your own language, for now).
Let your voice be heard. Resist. Your signature, your letter, and your sharing of this information is not in vain.
Facebook page of RomaSintiWireOnline: https://www.facebook.com/groups/216282123077037/
Facebook page of the Roma Antidiscrimination Network: https://www.facebook.com/Roma-Antidiscrimination-Network-RAN-1160540740639190/
Press release in English: https://www.bundesromaverband.de/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/DasMahnmalbleibt_e.pdf Petition https://www.change.org/p/deutsche-bahn-ag-das-mahnmal-der-ermordeten-sinti-roma-bleibt?recruiter=false&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_initial&recruited_by_id=52333630-c233-11ea-be8a-91914296c55d
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