Thursday, May 27, 2010



Brussels, 11 May 2010

"Roma and Travellers - Victims of the Holocaust" Conference in the European Parliament

The conference hosted by Cornelia Ernst (MEP), Kinga Göncz (MEP), Catherine Grèze (MEP) was opened by the organizers and by Mr. Alexandros Tsolakis of DG Regio.

After a presentation by Mr. Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, Mrs. Ágnes Daróczi, founder of the Romedia Foundation testified about the state of recogntition of the Roma Holocaust in Hungary and across Europe.

The Suppressed Holocaust

Ágnes Daróczi

The memory of up to half a million Romani victims of the Holocaust dictates that we cannot forget the lessons to be learnt from this tragedy. We have to join forces with all those whose aims are respectable, with all humanist people, organisations and states so that the Nazi crimes of our history cannot be repeated. For this, we have to make our own sorrow a part of Europe ’s common sorrow. We cannot remain on our own.

The Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) was opened in Budapest in April 2004, on the 60th anniversary of the deportations from Hungary . While we had the opportunity, several times, during the course of the preparatory consultation process, to point out that „concealment is also a form of oppression”, we have had to face the fact that the historians and exhibition organisers of the HMC were not planning on including the suffering of Roma during the Second World War into the Center’s work.

Despite our 1994 initiative for the 50th anniversary which resulted in the first ever Roma Day in the history of Hungarian television broadcasting on August 2nd, the anniversary of the Roma Holocaust. Despite the broadcasting, in 1995, of Miklos Jancso’s documentary about the suppression of information regarding the participation of many in the organised murder of Roma in Hungary . Despite all this, 52 years after the events, the town of Lakoskomárom still refused to speak out about the murder of the area’s Romani citizens.

Three weeks after the opening ceremony of the HMC, we pressurized the president of the Center’s board with the prospect of organising an alternative Roma Holocaust exhibition in the streets of Budapest . This is how we obtained a space in the exhibition, in the former synagogue’s female gallery, for the presentation of documentation about the sufferings of Roma during the Second World War.

However, despite the extensive amount of accumulated documentation and knowledge and despite the fact that it is their mission, the leadership of the Holocaust Documentation Center still failed to employ a researcher charged with tracking down and revealing the fate of Roma during the Holocaust.

And this can be said to be the most characteristic trait across Europe regarding this issue: we do not have our own institutions and the mainstream consistently fails to elevate Roma into their research focus.

The Jewish people were unquestionably the primary targets of Nazi genocidal policies. The murder of Roma was a „collateral front” in the same Holocaust history since they did not have assets, power, allies or territories. They were only defenceless, disorganised, and poor. They were to be murdered merely „on the margin” in this unprecedented series of crimes we call the Holocaust, for the purpose of creating racially pure states belonging to Germans, Croatians, Hungarians, Slovaks, French, Romanians, etc.

The Roma people were the only people alongside the Jews to have suffered the kind of racially based premeditated deadly terror organised on an industrial scale in the Nazis’ internal war for the empowerment of the „übermensch”. As a consequence, by qualifying the murder of Roma during that period merely as„genocide”, it is the common process and common criminal aim of the Holocaust which is being denied, or concealed.

After the Holocaust, the Roma have not been embraced by the protective arms of the rule of law, of liberty, equality and fraternity. Throughout decades, they have been at the mercy of a wide range of ordinances denying them their most basic rights as citizens.

In European states, Roma have to bear the burden of different forms of racist prejudices which can at any time feed the ground for their collective stigmatisation, their exclusion from society, from the nation, their scapegoating, especially in times of economic crisis. And these are such times.

A decade ago, national chauvinism sent the Balkan states up in flames. The houses of Roma, a minority in all those states, were set on fire, thousands of families, most of them well-off, had to flee their homes in Kosovo and elsewhere in the region. Those waging a war for their „ethnically clean” nation states will not tolerate a Romani minority in their midst. Just as the Nazis would not. And as the superficial image of Roma as nomads dominated in the minds of western peace keepers, the Roma people were left out of the political settlement process and of any plans for the future of the region. The direct consequence is that thousands of Roma still live, more than 10 years after the end of the conflict, in temporary refugee camps in Macedonia , Montenegro or Kosovska Mitrovica, where they struggle to survive on the polluted territory of the former lead mines, without hope for a solution. They have been left out of the peace process. Their lives, their health are insignificant to all.

