“My testimony is for young people: Don’t leave your future in the hands of bloody fools! You must resist. You must resist the discrimination, racism, and violent evictions to which the Roma and Travellers are falling victim across all of Europe. We, the old ones, have lit the flame. Now, it is up to young people to feed it, make it grow, and so that we become stronger. Young people, stand up! Stay standing, and never fall to your knees!”
Speech of Raymond Gurême, Roma Holocaust survivor, to Roma youth in Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 2, 2016
Imagine a room filled with light somewhere in a quiet town in a peaceful and economically stable country in Europe. This room is full of young people, some of them Roma, some of them not – discussing history, arguing about some interpretations, and agreeing on others. Until someone utters: “I am afraid it can happen again” – and for a little while silence falls. The year is 2022.
Almost 80 years ago, on 16 May 1944, many of the 6,000 prisoners still alive in the “Gypsy camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau resisted their murder. Around half of them were deported to other concentration camps for forced labour. The remaining 2,897 survivors – mostly children, women, and elderly people – were murdered in the gas chambers on the night of 2 August and the early morning of 3 August, 1944.
Each year on 2 August, we commemorate the Roma people who were murdered in Europe during WWII. This day is the official commemoration day in many European countries. Yet even now, 80 years later, the Holocaust remains an open wound, hurting throughout generations the young people today.
In most European countries, there was no official apology given to the survivors or their relatives by the state for the wrongdoings of the war. The reconciliation process was not started, because there was no official acknowledgement of the atrocities done to the Roma communities during the Holocaust, and therefore no promise to never ever do this again.
Moreover, the murders of 5-year-old Robika Csorba and his father in 2009 in Hungary and that of Stanislav Tomáš in the Czech Republic just recently in 2021, derogatory statements by high-level politicians, neglect during the COVID-19 pandemic and now the treatment of Roma refugees from Ukraine as second-class humans proves that the fears voiced by the young people are not completely ungrounded.
We welcome and applaud DIKH HE NA BISTER (“Look and don’t forget” in Romani) – the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative and other youth initiatives that offer a space and an opportunity for youngsters to learn about the past while strengthening their Roma identity. We welcome the resolution of the European Parliament in 2015 to officially recognise 2 August as European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day.
However, we also must understand that the mass killing on the 2nd of August or the Holocaust as a whole was not a stand-alone moment in history. It takes hundreds of years of antigypsyism, direct and indirect discrimination, and often actions which appear harmless – to lead and build up to this.
It is only by fighting antigypsyism in all its ugly forms today that can we prevent a tragedy of such scope from happening tomorrow.
It is by remembering our past, and teaching the children this part of history, that we can ensure the future we want.
It is by speaking up about what happened, questioning discriminatory practices, and making our inconvenient truth heard that we can avoid the atrocities committed against our communities.