Sinti and Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. 76th anniversary of the liquidation of the Roma camp in Auschwitz
August 2 is celebrated in Poland as the Sinti and Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. 76 years ago, on the night of August 2–3, 1944, the Germans liquidated the so-called Auschwitz II-Birkenau family camp for Gypsies (Zigeunerfamilienlager). About 4,300 children, women and men, the last Roma prisoners of the camp, were murdered in the gas chambers. Due to sanitary restrictions, part of the celebration was moved online. The victims were also commemorated on the grounds of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
Several dozen people met at the monument commemorating the extermination of Roma and Sinti. Wreaths were laid and tribute was paid to the victims. As a result of the ongoing pandemic, most of the commemorative events were moved online. The virtual event commemorating 500,000 Sinti and Roma murdered in Nazi-occupied Europe is the focus of this year's activities on the European Sinti and Roma Holocaust Memorial Day on August 2.
On the special website https://www.roma-sinti-holocaust-memorial-day.eu/ you can find a wide range of information on the Sinti and Roma extermination. There you can also watch a multilingual memorial event open to an international audience.
Roman Kwiatkowski, the president of the Roma Association in Poland, said: “Memory and the past constitute the foundations on which we base the consciousness of our nation. But it is the present and the future when we will pursue our ambitions, common life in line with the harmony surrounding us. Our rights and obligations not only as Roma, but as members of communities we live in. Indifference is a great temptation, but indifference today means approval for discrimination.
Romani Rose, chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, underlines the importance of joint celebrations commemorating these events. “Today, Europe is facing a new nationalism, antigypsyism and antisemitism again. Recently, we have witnessed many right-wing terrorist attacks in Germany and other European countries. Commemorating historical events is our duty now and in the future. Remembering the crimes of National Socialism and the Holocaust today, we must simultaneously defend democracy and the rule of law,” said Rose.
“Discrimination against Sinti and Roma society is present almost all over Europe, in many countries. Whether we want to remember it or not, there are countries, regions, cities where ghettos still exist today, perhaps not de jure, but de facto, where Roma, Sinti, Gitans, Manouches are closed, all those we call sometimes romantically traveling people, who we don't really accept in our communities based on full citizenship rights. Remember - discrimination causes exclusion that leads to dehumanization, and that ends with genocide,” said the director of the Auschwitz Museum, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, PhD.
“It is easy to imagine that it is quiet and peaceful because we live in a new Europe. There is no such thing as a new Europe. Two or three generations is definitely not enough to change some basic vectors of human behaviour. Especially if these behaviours are combined with completely basic human feelings. Such as pride, vainglory, fear or aversion. We live in Europe that continues to create and tolerate discrimination,” added director Cywiński.
The Nazis regarded Roma as a “hostile element”, “by inheritance” conditioned by propensity to commit crimes and anti-social behaviour. From 1933, alongside Jews, they became the target of racist persecution: first through registration, deprivation of the right to practice certain professions, prohibition of mixed marriages, then forced labour, and finally imprisonment in concentration camps.
With the outbreak of World War II, a decision was made to relocate German Roma to occupied Poland. The German police authorities began to arrest and execute Roma in the occupied territories, including those at the rear of the eastern front, where they were murdered en masse by the so-called Einsatzkommandos.
After Heinrich Himmler issued an order to send them to Auschwitz, from 1943 Sinti and Roma, mainly from Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland, were deported there. In total, the Germans deported about 23,000 Roma to Auschwitz, of which 2,000 were murdered without being entered into the camp records. Twenty-one thousand people were registered in the camp, of which about 19,000 died - they died of starvation and diseases, and were murdered in the gas chamber at the time of the liquidation of the “Gypsy camp”.
Today, at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in block 13, you can see an exhibition commemorating the extermination of Roma and Sinti, which shows the extent of the Nazi genocide committed against Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the former Birkenau camp, in sector BIIe, there is a monument commemorating the victims of the Roma nationality.