Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day
August 2nd is commemorated in Poland as the Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day. 74 years ago, on the night of the 2nd to the 3rd of August, the German liquidated in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp so called family camp for the Gypsies (Zigeunerfamilienlager). About 4.3 thousand children, women and men, the last Roma prisoners in the camp, were murdered in the gas chambers at that time. Main commemorative events took place within the premises of former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
This year’s commemoration began on August 1st with the ceremony by the ruins of the gas chamber and crematorium V in the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. The next day, August 2nd, several hundred people gathered by the monument commemorating the genocide of Roma and Sinti. Wreaths were laid and the present paid homage to the victims. Among the participants of commemorative events there were among others Holocaust Survivors as well as representatives of Roma organizations, Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydło, representatives of the Polish parliament, European institutions, the diplomatic corps, Jewish community, representatives of regional and local authorities as well as the management of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
Rita Prigmore, Holocaust Survivor, told the participants her story. She talked about her incarceration in the camp, about her family as well as post-war fight for indemnities. “Some people tell me: We don’t want to listen to these old stories from the Nazi period, we’ve had enough!”, Prigmore said. “Unfortunately, some politicians share this opinion. I feel very sorry about that, as I am convinced that it is necessary to talk about the history of our nation, Sinti and Roma. The nation who suffered indescribably under the Nazi rule and unfortunately, nowadays still experiences discrimination, racism and exclusion”, she noticed.
In her speech, Rita Prigmore referred also to the present times: “We live in the era when politicians build walls in order to win people’s votes. They accuse people coming to us in the state of extreme poverty that they abuse our social welfare system and practice “asylum tourism”. But this isn’t the case: tourists relax, enjoy their time, while asylum seekers escape from violence, war and poverty. They keep on telling us that we will live safer when we separate ourselves from the other and send the refugees back in order to protect our happiness and wealth. I think this is nonsense. We need to behave in a human way and build human-hearted Europe!”, the Survivor appealed.
“74 years ago, here where we are standing now, there was genuine hell”, Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydło said during her speech. “German torturers organized it in a very orderly manner. Arrival at the ramp, gender segregation, age selection, forced slave labour for Hitler’s totalitarian system or cruel death in the gas chamber. It was the hell arranged in straight alleys, with identical barracks and numbered crematoria. An inhuman place, even if designed by the people and for the people. The inhabitants of the entire Europe were the victims of this German death factory, mainly Jews and Poles, but also Roma, people from Russia, Bohemia, Belarus, Germany, France, Yugoslavia or Ukraine”, Prime Minister Szydło added.
“Today, we gather within the premises of the former KL Birkenau camp in order to recall the fate of the Roma murdered here. We gather here to revive them in our memories. Let me recall that when it comes to their number, the Roma constituted third largest group of deportees to Birkenau, after Jews and Poles. We remember about all victims of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau and other German death camps. We remember and will keep on reminding everybody of the totalitarian rule of Hitler, who in the name of inhuman ideology sentenced the innocent to death. Nazi propaganda also wanted to sentence them to oblivion. But we remember them and with our presence we testify it today. We will keep on reminding about it all as a warning so that it never happens again!”, Beata Szydło appealed.
Beate Klarsfeld, UNESCO Honorary Ambassador, began her speech by recalling the plans of German Nazi towards the Roma. “Similarly to Jews, Sinti and Roma were also considered a threat for so called “Aryan race”, and for this reason their entire community was persecuted and murdered: in the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in extermination camps in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek as well as in many other camps, in particular by Einsatzgruppen behind the eastern front line. The methods of murdering Jews and Roma were also the same. Similarly to Jews, the Roma were subjected to medical experiments and their children murdered in exactly the same way as Jewish children. The Roma were murder in the entire occupied Europe”, Klarsfeld said.
Next Beate Klarsfeld referred to the current times: “After the experience of Holocaust, as a result of a laborious process of reconciliation and integration, European nations built the vision of democracy and the rule of law which up to this day constitutes the foundation of the European community of values. However, we are today in particular the witnesses of how the achievements of our open and democratic European society, which were for a long time considered obvious, are more and more frequently questioned and nationalistic and populist movements divide Europe and societies in which we live. Many countries experience the hazard of polarization of their societies and development of extreme views. In Germany, nationalists and populists promoting extreme views full of contempt towards the other gain increasing influence. Ladies and Gentlemen, there is future in front of Europe only when it does not betray its initial ideals, its enlightenment and humanism. We cannot give in populists’ hands what we were conscientiously working on for decades”, Klarsfeld emphasized.
Dunji Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, referred in her speech to the presence of Survivors. “I would in particular like to express my respect for Rita Prigmore as well as other Survivors and their families who are with us here today”, Dunji Mijatović began her speech. “You have overcome your pain in order to come back to the place where you lost your relatives and friends, and your life was marked with a stigma forever. Your testimony and presence here today is the proof of your great courage and power. It reminds us that the obligation not to forget about what happened rests on our shoulders, together with the duty to act every day in order for the history never to repeat”, commissioner Mijatović noticed.
“Today, as every time when I come to this former extermination camp, I am also unable to find appropriate words in order to describe the emotions that this place awakens in me. These barracks, wires, laboratories, crematoria are the testimony of evil which can only constitute the work of those influenced by propaganda and prejudice as well as fear and hatred which they cause. […]. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum not only reminds us of our obligation to remember, but also awakens the necessity to promote it actively. It makes us willing to help current and future generations to get rid of prejudice and hatred which led to Holocaust and brought suffering on so many of our fellow human beings only because they were Jews, Roma, or simply there was no place for them in the evil plans of the Nazi regime”, Dunji Mijatović emphasized.
Dr. Hanna Machińska, Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, also talked about memory: “For many years, Roma genocide remained a painful internal experience, somehow closed in the memory of the Roma, not constituting the element of common remembrance. We often refer to the notion of Invisible Holocaust, even if its victims these were specific people, mothers, fathers, children, multi-generational families, single people. It was this “invisibility” which, in social space, was connected with traumas directly from the post-war period, as well as the traumas of the 21st century, experienced in the past and now by the Roma community”, said Hanna Machińska.
“Even if today, the memory of the Roma genocide constitutes part of our common experience, it is important to translate each act of remembrance of the Roma genocide into collective memory. The experience of genocide has to become our common experience. This tragedy must never repeat. For this reason, our shared task and shared responsibility is to prevent any forms of discrimination, hate speech, which often leads to crimes motivated by hatred, the victims of which are also the Roma”, Hanna Machińska, Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized.
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in its latest edition of Memoria monthly magazine, published the article by historians from the Museum Research Center analysing the last stage of the existence of the Roma sector. Read here: memoria.auschwitz.org/Lipiec2018
The history of Romani victims of the camp is presented in the online lesson “The Roma in Auschwitz” as well as in the 7th volume from the educational series Voices of Memory. On the websites of Google Cultural Institute one can also find the exhibition “The Roma in Auschwitz” prepared by the Museum.
It is estimated that the German incarcerated in the Auschwitz camp in total ca. 23 thousand Roma – men, women and children. About 20 thousand died or were murdered in the camp. In the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in Block 13, exhibition commemorating genocide of the Roma is displayed, presenting the extreme dimension of Nazi genocide on the Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe.