Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day
75 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.
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 Roma Holocaust Survivors as well as representatives of Roma organizations, representatives of Polish government and parliament, European institutions, the diplomatic corps, Jewish community, representatives of regional and local authorities as well as the management and staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
Eva Fahidi-Pusztai, Auschwitz Survivor, told the participants her story. “Exactly 75 years ago, in the afternoon of August 2nd 1944, we were as usual in Birkenau, doing nothing; we were forbidden to do anything and ordered no to enter the barracks; we had to sit in the sun, which was so hot that it was burning our skin. Sitting still was some part of our punishment, we felt totally useless and stupid”.
“The evening roll call took place as usual. It was getting dark, but suddenly I felt like in the middle of the day and heard a terrible noise (…). People knew that they were driven away to the gas chamber. They were fighting with stones, sticks and whatever they could grab in their hands. They were shouting, swearing, praying. The SS men let growling dogs out towards them and they attacked them. The panic was immense and the noise insupportable; children were crying for their mothers, who would try to calm them down”, she said.
The Survivors was also telling about the perpetrators of these crimes. “I hope that those who had committed that cruel crime would never ever, until the rest of their lives or even longer, hear anything else than terrifying sounds of that night. They should feel the terror of the night and day of all those who were murdered that night. They should never rest in peace. Shakespeare knew the worst curse: May they suffer eternal damnation!”.
Else Baker was only eight years old when she was sent to Auschwitz. She presented her traumatic experience as follows: “I was only eight years old and alone. It was like hell. I will never forget this moment. I have never seen so many people. They were covered with rags. They looked like skeletons and their eyes were totally empty. Terrifying. There are no words to describe it. And I was just a child. Completely alone among strangers.
“Dozens of years passed before I started talking about the horror which I experienced. Even today, it is hard for me to come back to the grounds of former extermination camp Auschwitz. I had the first-hand experience of the persecution of Roma and Sinti, anti-Semitism and racism. Three out of four of my biological siblings and my biological mother were murdered by the Nazi. I was the only one to survive Auschwitz. Thanks to the luck and selfless deeds of other people”, she added.
Else Baker also told about the Memory of those who perished in Auschwitz. “We may never forget the fate of those who were killed and those who survived the camps. This is why I am standing here today. In these times when racist groups are gaining influence, it is not enough to remember about Nazi crimes. All of them – camp Survivors, but also young people – need to defend democracy and human rights. We may never be sure whether Nazi crimes will repeat.
Nadir Dedic, Survivor of the Jasenovac camp, said in his speech: “It makes me anxious that together with the end of WW2, discrimination and exclusion of minorities did not come to their end. I cannot stand this silence and the fact of ignoring what happened and still happens to the Roma.
“No matter if it is Jasenovac or Auschwitz, we cannot forget what had happened here. I urge and call you not to let further acts of racism directed at the Roma community happen. Let us promote the life in community, based on mutual respect and not hatred, contempt and exclusion”, Dedic added.
Romani Rose, Head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, in his speech addressed the participants of ceremony as follows: “This is the heritage of all Holocaust Victims. All those who were murdered by the Nazi. All those who need to be remembered. This heritage needs to be passed on future generations. I have no doubts that the Memory of those who were murdered will never be forgotten by all these young people who are here today”.
Jesse L. Jackson Sr., American civil rights activist, also referred to the crimes committed in Auschwitz and in the occupied Europe: “The growth of German fascism and its spreading throughout Europe together with the Holocaust became one of the greatest crimes against humanity. The world will always remember the Jewish genocide, fuelled with Nazi racism and nationalism, systematically attacking and killing six million people, 2/3 of Jewish population of Europe”.
Continuing his speech, he said: “Let this also be the time to cure the amnesia concerning the history of the Roma in Europe, who were the target of genocide. – “Forgotten Holocaust”. Today we are turning our pain into power. We say Never again! Never again to anti-Semitism. Never again to the fight with Gypsies. Never again to racism, fascism and white nationalism – here in Europe, in America and all over the world”, Reverend Jackson said.
“The Roma in Europe have faced the same situation as African Americans – the victims of genocide and violence; deprivation of voting rights, segregation and marginalization. This heritage led the Roma community to poverty, with unequal education and segregation of their places of residence, the target of brutal attacks by right-wing nationalists, tortures, and even murders. The Roma – similarly to African Americans and those with different skin color – have for years suffered from the denial of human and civil rights. Walls were constructed basing on fear, hatred and ignorance – people separated by these walls endured unimaginable brutality”, he emphasized.
While summarizing his speech, Reverend Jackson presented how unity should be constructed nowadays: “Now new bridges need to be built, based on hope and healing, unity and love. In today’s world there are no foreigners. We are all neighbours who need to learn how to live together.
Marek Suski, Head of the Political Cabinet of the Prime Minister, read the letter of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki addressed to the participants of the ceremony: “Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day reminds us of tragic fate of these communities in Poland and in Europe during the war. It reminds us what totalitarianism and rejection of humanity, fuelled by hatred, may lead to. 75 years ago, the most tragic act in the planned process of Sinti and Roma genocide took place. Today, at the former German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, we pay homage to the victims and declare that their memory will last forever”, we can read in the letter.
A day before the commemorative event Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Director of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, was honoured with the Special Distinction of the Civil Rights Prize of the Sinti and Roma. The award ceremony took place in Cracow during a special concert organized at the eve of the Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day.
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.