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Prague Forum for Romani Histories: Joint commemoration of the Jewish and Romani victims of the Holocaust should inspire others

4.4.2021 10:08
The website of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories. (PHOTO:  Romea.cz)
The website of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories. (PHOTO: Romea.cz)

According to the Prague Forum for Romani Histories (Pražské fórum pro romské dějiny - PFRD) the joint commemoration of the Jewish and the Romani victims of the Holocaust should become an inspiration and a model for other initiatives, whether at the local or the state level. The PFRD is responding to the decision taken by the board of directors of the Institute of the Terezín Initiative to no longer read the names of Romani victims of racial persecution during the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as part of the commemorative reading of names of the dead on Yom Hashoah

"The suffering of Roma and Sinti during the Second World War is, in the Czech Republic, still quite neglected and insufficently commemorated. For that reason, we appreciate all the more the fact that since 2010, at the instigation of the Union of Jewish Youth and in collaboration with the Foundation for Holocaust Victims, and after reaching agreement with representatives of the Romani community, the Institute of the Terezín Initiative decided to include the names of Holocaust victims of Romani origin among those being read," says the PFRD declaration, which has been made available to news server Romea.cz. 

However, the PFRD does not agree with the critique of the board of directors of the ITI or of the Terezín Initiative accusing them of intolerance and racism. "We are convinced that when honoring the memories of Holocaust victims, who were, above all, Jews and Roma, it is necessary to respect the fact that both in the Jewish community and in the Romani community, voices will be logically and understandably raised to advocate for the commemoration and the honoring of the Holocaust victims of Jewish and Romani origin separately, as well as together," reads the statement, which news server Romea.cz is publishing here in full. 

Prague Forum for Romani Histories on the debate around reading the names of Romani victims

Both the genocide of the Romani people and the history of the Roma in general continue to be marginalized subjects in Czech society, in school curricula and textbooks, and in the academic, cultural and public arenas. For that reason, in 2016, the Prague Forum for Romani Histories was established at the Institute of Contemporary History of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. As the representatives of this academic platform, we are publishing the following statement on the current debate about Yom Hashoah and reading the names of Romani victims on that occasion:

The suffering of Roma and Sinti during the Second World War is, in the Czech Republic, still quite neglected and insufficently commemorated. For that reason, we appreciate all the more the fact that, since 2010, at the instigation of the Union of Jewish Youth and in collaboration with the Foundation for Holocaust Victims, and after reaching agreement on this with representatives of the Romani community, the Institute of the Terezín Initiative decided to include the names of Holocaust victims of Romani origin among those being read aloud on Yom Hoshoah. We are of the opinion that the joint commemoration of the Jewish and the Romani victims of the Holocaust should inspire and become a model for other initiatives, whether at the local or the state level.  

We consider the declaration by the new board of directors of the Institute of the Terezín Initiative dated 3 March 2021, according to which the board does not recommend reading the Jewish and Romani names together on Yom Hashoah this year, to be unfortunate. There do exist reasons why this memorial day could be reserved just for the Jewish victims, however. Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah arose in the year 1951 in the state of Israel to commemorate the uprising in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, as a day to commemorate the Shoah and Jewish herosim during the war, alongside the more inclusively conceived International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is also commemorated in Israel. 

In the Czech Republic, however, thanks to the Institute of the Terezín Initiative and its close collaboration with the Union of Jewish Youth, since 2006 that day has become a day for reading the names of Holocaust victims aloud in public. It is quite important and rare that this custom has spread to dozens of towns in both Bohemia and Moravia where many civic initiatives participate in holding public readings of these names. Therefore, while Yom Hashoah was actually originally a day to commemorate Jewish victims specifically, here in the Czech Republic it has grown into a manifesto commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and racist policies generally, and it is sad that this rare initiative could be endangered by the decision of the ITI board of directors.    

What is more, this year, when Yom Hashoah falls on 8 April, we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first World Roma Congress. In addition to agreeing on the form of the Romani flag, the Romani anthem and the uniform use of the term "Roma" during official negotiations, the delegates to that convention from different countries (many of whom were themselves survivors of the Second World War) commemorated the genocide of the Romani victims, which would not be acknowledged by many states for decades.  

On the other hand, we consider it just as unfortunate that the board of directors of the ITI and the presidency of the Terezín Initiative, which brings together Jewish survivors of the Nazi ghettos in Łódź and Terezín (Theresienstadt), are being accused of intolerance and racism. What is more, this is happening in a situation when Czech society as a whole, and each of us as individuals, are failing to overcome the discrimination to which Romani people are subjected here on a daily basis. 

We are convinced that when honoring the memory of Holocaust victims, who were, above all, Jews and Roma, it is necessary to respect the fact that both in the Jewish community and in the Romani community voices will be comprehensibly, logically raised to advocate for the commemoration and the honoring of the Holocaust victims of Jewish and Romani origin separately, as well as together. There is no doubt that both kinds of commemoration are important. Above all, however, the commemoration of Holocaust victims should not be the exclusive affair of either the Jewish or the Romani community, but of all of Czech society. 

On behalf of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories:

Mgr. Renata Berkyová
Kateřina Čapková, PhD

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Institut terezínské iniciativy, pietní akt, reakce, Romani people



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