Council of Europe honours victims and survivors of Roma Holocaust
The Council of Europe honoured the memory of Roma Holocaust victims and survivors with commemorations at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and at the Organisation’s Strasbourg headquarters.
“Remembrance not only focuses on the past, but also points the way to the future,” said Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland during a wreath-laying ceremony at the forecourt of the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg.
Joined by Ambassador Katrin Kivi, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the Council of Europe, Miranda Vuolasranta, President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) and Nawel Rafik‑Elmrini, Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg, the Secretary General expressed concern over rising anti‑Semitism and anti-Gypsyism in several European democracies.
He said that Roma today are “under threat” in several Council of Europe member States, suffering frequent physical aggression and widespread anti-Roma hate speech on the Internet, and even in mainstream political discourse. “We had hoped that the remembrance of the Holocaust of millions of Jews and Roma would prevent the return of dangerous ideologies. Were we too optimistic?”
On the same day, some 400 Roma and non-Roma young people from across Europe gathered at Auschwitz-Birkenau for a commemoration called Dikh he na Bister (“Look and don’t forget”). Six former Roma inmates attended the Auschwitz ceremony, which was supported by the Council of Europe.
This year marks the 72nd anniversary of the height of the atrocities committed against Roma during World War II. Roma organisations commemorate this tragedy on 2 August, the date on which in 1944, some 3 000 Roma were exterminated in the gas chambers of the so-called "Zigeunerlager" (Gypsy camp) at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
While it is not known exactly how many were killed in the Roma Holocaust, which is also known as Pharrajimos, many historians estimate that the Nazis and their allies murdered at least one quarter of the estimated one million Roma living in Europe before World War II.
Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here today together with representatives of the Estonian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), and of the City of Strasbourg, to pay homage to the victims of the Roma Holocaust (Pharrajimos) – to the Roma men, women and children murdered in the extermination camp of Auschwitz on 2 August 1944 – but also to the hundreds of thousands of Roma who perished all over Europe during the Second World War, through the hands of henchmen of the Nazi and other regimes and their allies.
We are gathered here today on 2 August at 12 o’clock noon, at the same time as the main ceremony takes place in Ausschwitz, and many related events all over Europe.
In the night from the 2nd to the 3rd of August 1944, several thousand Sinti and Roma were massacred at the so-called Zigeunerlager (the “Gypsy camp”) in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, mainly women, children and the elderly. The crematorium burnt all night.
The horrors of the Roma Holocaust are an undeniable part of our history. However, for a long time, Europe has turned a blind eye on to what had happened.
We are here to keep the memory alive.
It is crucial to end the silence that has lasted for decades. Europe has a duty to face up to its legacy and to learn from past mistakes so that there will be no repetition.
But remembrance does not only focus on the past, it also builds bridges between the past and the present, and it points the way for the future.
We had hoped that the remembrance of the Holocaust of millions of Jews and Roma would prevent the return of dangerous ideologies. Were we too optimistic?
Anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism are on the increase again in several European democracies.
Extremist’s movements and extreme right-wing parties are mushrooming in many Council of Europe member States.
Roma are not welcome in their home countries, let alone in countries receiving them.
Many in Europe not only forgot past sufferings, but continued the century-old practices of discrimination, ghettoization and segregation of Roma.
Today, Roma are under threat in several Council of Europe member States.
Physical aggression against them is frequent.
Anti-Roma hate speech is widespread on the Internet, and can even be found in the mainstream political discourse.
What can we do to change the way how Roma are seen and treated?
The Council of Europe, the European Human Rights watchdog and defender, has taken up this challenge and has made the fight for the social inclusion of Roma a political priority.
We have worked with well-known and respected scholars to elaborate materials for the teaching of the Roma Holocaust. Innovative projects and tools are promoted to foster knowledge of the common history of Roma and non-Roma. The objective is to encourage the recognition of the Roma Holocaust, and to acknowledge the positive contribution by Roma to Europe’s historical and cultural heritage and diversity.
We are running the Dosta! campaign throughout many member States, to address the negative stereotypes about Roma.
We are running projects to assist municipalities and regions to strengthen Roma inclusion, and to improve the mediation between Roma communities and public authorities.
We are working with the OSCE and the European Union, with ministries, schools, and civil society organisations.
However, as European citizens, every one of us, we have the responsibility not to close our eyes. We must know, inform, educate, and empower. And stand up for non-discrimination and the protection of human rights and democracy.
This ceremony helps to keep the memory of the Roma Holocaust alive. And the key message is: “Never again!”
May the remembrance also help to create a better future for all Sinti and Roma in Europe.
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