Europe marks Roma Holocaust Memorial Day from Georgia to Ireland
Both official and private commemorations and messages of solidarity were sent across Europe on the occasion of 2 August, not only in the EU-28 countries but in places as far-flung as Georgia. This past April the European Parliament passed a resolution recognizing 2 August as Roma Holocaust Memorial Day.
In 1944, 2 898 Romani and Sinti children and elders, men and women were murdered together in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau beginning on the night of 2 August. These people were just some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Romani genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime and its supporters.
The Brussels Times reported that the European Commission used the occasion to express its support for the EP resolution in a statement released by Justice Commissioner Jourová and First Vice-President Timmermans. In the statement the EC calls on all EU Member States to officially recognize 2 August.
Auschwitz was the biggest concentration camp for Europe's Roma, who were kept together in a particular section there. On the basis of an order by Himmler on 29 January 1943, roughly 20 000 Romani people from Belgium, the Netherlands, northern France, Poland, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the Slovak State, and the former Soviet Union were transported to Auschwitz.
The vast majority perished in the gas chambers there. Nazi Germany's policies are estimated to have murdered at least half a million Roma and Sinti total, with some estimates speaking of upward of 800 000 victims, or anywhere between one-quarter to one-half of the interwar population of Roma in Europe.
This year's memorial day was commemorated at gatherings to honor the memory of the Roma and Sinti Holocaust victims in various countries. Several hundred people attended the commemorative ceremony at the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland.
Similar gatherings were held in the capitals of Germany and Hungary and at Dunajská Streda in Slovakia. In the Croatian city of Ustica, the memory was also honored of the more than 16 000 Romani people murdered between 1942 and 1945 at the Jasenovac concentration camp and buried in 21 mass graves.
The Czech News Agency reported that an official commemoration was held at the memorial at Lety by Písek in South Bohemia. Representatives of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, the Education Ministry, the municipality of Lety, the Office of the Government and the Senate attended.
In recent years political representatives across the spectrum there have agreed that it is not dignified for a pig farm to continue to stand on the former concentration camp site at Lety. Despite calls from the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, the EP, and the UN for the farm to be removed from the site, the last three Czech Prime Ministers have called the idea "too expensive".
More than 500 Roma were transported to Auschwitz from Lety, which was the Nazis' "collection point" for Roma from Bohemia; a total of 1 308 Roma passed through the camp as of May 1943, 327 of whom perished there. A similar camp at Hodonín by Kunštát was used to "collect" Roma from Moravia for transport to Auschwitz; the genocide of Romani people from the Protectorate is generally considered to have come closest to the aim of completely eradicating the Roma population.
The Museum of Roma Culture in Brno, Czech Republic, marked 2 August as well. The official commemorative ceremony at Hodonín will also be held on 23 August as has become traditional.
The European Roma Rights Centre, an advocacy group based in Budapest, released an online campaign entitled "Ten Pictures That Tell Us Human Stories of the Forgotten Holocaust" to mark 2 August which reportedly reached more than 100 000 people in just a few days. “The European Roma Rights Centre fights against the exclusion and oppression of Roma people throughout Europe every day. We have to make sure such a tragedy as the Holocaust can never happen again” said Networking and Research Director Djordje Jovanovic, whose family members were also deported to forced labour camps and killed in the Nazi period.
The campaign involved disseminating the stories of individual victims online, as well as lesser-known facts about the hardships Romani people endured during the Holocaust. Original photographs provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum were used to illustrate the information.
The director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Michael Georg Link, called for greater efforts by the 57 OSCE participating States to educate youth about the Roma and Sinti genocide in order to combat current forms of discrimination against them. “Seventy-one years after the liquidation of the ‘Zigeunerlager’, Roma and Sinti continue to face racism and discrimination,” Link said.
The ODIHR Director said the Roma and Sinti genocide remains a powerful reminder of the tragic results that such racist sentiments can create and that reports of anti-Roma marches and anti-Roma rhetoric used by public officials in some OSCE participating States underscore the need for those states to increase their efforts to counter such incidents. “Over the past year we have continued to receive worrying reports pointing to a rising level of hate speech and prejudicial remarks against Roma and Sinti by public officials, of forced evictions of Roma from their homes, and of instances of attacks against individuals and communities,” Director Link said.
The European Roma and Traveller Forum called for a moment of silence on 2 August at noon to mark the "Pharrajimos", or Roma Holocaust. Groups from all over Europe wrote in to the ERTF and to the Roma Virtual Network to announce their commemorative events, including a statement of solidarity from the Lea Jewish Women's Organization in Tbilisi, Georgia.
The Roma community in Ireland marked 2 August by gathering at the National Memorial to the Defence Forces in Merrion Square, Dublin holding a banner reading "Discrimination Even in Death - the Forgotten Holocaust". Flowers were laid at the memorial as Romani community member Daniel Spirache read a poem on behalf of his grandfather, who survived a concentration camp in Transdniestra at that time.
Other banners at the Irish event asked for the removal of the pig farm from the site of the Lety concentration camp in the Czech Republic. Gabi Muntean of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre said the Holocaust had “devastated our community and yet we have had to struggle for acknowledgment of this. I think we can play our part in Ireland by marking this day.”
"We may not be gassing Roma in 2015 - however, we continue to deny them the oxygen of an education, employment or the right to live with their extended family and practice their cultural traditions, said Martin Collins of Pavee Point. “We must recognise that the recent rise of anti-Gypsyism across Europe is embedded within the anti-Roma rhetoric and discourse, which fuelled the events of the Porajmos [Roma Holocaust].”
UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák sent a statement to Pavee Point for the commemoration that read as follows: "We must remain vigilant and continue pressing our governments to take appropriate measures against signs of hatred and stigmatization. We must step up our action against hate speech and incitement to hatred before it is manifested in violence and atrocities."
Deaglán Ó Briain of Ireland's Department of Justice and Equality said, "It is appropriate that we stand in solidarity today with the Roma community in remembering the horrors that befell Roma in Europe due to intolerance and racism. The Government is committed to ensuring that Ireland remains a welcoming and warm home for all the new communities, including Roma, who have made their home here and that racism and discrimination are not tolerated.”
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