When it comes to the fate and interests of Roma, many states of the European Union keep ignoring their obligations under international law. Governments and courts turn a blind eye and tolerate unlawful behaviour against Roma when it comes to a huge number of cases of discrimination in employment, education or the provision of basic health care. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination binds all its signatories, meaning that states party to it have a legal obligation to prohibit racial discrimination in all its forms within their jurisdictions. Parties are also required to criminalize the incitement of racial hatred, to ensure judicial remedies for acts of racial discrimination, to outlaw hate speech and criminalize membership in and the financing of racist organizations.

Where I come from, racial discrimination has not been considered illegal for decades. Nobody expects to be held responsible for putting Roma children at a disadvantage, for creating the conditions of consigning Roma children to separate educational establishments of inferior quality. Unemployment rates among Roma are up to eight times the national average. The situation is similar in public institutions. This is considered normal in the current environment. There is no consciousness of the dangers of racism and apartheid. And we experience the fact that there are parties in the Hungarian Parliament, and in fact here in the European Parliament, which propagate the collective guilt principle and the institution of apartheid when it comes to Roma, as a tragedy.

In Hungary , we are aware of several, still undisclosed, mass graves into which innocent fellow citizens were shot by the special forces of the fascist Hungarian state on account of their Roma origins. The names of Roma deported and killed in Nazi death camps still go unrecorded in Europe ’s historical consciousness. We are lacking the institutions whose role would include researching this past and obtaining that society finally comes face to face with the consequences for all Europeans of ideologies promoting theories of racial superiority targeting Roma. Despite demands from Roma, the Hungarian state is not keen on burying our common dead, on keeping track of the victims, on supporting our country coming face to face with the consequences of our past in order to keep our society from repeating those crimes. But other European countries do not fare much better.

I live in a mixed marriage. Many among my closer family became victims of the Holocaust and I can clearly see the difference between the weight given to the suffering of one people and the other. My grand-father was forcefully put into gypsy labour service as an „unreliable” soldier of the lowest rank. My widowed grand-mother and her five children could not count on any kind of support, compensation or orphan’s sustenance. All three of my uncles from my mother’s side of the family were deported to Muna, Buchenwald ’s side camp. Two died there, Uncle Gyuszi survived. For decades, Uncle Gyuszi was scared to talk even to his family about what had happened to them because after he came home, the same policeman who had arrested him threatened him: if he opened his mouth, he would arrange for him to be interned again. He only got a proof of his captivity and handed in his application for compensation when he was already in his seventies, when I myself pushed him to do so.

The Roma settlement where my parents used to live operated for months as a ghetto, surrounded by fences and guarded by soldiers, with name lists nailed to each and every door frame. Were it not for the arrival of the Russian troops, they would most probably have all been killed.

On the other side, my husband’s mother was sent to a concentration camp in Austria when she was barely 16 years old. His grand-mother was saved by Raoul Wallenberg from the death march towards Vienna . His other grand-mother was saved by the benevolence of some family acquaintances.

This is how I got to experience firsthand the discrimination Roma are facing when it comes to compensation for the Jewish and the Roma peoples’ common suffering. My mother-in-law benefits from a significant supplement on her pension from the Jewish compensation fund while deported Roma never received any such supplement. Even the amount of the compensation varied wildly, maybe because it was IOM who negotiated and acted on the behalf of Roma – under different conditions. Roma victims did not benefit from collective compensation and individual suffering was not taken into account in similar terms either. Even in this case, discrimination was left to prevail.

And if you ask me what it is that it is time to change, here it is:

- it is time to create a financial background for research, publication, anti-racist communication programmes, the earmarking of the graves of the unburied dead, looking for the identities of the victims in order to ensure that their memory stays alive and to open the door for the possibility of collective compensation

- it is time to create institutions and educational material for the teaching of our common past

- it is time to unite in a much more effective way in our struggle against racism

- it is time to abide by the international rules which prohibit racial discrimination

- it is time to place the teaching of the Holocaust on new foundations so that we can stop concepts of racial superiority from developing in our societies

- and yes, we have to make sure that discrimination against Roma does not taint the human dignity and compensation process of the victims of the Holocaust.

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