Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day
72 years ago, on the night of 2 to 3 August 1944, the Germans liquidated the so-called Gypsy family camp (Zigeunerfamilienlager) of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Nearly 3000 children, women and men of the last Roma prisoners were murdered in the gas chambers. In Poland, August 2nd is the Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day. On this occasion, the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust prepared a special exhibition in the Google Cultural Institute entitled “Roma in Auschwitz”
Several hundred people attended the ceremony dedicated to the anniversary of the event, which took place at the former German Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. At the monument commemorating the extermination of the Roma within the former Zigeunerfamilienlager, people gathered to lay wreaths and pay tribute to the victims.
Participants included, among others, ex-prisoners and survivors of the genocide, representatives of Roma organizations, the Polish government and parliament, diplomatic corps, the Jewish community, the management and staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and regional and local authorities.
Raymond Gureme, a French Roma aged 91 who survived the war hiding and taking part in the resistance movement actions said that he looked into the eyes of death many times. “I know that my name was on the list of those who were supposed to perish in Auschwitz”. He addressed his testimony to the young: “You are obliged to fight against discrimination, racism and violence the victims of which are the Roma and Sinti of the entire Europe. We, the old generation, raised the flame. Now it is your turn to keep it and make it burn brighter and brighter so that we get stronger”, he said.
His granddaughter Marine Hageman emphasized that she is very proud of her grandfather: “He fought to protect his family. He was trying to save them. He did not give up. He was fighting. He resisted. And despite the harm he suffered from the German and the French, he survived. As he says himself, he kindled the fire of strength and courage, in order to pass it to us so that we protect it and keep on kindling following his example”.
“The name “Auschwitz” constitutes not only the symbol of genocide organized by state institutions, in which perished five hundred thousand Sinti and Roma together with six million Jews, but also the symbol of crime against humanity, because of which the entire Europe plunged into darkness. After this civilization disaster, European nations created in the tedious process of reconciliation and integration the concept of democracy and states of law which constitute a basis for the European system of values”, said Romani Rose, Head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma. “We must not allow Europe to plunge into darkness again, we must confidently oppose the destruction of rules of the state of law. We have to fight for democracy and human rights over and over again”, he emphasized.
Wojciech Kolarski, Undersecretary of State in the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland emphasized that the commemorative event held today is the victory of Remembrance: “This remembrance constitutes the sign of objection and the sign of hope. We, the Poles, are particularly obliged to keep the memory alive as the death factories were brought into our land. It was Hitler’s Third Reich which, on the open and hospitable Polish land, the land which was the home of many nations and communities, constructed Auschwitz-Birkenau.“
Beata Kempa, the Head of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, read the letter addressed to the participants of the ceremony by Beata Szydło, Polish Prime Minister. “On the Remembrance Day of the Roma and Sinti, we pay tribute to the people murdered during the horror of the Second World War. We bow over their ashes, bearing in mind that it is our duty to preserve the memory of their fate, the memory of what hatred and rejection of humanity may lead to”, wrote Prime Minister Szydło.
“During the war the Roma experienced unimaginable sacrifice. But we have to remember both the victims as well as the heroes. Among them is Alfreda Markowska, member of the Polska Roma group, who risked her life in order to save about 50 children of Roma and Jewish origin from extermination. This brave woman, honoured by the late President Lech Kaczyński with the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta, became thanks to her attitude and sacrifice a part of the history of the Roma and of the history of Poland”, the letter says.
Roman Kwiatkowski, President of the Association of Roma in Poland, mentioned in his speech recent words of Pope Francis who said that the world is in a state of war. “Even the more so we need solidarity. We, the Roma, in particular, have never instituted any wars but we are always victims of wars”, he said. “I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart all those who are not Roma, but have decided to come join us today to honour the memory of our friends who perished. They were also your brothers”, emphasized Kwiatkowski.
“According to Adolf Hitler’s theory, each race had a different value and two nations were placed at the very bottom – the Roma and Jews. We are now standing within the premises of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, which constitutes the most sinister reminder and at the same time the symbol of murders performed on a mass scale. I am here today as a representative of the state of Israel and I bow my head down in front of the victims of extermination of the Roma nation”, said Anna Azari, Ambassador of Israel to Poland.
“The Jewish community of Poland unites in suffering with their Roma brothers. We pay tribute to the murdered and with all our strength say: never again”, said Leszek Piszewski, Vice President of the Jewish Community of Warsaw. “Only the remembrance of these events may protect us from the tragedy and crime which reoccurrence of the tragedy and crime during the Second World War, even though today, Europe and the world seem to be gradually forgetting about this lesson”, he emphasized.
The words of László Teleki, representative of Hungarian Parliament, reverberated strongly during remembrance events: “Today, people who escape from the atrocities of war, abandoning everything they possess in the search for security or intending to live a more decent life are now treated as enemies, they are demonized. For some people the word emigrant is the synonym of the word terrorist”, he emphasized.
It is estimated that the Germans imprisoned a total of approx. 23 thousand Roma men, women and children at Auschwitz. About 20 thousand died or were murdered in the camp. In the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in block 13, there is an exhibition commemorating the extermination of the Roma, which depicts the particular dimension of the Nazi genocide of the Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. Since 2011, August 2nd is in Poland the official Genocide Remembrance Day of the Roma and Sinti.