78th anniversary of liquidation of the Roma camp in Auschwitz
About a thousand people took part on August 2nd in the events commemorating the Sinti and Roma Holocaust Memorial Day at the Memorial Site. Among them there were the representatives of state authorities, international organizations, ambassadors, politicians, representatives of local authorities, institutions and museums.
During the night from August 2nd to 3rd 1944 the Germans liquidated so called family camp for the Gypsies (Zigeunerfamilienlager) within Auschwitz II-Birkenau. At the time they murdered in gas chambers about 4.3 thousand children, women and men, last Roma prisoners of the camp.
Helena Dalli, EU Commissionaire for Equality, said in her address to all those gathered within the premises of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, in front of the monument dedicated to Roma victims that today, we are all honoring the memory of the Roma deprived of their right to live during WW2: “We are commemorating the influence that this historical fact is still having on the Survivors, as well as Roma communities and its subsequent members. This occasion has a sobering effect, as we are surrounded by the evidence of the most inhuman period in the history of Europe. We cannot let the extermination perpetrated on the Roma be forgotten”.
"Our message has to remain clear: hatred and anti-Gypsy attitude constitute a fatal combination that may once again lead to unimaginable tragedies if we fail to act. […] May the commemoration of this day open our eyes and let us understand better the extermination perpetrated on the Roma”, Helena Dalli called.
Christian Pfeil, a Sinti whose family originated from Trier, while he was born in Lublin in 1944, addressed all those gathered. As he recalled, he was many time told that it was a miracle that he survived, because many members of his family were exterminated: “When I come to Auschwitz, I think most of all about the fate shared by my great-uncle’s children murdered here”, he said. He also addressed the young not to lose their courage to defend democracy and oppose anti-Gypsyism, anti-Semitism and racism.
Łukasz Kmita, Voivode of Lesser Poland, read the letter addressed by Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki to ceremony participants. The head of Polish government recalled in it that the Roma have been living on the Polish land for over 600 years. “These are the centuries of the shaping of Roma identity, caring for their rich tradition and unique customs. It is the period of co-existence of our nations. Holocaust of the Roma constitutes a tragic chapter in this heritage that remained forgotten for decades”, Prime Minister wrote.
"Bowing our heads over the ashes of those murdered we undertake the obligation that we shall make every effort possible in order for their memory not to remain only a ritual”, Mateusz Morawiecki emphasized in his letter.
Roman Kwiatkowski, President of the Roma Association in Poland, said: “We owe our survival to the defeat of the German Nazi war machine to allied forces, but also to human solidarity and a great will to exist shared by our sisters and brothers. The Roma survived, but unfortunately, the ideologies that, in the name of one nation’s superiority over the other, were not forgotten, they would not refrain from terror and crime.
Referring to the Russian war in Ukraine he said: "A year ago, I would not have imagined that next time, we would meet in the shadow of the war. Unfortunately, in the name of an unimaginable lust for power, feeling of supremacy, ideology of hatred, the blood of innocent victims is shed on the land of our eastern neighbor. In this senseless and cruel war there are also Ukrainian Roma that fight and perish. Their mothers, wives and daughters are escaping this war, coming also here, to Poland. This period requires the entire international community as well as all of us individually to unite. The world may not surrender to the dictatorship of power. We have already learned this lesson in the past – concession leads to further unlawful claims. Holocaust would not have happened, extermination of the Roma either, if the passivity of the western world had not had made the Nazi fell unpunished”, Roman Kwiatkowski emphasized.
Romani Rose, Head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, referred in his speech to the symbols of current Remembrance. He emphasized that the name Auschwitz signifies not only the extermination of 500 thousand Sinti and Roma as well as six million Jews, but at the same time an unprecedented gap in civilization that made the entire Europe follow straight into the abyss.
"The achievement of open democratic society, for many years considered obvious, is being questioned more and more frequently, while anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism again pose a threat to human life”, Romani Rose said. “When I turn my eyes several hundred kilometers to the east from the site where we have gathered today and see what is happening in Ukraine, I think that it is the place where our defeat towards the heritage of Auschwitz victims is reflected. I refer here not only to Russian invasive war, but often also to inhuman living conditions of Ukrainian Roma, with the number of their population estimated at 400 thousand”, Rose referred to current events.
Bodo Ramelow, President of the German Bundesrat, took the floor during the commemorative events as well: “We are here today to look this horror straight into the eyes and thus make it visible. We are here in order to pay homage to the victims and mourn them together. And we are also here, together with Survivors and younger members of their families, to honor their memory.
He emphasized that the Germans commemorate this memorial day together with the Roma: “The obligation of our societies is to recognize the victims, to tell Survivors and their descendants that something like this shall never repeat […]. Germany and other countries in which you live need you. You are an important part of our social and cultural life. You belong to us. Please, be visible”, Bodo Ramelow said.
During his speech Director of the Auschwitz Museum, Piotr Cywiński, Ph.D., referred to historical space in which commemorative events are taking place: “A while ago we were following this path, walking on uneven grass. Here, starving children used to play next to their starving mothers. 78 years ago the last of them were murdered. Why? Because of a crazy paradigm of racial purity. Today, these words resounded in Europe once again”, Cywiński said.
"A year ago we could be wondering whether history really is a teacher of life. Today such divagations are no longer possible. In face of Russia’s attack on Ukraine we all know that the points of reference remain in history. And that we need to be listening to them carefully not tomorrow, but today. Before we hear the words referring to racial purity again. Before once again, starving children play next to their starving mothers”, Museum Director warned.
The Nazi considered the Roma a "hostile element”, “genetically” prone to committing crimes and to asocial behaviors. Since 1933 they became, together with Jews, the aim of racists persecutions; first through their registration, depravation of the right to perform certain professions, to mixed marriage, then by being directed to forced labor and finally, incarcerated at concentration camps.
After the outbreak of WW2 the decision was made to resettle German Roma to occupied Poland. German police authorities began to arrest and perform the executions of the Roma within occupied territories, including also the rear of the eastern front, where they were, together with Jews, subject to mass murders by so called Einsatzkommandos.
Upon Heinrich Himmler’s order on transporting them to Auschwitz, since 1943, Sinti and Roma mainly from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Poland were deported to the camp. The Germans deported to Auschwitz in total about 23 thousand Roma, with two thousand murdered without being entered into camp register. 21 thousand people were registered in the camp and 19 thousand of them perished – starved to death, due to illnesses or they were murdered in the gas chamber during the liquidation of the “Gypsy camp”.
In Block 13 within the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, exhibition commemorating the extermination of Roma and Sinti is presented, showing the specific character of genocide perpetrated on the Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. In former Birkenau camp, within the BIIe section, the monument commemorating Roma victims is situated.
The history of Roma victims of the camp is presented in the online lesson "The Roma in Auschwitz”, one of the episodes of the podcast “About Auschwitz”, as well as 7th volume from the educational series "Voices of Memory”. The websites of Google Cultural Institute also includes the exhibition “Roma in Auschwitz” prepared by the Museum.