By Fotis Filippou, Campaigns Coordinator for Europe and Central Asia and Anna Leichtfried, Fight Discrimination Campaign Coordinator
On 2 August 1944, 2,897 Roma and Sinti, men, women, and children from the Zigeunerlager, the “Gypsy camp”, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp were loaded onto trucks, transported to gas chamber V, and killed en masse as part of Hitler’s genocide.
These were the tragic events that unfolded during one night. Over the course of World War II, some 23,000 were segregated in Auschwitz’s Zigeunerlager. Some 20,000 died or were murdered in the gas chambers there. By the end of the war, an estimated 500,000 Roma and Sinti were killed or died, targeted by the Nazis as ‘racially inferior’.
Despite the horrors of this extermination of the Roma and Sinti, knowledge and official recognition of this Roma Genocide, or the Porrajmos (‘the devouring’) in Romani, remains limited to this day.
But some young people are working to change this. They are remembering the past to highlight the reality Roma face today, across Europe, one which is often characterized by discrimination, marginalization and violence.
This year, 2 August marked the 70th anniversary of the Roma Genocide. From 30 July to 4 August, 1,000 young people, Roma and non-Roma, from 25 countries gathered in Krakow and Auschwitz to honour the Roma and Sinti victims.
Amnesty International joined the commemoration, and spoke to participants about why they were actively remembering the tragic events of 70 years ago, and speaking out against Roma discrimination today. You can meet some of them here.
The Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative, organized by ternYpe – the International Roma Youth Network, also gave participants the opportunity to meet survivors and learn more about this dark chapter in Europe’s history. And look to ways in which to address the challenges Roma communities continue to face today.
Roma routinely face forced evictions, segregated schooling, lack of access to employment, and hate speech and violence. Prejudice against Roma is more widespread and more widely tolerated in Europe than for any other ethnic minority in the region today.
In case we forget, this is the very same prejudice that led to the tragic events of the genocide.