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Catalan gypsies pay tribute to Auschwitz's Romani victims on the 70th anniversary of the genocide

Sixty Catalans travelled to Poland to honour the victims of the Romani genocide in Auschwitz concentration camp which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the horrific crime. The delegation consisted of members of the Federation of Gypsy Associations of Catalonia (FAGIC), the Nakeramos Intercultural Association, formed by young people from Barcelona, and the women's group, Veus Gitanes. The five-day commemoration was organised by the International Roma Youth Network, ternYpe, which remembered that on the night of the 2nd to the 3rd  of August 1944, the Nazi regime killed 2,897 Romani people in the so-called ‘Gypsy Family Camp’ in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Conferences, thematic history workshops and meetings with Roma survivors from the death camps were held on the 2nd of August to pay tribute to the Roma Genocide victims at a ceremony in Auschwitz. Delegations from 20 other countries gathered to attend the commemorative events.

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06 August 2014 06:50 PM

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ACN / Neringa Sinkeviciute

Krakow (ACN).- Sixty Catalans travelled to Poland to honour the victims of the Roma genocide in Auschwitz concentration camp which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the horrific crime. The delegation consisted of members of the Federation of Gypsy Associations of Catalonia (FAGIC), the Nakeramos Intercultural Association, formed by young people from Barcelona, and the gipsy women's group, Veus Gitanes. The five-day commemoration was organised by the International Roma Youth Network, ternYpe, which remembered that on the night of the 2nd to the 3rd of August 1944, the Nazi regime killed all the Romani people that remained in Auschwitz-Birkenau, mostly from the Sinti community. 2,897 men, women and children were massacred in the so-called ‘Gypsy Family Camp’ in the Nazi extermination compound. Conferences, thematic history workshops and meetings with Romani survivors from the death camps were held on the 2nd of August to pay tribute to the Sinti and Roma Genocide victims at a ceremony in Auschwitz, as well as to raise awareness of the fate of Romani people. Delegations from 20 other countries gathered to attend the commemorative events and to pay their respects to the victims.


Educational projects to promote awareness of the Roma persecution by the Nazis

Last week the Pedagogical University of Cracow hosted lectures by international experts, thematic training and history workshops and exchanges between different generations, as well as meetings with Roma survivors from the death camps. The conferences were held on the 2nd of August in order to pay tribute to the Romani genocide victims, which included many people from the Sinti community, at a ceremony in Auschwitz, as well as to raise awareness of the fate of Romani people. 60 members of the Catalan gypsy community joined more than 1,000 Roma and Sinti from over 20 different countries, not only to honour those facts but also to prove that racism and discrimination are still very common and that Romani people remain victims in various parts of Europe.

Although the Romani ethnic minority and their persecution by German Nazis does not often occupy the first pages of the history books, neither are they under the media focus, many gipsies were killed by Hitler's regime. The knowledge about what really happened 70 years ago must not die with the few remaining survivors. The Roma people were one of the main victim groups of the Nazi regime, together with Jewish, black, homosexual, communist, homeless and mentally ill people, as well as Jehovah's witnesses. However, the Roma genocide was often referred to as the “forgotten Holocaust” which still seems valid today. It is widely recognised that the persecution and mass killing of the Romani people, and particularly those who belong to the Central-European Sinti community, has been largely overlooked by society.

According to official estimations, Nazi Germany's extermination policy led to the death of over half a million Roma and Sinti people from all over Europe. These figures are part of an ongoing research process and several investigators argue that in reality there were many more victims. Since most Romani communities of Central and Eastern Europe were much less organized than other victims of Nazi brutality, such as the Jewish communities, it has been more difficult to assess the actual number of victims. The fact that many of the gipsy victims were sent directly to gas chambers without being registered also hinders research.

In addition, many people still do not know about the Roma victims who suffered discrimination, forced slave labour, arbitrary internment, and mass murder under the Third Reich and its allied governments.

Historical background: brutal and inhuman acts beyond comprehension

The Romani people, who originated in northwest India, most likely in the Punjab region, firstly came to Europe between the 8th and 10th centuries. The Nazis initially considered them as 'Aryans' and, in its madness, the dictatorial regime thought that they could be "re-educated." In about 1940, the objective brutally changed to extermination under the Nazi ideology of "racial purity." The Roma tried to fight against the deprivation of their rights and used various forms of resistance. This resistance became more pronounced from the 16th of May 1944, with the rebellion in the camp section B II e of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the so-called "gipsy mixed camp", which meant children, men and women were imprisoned there together. When the SS wanted to murder the Roma prisoners in the gas chambers on that day, they armed themselves with stones, sticks and other tools. They barricaded themselves in the quarters and were thus able to avoid imminent extermination for the time being. However, after crushing the rebellion, the commander of the camp decided to separate Romani people and redistribute them to different camps, leaving less than 3,000 in Auschwitz-Birkenau, mostly children. Over the course of a single night, Romani people were taken to gas chamber V and incinerated in the crematorium. 70 years ago, on the night between the 2nd and 3rd of August, the Nazis sent 2,897 Roma and Sinti people to their deaths. Entire families were lost forever.

Since the end of the war hardly any attention has been paid to the persecution of the Roma and Sinti during World War II, and mass murders of the Roma people have only mentioned briefly. It was not until late 1979 that the West German Federal Parliament acknowledged the Nazi persecution of the Roma as being racially motivated. In 1982 the Third Reich persecution of Romani people was recognized by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as genocide. The first German trial decision to take legal awareness that Roma were genocide victims during Hitler's dictatorship was passed in 1991.

Widespread tendencies of Roma discrimination

The Romani people, the largest ethnic minority in Europe, which includes Roma, Sinti, Kale and Manouche subgroups among others, have lived in Europe for approximately 10 centuries. However, they have faced discrimination, persecution and violence throughout much of history, and even today, 70 years later, racism, negative stereotypes and perception of this ethnic minority as 'social outcasts' remain remarkably common in different societies across Europe. According to several Romani entities and human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, antigypsism continues to grow in the old continent, and nowadays in countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania, the issue takes dangerous dimensions which have already cost the lives of several people of this ethnic group. As the slogan of the conference says, 'Dikh he na bister' (Look and do not forget). Teaching about the past tragedy of the Roma under the Nazi regime and promoting intercultural dialogue and tolerance is the key to a better understanding of their present situation and the prevention of discrimination.

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  • Catalan romani people travelled to Auschwitz to participate in a hommage for the Nazi victims of their community (by Veus Gitanes)

  • Catalan romani people travelled to Auschwitz to participate in a hommage for the Nazi victims of their community (by Veus Gitanes)

  • Catalan romani people travelled to Auschwitz to participate in a hommage for the Nazi victims of their community (by Veus Gitanes)
  • Catalan romani people travelled to Auschwitz to participate in a hommage for the Nazi victims of their community (by Veus Gitanes)