The 2nd August marks Roma Holocaust Memorial Day and has particular significance in the history of the persecution of Roma and Sinti people. It is a persecution that has in many ways continued, and we must use this moment to pause and reflect but also to renew our efforts to tackle persecution and oppression faced by Roma people all over the world.
Roma and Sinti people were the only other group persecuted by the Nazis due to their ethnicity and with an aim of wiping them out of existence. It sat within the Nazi policy of racial purity, as well as within a longer history of a people caught between policies across Europe and the UK that viewed them as both backwards and too ‘impure’ or incapable of integrating into society. The Nazi persecution followed the same routes as the persecution of the Jewish people – laws around blood purity, the creation of institutions to study the ‘Gypsyproblem’, and finally the 1938 Decree for Combating the Gypsy Plague. Essentially the ‘final solution’ to the Roma question. From there Roma people were subjected to the stages of genocide that ultimately led to their deaths. The last 4,300 Roma incarcerated in Auschwitz were murdered despite resisting to the last, and whilst some might argue that the facts of the day have been inflated, what remains is a spirit of resistance and a people fighting for their own survival.
European Holocaust Memorial Day for Roma and Sinti people was only created by the European Parliament in 2015 - 77 years after the 1938 decree. In the aftermath of the Second World War there was little to no recognition of the Roma victims and they were offered no compensation, no memorialisation and no creation of laws to conserve the memory of Roma and Sinti victims. A hierarchy of victimhood has been consciously created whereby Roma and Sinti victims have been made into a kind of secondary group. We see this in the debate around numbers, the arguments about the right to use the word Holocaust and the lack of memorialisation in this country. The government does not mark Roma Holocaust Memorial Day and it is notable that the recent announcement of the Holocaust memorial near to the Houses of Parliament drew focus away from Roma victims just days before Roma Holocaust Memorial Day as they were firmly plonked in the ‘other victims’ category with no mention of the upcoming date.
The marking of this date remains vitally important, especially since the persecution of Roma and Sinti people continues. We see persecution at a state-wide level of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers: Ghettoisation, forced or coercive sterilisation (as recognised by the recent compensation ruling in the Czech Republic), removal of Roma children into specialist schools, and legislation which disproportionately affects Roma and Sinti people. Wide raging recognition of and observation of Roma Holocaust Memorial Day is vital in face of a tide of rising Right Wing and Fascist views across Europe, including the UK. The last few months have seen anti-Roma Fascist rallies in Budapest, targeted murders of Romani families in Brazil and the death of Stanislav Tomas in the Czech Republic after a policeman kneeled on his neck while holding him down.
Memorialising Roma Holocaust Day is an act of resistance. Refusing to hide cultures, stories, traditions as well as acknowledging the history of persecution of Roma people and those who resisted it, reminds people that we don’t exist in a state of passive victimhood, it honours those people and for those of us from other nomadic cultures it reminds us of the importance of not just endurance but of loudly proclaiming our existence despite attempts to destroy us. Roma, Romany Gypsies, Travellers – we are still here.
The memorial to the Sinti & Roma killed in the Holocaust, located Auschwitz Birkenau (2018)
Krystyna Gil, survivor and Holocaust educator speaking at DHNB 2018. She passed away this year and you can read her story here