Recognition in Germany for the Roma victims of the Holocaust
Memorial ceremonies will be held across Europe, where at the official Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations in Germany, Roma will be represented for the first time.
Zoni Weisz, a 73 year-old, Dutch-born Roma Holocaust survivor, will make an address to Germany’s Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament. As outlined by Romani Rose, the head of the Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany, this is an extremely significant event, for ‘it is the first time that the fate of the Sinti and Roma of Europe has been placed at the centre of the commemorations.’
Weisz was aged just seven when in 1944, he and his family were deported from their Dutch home town of Zutphen. Fortunately, a policeman helped him to escape, whilst his parents and siblings were murdered at Auschwitz. After surviving in hiding, Weisz later went on to become a florist for Holland’s royal family.
The Roma were victims of the Nazi racial ideology, which regarded ‘Aryans’ as superior in relation to Jews, gypsies and blacks. Already after Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, they along with the Sinti were unwillingly sterilised and sent to concentration camps. By 1938, more and more Romani were being sent to such camps in Germany and Austria, identifiable by the black, triangular patches that they wore, the symbol for those classed as ‘asocials.’
With the onset of the Second World War, the Nazi regime’s policies towards this group intensified and from May 1940, the systematic elimination of the Roma and Sinti began. Often, they were first herded into ghettos before being sent off to extermination camps, where they died as a result of not only gassing but also starvation, disease, hard labour and brutal medical experiments.
It is estimated that the number of Roma and Sinti murdered by the Nazis was in the region of 220,000 and 500,000.
More than six decades on from the Holocaust, greater acknowledgement is taking place for these individuals who died at the hands of the Nazis. In the eastern Berlin district of Friedrichshain, a street will be renamed ‘Ede and Unku,’ which was the name of a 1931 book about the true story of a friendship between a German worker’s son and a Sinti girl in pre-Nazi Germany. ‘Unku,’ otherwise known as Erna Lauenberger, was one of the many victims at Auschwitz.
In addition, a gymnasium in Berlin will take its name from the boxer Johann Trollmann, a Sinti who competed for Germany’s light-heavyweight title in 1933. Even though he won on points, the Nazis deemed his fighting style ‘un-German’ and used this as a reason to deny him the title. Trollmann later died in a concentration camp.
Germany is to also to create a memorial near the Reichstag later this year for the Romani victims of the Nazi regime.
Such recognition for these victims of the Holocaust is undoubtedly commendable. However, the fact remains that in many parts of Europe today, extensive prejudice still exists against Roma and Sinti.
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