79th anniversary of the liquidation of the Roma camp in Auschwitz
"The Gypsy family camp", the so-called Zigeunerfamilienlager, located in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, was liquidated by the Germans on the night of 2 - 3 August 1944. It was then that some 4,300 children, women and men - the last Roma inmates of the camp - were murdered in the gas chambers. 2 August is commemorated as Sinti and Roma Genocide Remembrance Day.
The commemoration of the Roma and Sinti extermination was held at the site of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where state authorities, international organisations, ambassadors, diplomats, politicians, representatives of local authorities, and institutions and museums gathered to pay tribute to the Victims and laid wreaths.
‘I am deeply moved and touched that today - on the occasion of the Sinti and Roma Genocide Remembrance Day - I can speak to you as a representative of our survivors,’ Gerda Pohl said at the commemoration.
Speaking about her family history, she recalled: ‘My late husband Horst Pohl fought for his life here in Auschwitz. That is why it is particularly important for me to remember the Holocaust against the Sinti and Roma right here,’ she stressed. During her speech, she referred to the problem of discrimination and exclusion: ‘However, we must be careful that they do not start again. [...] Therefore, I implore you, with all my heart, to fight racism wherever you encounter it. First, I would like to appeal to young people: The future of Germany, Europe and the whole world rests in your hands,’ she said.
Referring to history, Roman Kwiatkowski, President of the Roma Association in Poland, said: ‘The criminal ideology of the Nazis sought to erase a nation from the map of Europe that had existed in its history for nearly 700 years. However, the Roma and Sinti survived the extermination, just as they had survived every period of persecution and exclusion. [...] They also survived to bear witness now to the truth about the times of contempt and its consequences. We are pleased that more and more young people are here every year.’
Announcing next year's round anniversary, Roman Kwiatkowski emphasised: ‘Next year will mark the 80th anniversary of the extermination of the Zigeunerlager Auschwitz-Birkenau. I hope we will meet then without the many fears that burden us today, and that the Holocaust will primarily serve as a lesson in history and remembrance rather than a warning of a new threat of fanaticism and racism. Future generations can never experience the fate of their ancestors; it is a responsibility we all bear towards them.’
Romani Rose, President of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, also spoke: ‘Auschwitz is a symbol of a turning point in the history of civilisation and the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis against 500,000 Sinti and Roma and 6 million Jews. [...] It is with great concern that we observe the proliferation of anti-democratic attitudes and violent right-wing extremism across Europe today.’
In his speech, Rose also alluded to the current situation: ‘In Eastern Europe, for example, a large proportion of Roma live in apartheid-like conditions and are excluded in the areas of education, housing, employment and healthcare. The latest EU Fundamental Rights Agency 2022 reports clearly show the extent of anti-Gypsy exclusion: over 80% of the Roma minority, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, are at risk of poverty, and 50% suffer from severe financial hardship. Educational segregation has even increased in recent years, with more than 50% of Roma children and youth attending segregated educational institutions, for example, in Bulgaria and Slovakia. In Romania, 40% of minority households still do not have access to clean drinking water.’
‘The European Union proudly invokes the Charter, which recognises human rights as fundamental. For this very reason, it must be the obligation of democratic states not to continue to ignore the degrading and inhuman conditions towards our minority in their home countries.’ appealed Romani Rose.
Nicola Beer, Vice-President of the European Parliament, spoke about remembrance and its contemporary implications. ‘Remembrance of the Holocaust is necessary today. Essential. The atrocities of World War II taught us one fundamental lesson: never again! We need a reminder today and in the future that these unforgivable acts against humanity should never be repeated in Europe or any other part of the world. It is our duty and responsibility to remember. It must be our collective responsibility to educate the next generation about the Sinti and Roma Holocaust,’ Beer stressed.
‘Remembering must also include society's opposition to all forms of discrimination and racism. [...] Today's ceremony should also serve as a reminder for every generation. Totalitarianism, destructive nationalism and extremism must have no place in our society. Together, we must strive to live together with respect and mutual understanding,’ said the Vice-President of the European Parliament.
Michał Kamiński, Deputy Speaker of the Polish Senate, also referred to the present day in the context of historical memory in his speech: ‘Until very recently, we might have thought that if we come to Auschwitz, we come first and foremost to honour the memory of the Victims of the enormous, unspeakable tragedy that took place here. However, today we are not only here to remember but also because we believe that those nightmares in our thoughts are forever buried.’
‘Yet this is not the case. Today, old demons are resurfacing in both Western and Eastern Europe. It turns out that just as 80-90 years ago on German soil, so today and in other countries, we are experiencing the grim lesson that no civilisation or nation is exempt from the sins of racism and hatred,’ stated Michał Kamiński.
The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, addressed a letter to the participants of the celebrations. It was read by Mateusz Małodziński, Deputy Governor of Małopolska. “The Roma and Sinti, our neighbours, and an integral part of our heritage for centuries, who had created their own original culture, were systematically exterminated and sent to concentration camps located in central Europe. They were the third-largest group of prisoners at Auschwitz, after Jews and Poles. Brought in from fourteen countries, they died of hunger, disease, and gassing”.
"Once again, we take the pledge that we will do everything to ensure that the times of contempt never return, that respect for others is always the most important value," stated the Prime Minister in his letter.
The Roma, along with Jews, became the objects of racist persecution: first through registration, then a ban on specific professions and mixed marriages, followed by compulsory labour and, ultimately, confinement in concentration camps. The Nazis regarded them as a “hostile element” with a 'hereditary' propensity to commit crime and antisocial behaviour.
After the outbreak of World War II, a decision was made to resettle German Roma in occupied Poland. The German police authorities began to arrest and execute Roma in the occupied territories, including at the rear of the Eastern Front, where they were mass-murdered along with Jews by the so-called Einsatzkommando.
From 1943 onwards, Sinti and Roma, mainly from Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland, were deported to Auschwitz under orders from Heinrich Himmler. About 23,000 Roma were deported by the Germans to Auschwitz, including 2,000 Roma murdered without registration in the camp's records. 21,000 were registered in the camp, of which 19,000 died of starvation and sickness or were murdered in the gas chambers upon liquidation of the “Gypsy camp”.
Today, in Block 13, on the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, an exhibition is open to the public in remembrance of the Roma Holocaust. It shows the dimension of the genocide committed against the Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Roma Victims are commemorated in a memorial located in section BIIe of the former Birkenau camp.
The history of the Roma Victims of the camp is explored in the online lesson “The Roma in Auschwitz", one of the podcast episodes "About Auschwitz", and the 7th volume of the educational series Voices of Remembrance. Also available on the Google Cultural Institute website is the Museum's exhibition “The Roma in Auschwitz".