Acknowledging the Nazi Genocide against Gypsies
by Ruth Barnett
This year, both personally as a Jew and as a member of Rene Cassin, I attended two moving events on August 2nd and August 3rd, commemorating the murder of Gypsies in the Holocaust. On August 2nd I was invited to say a few words in a gathering of the Roma Community in Luton. On August 3rd I was invited to wear a triangle with a Z on it in a small group meeting at the Holocaust Memorial in Hyde Park for a brief service in Romanes, ending with the Roma National Anthem “Dzelem, dzelem”. Special Prayers were included for Malin Iliev, the local government candidate in Sandanski, Bulgria, who was killed by a parcel bomb delivered to the Roma Party office on July 29th of this year.
In the night of August 2nd/3rd 1944, the 4000 inmates of the ‘Zigeunerlager’ (Gypsy Camp) were annihilated in Auschwitz. This is the
date that the International Roma Union instigated in 1981 (at its 3rdCongress in Goettingen, Germany) for annual commemoration of the Nazi genocide against Sinti and Roma in which over half a million were murdered. This genocide is named ‘Porrajmos’ – the devouring.
The formation of this international Roma organisation enabled the beginning of recognition of the 10-12 million Roma and Travellers in Europe as a composite ethnic minority group, who were victims of Nazi ‘racial policy’ and are still suffering extreme racial discrimination today.
It is a beginning that has been delayed for far too long. The post-war German government regarded the Sinti and Roma survivors as a ‘social nuisance’. It refused to acknowledge them as Nazi victims until 1982 when a hunger strike in Dachau concentration camp forced its hand. With some compensation then forthcoming, the Sinti & Roma Documentation and Cultural Centre was founded in Heidelberg, Germany in 1987 and contains the only permanent exhibition so far dedicated to Porrajmos.
It is also a beginning of recognition of Roma and Travellers as an essential part of the European communities in which they live. This
recognition is all too slow in maturing as there seems to be massive resistance to giving up the stereotypes and prejudices that underpin
anti-Gypsy discrimination and hatred, the last bastion of culturally acceptable racism. Educational materials that challenge this discrimination and prejudice are now available but not yet widely enough publicised, used or even known about.
It is fitting that the Jewish Shoah is commemorated in Jewish communities rather than with public events. Similarly it is appropriate that Porrajmos is commemorated in Roma communities with invited supporters rather than in public. However, the Holocaust was a crime against all of Humanity and does not ‘belong’ to Jews or Roma. The whole of Humanity needs to learn about what happened and mourn the losses that were Humanities loss. Therefore, in my opinion, in public events around January 27th, which is International Holocaust Memorial Day, it is not acceptable to add a footnote somewhere to the effect that the Nazis murdered ‘lots of others’. Several groups of ‘others’ were considered by the Nazis as ‘Untermenschen’(inferior sub-human) and not worth keeping alive or even allowing to have life; but only Jews and Sinti/Roma were earmarked by the Nazis for annihilation as a threat to the ‘master race’ on grounds of fatally ‘poisoning’ the ‘pure Aryan blood’.
For this reason, as a Jew, I do not consider I have the right to protest about injustice against Jews unless I also protest at injustice against Roma and Travellers. Particularly, it saddens me how many people are indifferent to the suffering that their attitude causes Roma and Travellers because they do not even consider them part of the community. Positive information to challenge these attitudes needs to be spread more widely to counteract the usually negative press about Travellers and Roma. I hope schools and local authorities planning events for Holocaust Memorial Day January 27th 2013 will include some history of Roma and Travellers before, during and after the Holocaust similar to what is presented increasingly well about the Jewish communities.
Ruth Barnett, August 2012
Photo: Roma Nation Day protest April 2012, Rob Pinney