Daniela Cincibusová: Reflections on a visit to a former death factory
Oświęcim, a small town in southern Poland, is infamous as the location of Auschwitz, the Nazis' biggest concentration and extermination camp not just for Jewish people, but also for Romani people and anybody who did not conform. Many innocent people died there.
During the war the Nazis began the implementation of their "Final Solution", the gradual annihilation of people whom they considered inferior according to their racial theories. They primarily targeted Jews, Roma and homosexuals, and later the members of Slavic nations.
A commemorative ceremony is held there every year. This year Romani people from the Czech Republic also attended it.
Jan Horváth Döme wrote the following poem in 1996 during his first visit to the Auschwitz memorial:
Tumenge, Amare pheňa the phrala kamav te phenel: Mukľan tumare dživipen, tumaro romipen vaš amenge, vaš amaro drom kijo kham.
Rati sovenas, šukar sune denas, jak o kham labol amare čhavorenge. Jekhvar pre blačkica o beng durkunel. Uětěn upre Romale, aven, džas pre buti, tec hal, te pijel.
Kale jakha roven , o daja o bala čhingeren. Savo drom amen užarel, Aušvic – e balvaj na phurdel, čirikle na giľaven? Devla amaro somnakuno, čarav tiro baro jilo. So te kerav Devla, mire čhave odoj mukav.
O benga pijen, mulatinen, le Romen murdaren. Miro kalo jilo rovel – mamo, mamo, mačhinger tire kale bala. O Devloro dikhel so amenca o benga keren.
Aušvicate sas kher baro, odoj muľas čhaj, čhavo Romano.
To you, dear sisters and brothers, I just want to say: You left your life and your romipen for us, for our journey to the sun.
As you slept at night you used to dream of a beautiful life for your children. One day a devil banged on your window: Romale, get up, go to work, we'll give you food and drink.
Black eyes crying, mothers tearing their hair out. What will our journey be like? Auschwitz, where not one bird sings, not one leaf trembles in the breeze? God, I kiss your soul. God, what will I do without my children?
The devils engineer their feast, they drink and celebrate, they send the Roma to the gas. My black heart cries Mama, Mama, don't tear out your ebony hair. God also sees this Evil of Satan.
At Auschwitz there was an enormous prison, a girl, a Roma boy, remain there.
The Nazis achieved "perfection" in their disposal of the "inferior". Per day they managed to kill up to 4 600 people.
First they led people into the gas chambers on the pretext of disinfection. After cutting off their hair, they drove them into the showers where, instead of water, Zyklon B gas was released.
The people then died in immense pain. It took between 15 and 20 minutes for them to die.
The wailing of the dying could be heard throughout the camp, so the Nazis turned on all the vehicles in order to drown out the wailing cries of the dying. As many as 3 000 people reportedly could fit into the biggest gas chamber at one time.
Later the Nazis built gas chambers underground, without windows, so that what was happening inside could not be heard outside. They built five crematoria with several ovens each so they could cremate the corpses in time.
The people who survived Auschwitz never forgot the stench of burned human flesh as long as they lived. When the Nazis ascertained that the capacity of the ovens was insufficient, they dug a pit into which they threw the dead bodies and poured fuel over them so they would burn as quickly as possible.
On 2 August a commemorative ceremony is regularly held at Auschwitz-Birkenau to honor the memory of the Romani people killed there. For a long time, the Romani victims of the Holocaust were not known.
Why on 2 August? During the night of 2 August into 3 August the Nazis murdered 2 898 Roma and Sinti at Auschwitz, and while Roma were murdered in other camps also, nowhere else were so many of them killed at once during a single night.
This year we made a last-minute decision to organize a visit to Auschwitz to attend the ceremony. The initiator of the trip was Emílie Horáčková, whose father, as a 12-year-old, survived internment in that camp of horrors.
We managed to raise money for the trip from various sponsors, namely, Liberec Regional Governor Martin Půta, Czech MEP Jaromír Štětina, and Fedor Gál. The adult participants contributed financially also and used the sponsors' gifts to cover refreshments and transportation for our children and the materials for making wreaths.
It was a long trip and not a very comfortable one, but we comforted ourselves by thinking about how it must have been for the Romani people who traveled to Auschwitz in cattle cars. That was what we told the children, to whom the journey in the small minibus seemed the longest.
We arrived as the commemorative ceremony was already underway. Even though we were slightly late, we were in time to soak up the atmosphere there and listen to the speeches given by those participating.
After that we were able to lay our funeral wreaths at the memorial. It was my first visit to the Auschwitz memorial, and I have not yet recovered from the distress and profound sadness of that place, where innocent people who had done nothing wrong died just because they had the misfortune to be Roma.
I saw the preserved rectangular foundations of the barracks, into each of which almost 1 000 people were crowded on wooden bunk beds, four bunks high. Naturally none of that is left there now, it was not preserved, but my imagination was working at full speed.
How could they all have fit in there? Reportedly they lay so closely together that they kept each other warm.
For that many people there was only one bucket into which they could relieve themselves. I stood next to one of those rectangles, and in my spirit I could hear moaning, pain, horror, and the questions that were shouted into the universe: Why?
Why us? God, what did we do?
Why do they hate us so much? God, we are your children, why are you allowing them to kill us?
Suddenly, as part of my fantasy, I could smell in the air the stench of burning flesh from the nearby crematorium, hidden away in a birch grove, and the chanting of the present-day Nazis and racists came to my mind: "Gypsies to the gas, Gypsies to the gas!!" No, we will not allow history to repeat itself.
We promise this to you, the souls of the deceased Roma who had to go into the gas chambers on the night of 2 August to 3 August 1944, and to the others who died elsewhere! We will not permit the monstrous theory of the superiority of one part of the human race over another to revive again.
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