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VIDEO: European Roma Holocaust Memorial ceremony at Auschwitz was virtual this year, Slovak and Austrian Presidents spoke

3.8.2020 8:04

The annual European Roma Holocaust Memorial ceremony at the Auschwitz Memorial was held on 2 August. Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it was done virtually this year and could be followed online, including through news server

The website of the ceremony linked to commemorations happening worldwide, either as online events or in person, in Austria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and the UK. The virtual ceremony at the Auschwitz Memorial and Musuem in Poland this year also included speeches by the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, Holocaust survivors Zilli Schmidt, Ivan Bilashchenko, Rita Prigmore and others.

The virtual ceremony was organized by the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and the Association of Roma in Poland together with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. In her remarks, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová called on the public authorities to vigorously reject displays of hatred against any group on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said in his message that "we must ensure that contempt for humanity, scapegoating, hatred and violence are never again used as political instruments." According to the chair of the Central Council of Germany Sinti and Roma, Romani Rose, racist nationalism has established itself in many countries of Europe and anti-Romani and antisemitic tendencies are becoming increasingly violent.

"Europe today is again facing nationalism, antigypsyism and antisemitism anew. Recently we have been witnesses to several right-wing terrorist assassinations in Germany and other European countries. Historical remembrance is a living obligation for the present and the future. When we remember the crimes of National Socialism and the Holocaust today, we must simultaneously defend democracy and the rule of law," he said.

Beginning on the night of 2 August into the early morning hours of 3 August 1944, the Nazis used the gas chambers of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp to murder the remaining prisoners of what they called the "Gypsy Family Camp" there. Despite resisting, more than 4 200 Romani and Sinti people were murdered in the course of one night.

Annually on 2 August, members of these communities from all over Europe therefore commemorate European Holocaust Memorial Day for the Sinti and Roma. During the 17 months of the existence of the Auschwitz extermination camp's so-called "Gypsy Family Camp" (from February 1943 to July 1944), a total of 23 000 children, men and women were imprisoned there.

Approximately 21 000 Romani and Sinti prisoners, female and male, perished there and in the concentration camps of Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka. Others, whose numbers can only be estimated with difficulty, were shot to death and buried in mass graves in forests.

Nazi Germany's extermination policy led, according to estimates, to the death of at least half a million Romani and Sinti people from all over Europe. Some estimates assume as many as 800 000 victims, equivalent to anywhere between one-fourth and one half of the prewar Romani population.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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