How many of you know that this week Canada remembers the victims of the Holocaust (O Porrajmos) during their Holocaust Education Week? And how many know the true devastation of the Roma and Sinte at the hands of the Nazis? Reading the news this morning, I came across several articles from the Hamilton Spectator (Canada). It was interesting, because it is the first time I’ve really seen the Roma and Sinte addressed so completely during any such memorial week.
As Madeleine Levy, co-chair of the Holocaust Education Committee says, “There were many, many victims in the Holocaust — Jews, Roma, Sinti and Jehovah Witness. Their stories have not been told. Only by looking back can we make a brighter future for all the citizens in our community. We need to break down the walls of stereotyping and bullying and hatred.”
Rosa herself lived in Bratislava, Slovakia. Like many families, hers had no choice but to go into hiding as opposition forces advanced on the town. They were forced to split up and she was separated from her mother.
“I was told if I was a good girl, Mama would come see me on Christmas,” Rosa said.
The small child took refuge with a strange family on the outskirts of the city. She remembers the house was very well-positioned with gardens in the front yard. It was hard to see from the road. A dog outside served as an alarm bell. She knew to hide if it started barking. Close to four months went by. Her mother kept her promise and came for the holidays. She remembers lying in her arms on a cot in the kitchen when it happened.
Suddenly the room flooded with armed soldiers.
“What can I say? The dog didn’t bark,” she said slowly and pained.
But, still the Roma and Sinte are largely forgotten in memorials and remembrances of the Holocaust. As a recent post I wrote illustrates, information on the Roma and Sinte who were killed or imprisoned during the Porrajmos is very limited and difficult to access. However, as far as I can tell, none of the speakers during Holocaust Education Week are Roma or Sinte, which to me is also a problem in our remembrance. When are we going to be involved?
Yet, the article below (from the Spectator) really struck a chord with me:
Karen Polak, who works at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, noted in an address Monday night that a monument to the Roma genocide was unveiled in Berlin on Oct. 24 — German chancellor Angela Merkel attended — and Poland has designated Aug. 2 a national commemoration day to recognize the gassing of 2,000 Romas on Aug. 2, 1944, at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
But Polak said it remains a “work in progress” and she only learned in recent times about a camp in Austria that held Roma — formerly known as Gypsies — called “Gypsy Camp Lackenbach” in the late 1930s. It held 2,000 Roma.
Polak was the guest speaker at a symposium held in the auditorium of The Hamilton Spectator and sponsored by the Hamilton Jewish Federation Holocaust Education Committee, the United Roma of Hamilton and Hamilton police.
The symposium, attended by more than 100 people, is part of local events recognizing International Holocaust Education Week. It was entitled The Forgotten Genocide: The Process of Exclusion and Persecution of Roma and Sinti (another member of the Gypsy nation) in Past and Present.
The symposium was opened by Micheal Butch and Shelly Coopersmith of the Toronto band Gypsy Rebels. They played the Roma national anthem Jelem Jelem (I went, I went).
Polak is a member of the Dutch delegation to the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Research and Remembrance and chairs a subcommittee on the Roma genocide. She has worked at the Anne Frank House for two decades.
Polak said the exact number of Roma killed by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 is not known, but the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says historians estimate Germans and their allies killed about 25 per cent of the European Roma. It is estimated there were about 1 million Roma living across Europe before the war, meaning about 250,000 were murdered.
Polak said one reason the genocide might have been forgotten is that the vast majority of Roma killed by the Nazis were children and the survivors were young and uneducated who, after the war, “were not able to speak out.”
She noted that, in some parts of Europe today, Roma still face persecution and hatred. She cited a TV commercial by a far-right party in Hungary in 2010 featured someone complaining about the Roma and then a man swatting a fly on his hand.
Polak said Roma were designated by the Nazis as “born criminals” because of their wandering ways in caravans and jobs such as artisans, tinkers, grinders and blacksmiths. She said, however, many lived in towns and cities and had done so for decades.
She said the Roma were the first racial group to be rounded up by the Nazis and placed in concentration camps. They were not registered in Germany or the countries that Germany occupied during the war, and that played a role in the tragedy.
“Certainly, when people are out there committing genocide, they are not looking to register (anyone),” she said.