Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass,
The tragedy of the Holocaust was a crucial consideration in the development of European integration; Simone Veil, the first female President of the European Parliament, described it as the horrible price paid for allowing totalitarian ideologies, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism take hold on the continent, with the resultant dehumanisation of certain groups of people. Veil also deeply regretted the lack of widespread knowledge of the whole history of the period, including that the memory of the Roma Holocaust was not brought to public attention.
It was only in 1982 that Germany recognised the racial grounds for the deportations, imprisonment and extermination of Roma and Sinti people in Nazi concentration camps in Europe. It was also not until 2001 that the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum devoted a permanent exhibition to Roma and Sinti victims, where Romani and Sinti, armed with sticks and stones, had resisted being removed from barracks in May 1944. On 2 August 1944 the Nazis, fearing the rebellion could spread, sent around 3 000 Roma people from the Gypsy Camp to their death.
This was just one of many events that marked the Roma Holocaust, which took a toll of between 220 000 and 500 000 Roma victims – between one quarter and a half of the Roma and Sinti population of the pre-war period. The exact number is not known, since the victims’ families did not officially report their losses and the perpetrators erased the records of their crimes.
In April 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the occasion of ‘International Roma Day – anti-Gypsyism in Europe and EU recognition of the memorial day of the Roma genocide during World War II’. The general term ‘Roma’ covers various groups, such as Roma, Travellers, Sinti, Manouches, Kalés, Romanichels, Boyash, Ashkalis, Égyptiens, Yéniches, Doms and Loms, with diverse cultures and lifestyles. In the context of growing anti-Gypsyism, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia in Europe, the EP called for the establishment of a European day of commemoration of the victims of Roma genocide during World War II ‘The European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day’. This call was reiterated in a further EP resolution adopted in October 2017 ‘Fundamental rights aspects in Roma integration in the EU: fighting anti-gypsyism’, designating 2 August as a Memorial Day, as well as appealing for the inclusion of Roma victims in Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp in January 1945.
The European Parliament commemorated the memory of the Roma and Sinti victims of Nazi extermination on 27 January 2018, inviting representatives of Roma people for the commemoration and hosting an exhibition devoted to Roma genocide.
Holocaust education is crucial to keeping the memory of Roma victims alive. EU funding from the Europe for Citizens programme supports projects related to World War II Roma history. The Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative is one such project, undertaken and coordinated by the ternYpe International Roma Youth Network, aiming at raising awareness of the Roma Holocaust among educators. Macedonia and Hungary participated in a similar project ‘Roma Genocide – Part of European History‘, and commemorated Roma victims on 2 August 2015 in the Csillagerőd (Star Fortress) in Komárom, from where thousands of Roma were deported to concentration camps.