On the night of 2 August 1944, the “family camp” for Roma at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liquidated, and thousands of remaining men, women and children held there were gassed. Today, 2 August marks the date of Roma Genocide Remembrance Day, where governments and civil society organizations from all over the world hold events in honor of the Roma victims murdered in the genocide carried out by Nazi Germany and those fascist and extreme nationalist partners and other collaborators who participated in these crimes. These commemoration efforts play an essential role in making sure the Roma genocide is not forgotten.
Remembering the victims of the Roma genocide
This year, the coronavirus pandemic forced many events online or limited the number of people that could attend. Nevertheless, they underlined the importance of commemoration, especially at a time when anti-Roma racism has seen a sharp increase.
During his speech at the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič emphasized the responsibility of governments to remember the genocide of the Roma and to build a promising future for Roma. The event also included a wreath laying ceremony and brought government officials, members of the Roma community and representatives of organizations together.
In Greece, the Association Romani Sezi held a commemorative event at the 5th Intercultural Elementary School of Dendropotamos in Thessaloniki, with speeches from John Mantzas, Professor Spyros Marchetos, and Paul Isaac Hagouel, one of the members of the Greek delegation to the IHRA and a member of the Committee on the Genocide of the Roma. The Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Thessaloniki, Ms. Sybilla Bendig, was also in attendance, and gave a commemorative speech.
In his video address, Austrian Federal President Alexander van der Bellen pointed how this terrible history of the fate of Roma was “repressed, concealed and forgotten” for many decades and that the number of eye-witnesses who can tell firsthand of what took place during the Nazi regime is dwindling.
In Italy, the UNAR-National Anti-Racial Discrimination Office hosted a virtual commemoration event that led participants through the history of anti-Roma racism, featuring testimony of survivors of the Roma genocide and speeches of experts and government officials, including Ambassador Luigi Maccotta, Head of the Italian Delegation to the IHRA.
In Slovenia, the Union of Roma held a commemorative event in Murska Sobota on Monday, with a keynote address from Boštjan Žekš.
The Genocide of the Roma was also commemorated on Sunday in Uštica, a village near Jasenovac where a subcamp for Roma prisoners was opened in 1942. A new Memorial Center was opened at that site, which will be administrated by the main organization that represents Roma in Croatia, Kali Sara.
Two commemorative events were held in North Macedonia: one at the Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from North Macedonia in Skopje, which included addresses from Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski and the director of the memorial center, and another organized by the National Roma Center from Kumanovo on the banks of the Vardar River in the main city square in Skopje.
Those that were not able to view the livestream of the virtual commemoration ceremony organized by the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma can still take part by watching the event on the website. Also featured are further resources on the history of the Roma genocide and the struggle for recognition, as well as on current education, research and remembrance efforts.