On 2nd August, 1944, 2,897 Roma men, women and children were taken out of the “Gypsy Camp” in Auschwitz and murdered.
When Auschwitz was finally liberated in 1945, only four Roma had survived.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) August 2, 2017
The 2nd August is a day marked to commemorate the loss of hundreds of thousands of Roma lives during the Holocaust. It’s a day of mourning, but implicit within the date itself is a reminder of the heroism and courage of Auschwitz’s Roma prisoners. On the 16th May, the SS planned to murder the entirety of the “Gypsy Camp”. When the Nazi troops tried to make the prisoners leave the barracks, a rebellion of Roma men, women and children forced them to withdraw, armed with nothing but sticks and stones. The 2nd August is a day of remembrance, and the unbreakable resistance spirit of the Roma people in Auschwitz deserves to be commemorated alongside the inhuman tragedy of their stolen lives.
“implicit within the date itself is a reminder of the heroism and courage of Auschwitz’s Roma prisoners”
Over 70 years later, Roma people still face discrimination, both around the world and here in the UK. Research conducted by the Traveller Movement in 2016 shows that 77% of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people regularly hide their ethnicity out fear of discrimination or worse, while four out of five members of GRT communities have experienced hate speech and or hate crime. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, GRT groups in the UK are among the most marginalised and discriminated against ethnic minorities. For these communities, this means lower life expectancy, problems accessing healthcare services and housing and lower educational attainment. This is unacceptable.
“during World War Two, Jews and Roma were the two ethnic minorities targeted alike by the Nazis”
As a proudly identifying Jew, discrimination is hardly an alien concept within my own community. In 2017, the Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents, its highest ever annual total. Throughout history, Jews have experienced intolerance, persecution and exclusion from mainstream society, which culminated in the Holocaust and its unprecedented horrors. During World War Two, Jews and Roma were the two ethnic minorities targeted alike by the Nazis, with one high-ranking Nazi official stating, “in the same way as the National Socialist state has solved the Jewish question, it will also have to settle the Gypsy question once and for all.”
“the unbreakable resistance spirit of the Roma people in Auschwitz deserves to be commemorated alongside the inhuman tragedy of their stolen lives”
In the face of hate crime, there are two ways in which to react. It is possible, tempting even, to turn inwards; to hide; to barricade oneself within the safety of one’s own community. On this day, I think it’s important to focus on choosing the alternative: in the face of persecution we can reach out, we can communicate with other groups, who are dealing with issues that are similar although not the same, and we can strengthen one another.
“over 70 years later, Roma people still face discrimination, both around the world and here in the UK”
For the last seven years, René Cassin has regarded challenging GRT discrimination as an integral part of our work as the Jewish voice for human rights. We have worked with the Traveller community at Dale Farm to provide legal workshops and media training; we have challenged discriminatory media rhetoric regarding GRT communities and raised awareness of hate crime against GRT individuals. We have called for the equalisation of Hate Crime Law, and brought together Jewish and GRT communal organisations to share our experiences, to provide mutual support and to explore further opportunities for working together. On a recent fellowship trip to Budapest, our fellows met with Roma activists, heard their history and visited District VIII, a predominantly Roma area often painted in a negative light by Budapest’s locals; our Roma tour guide revealed the richness of the shared Roma and Jewish history underlying the District’s shops and schools and even certain stones.
“in the face of persecution we can reach out … we can strengthen one another”
As a human rights organisation, René Cassin stands for the rights of everyone, everywhere. As a Jewish organisation, we are inspired by our Jewish values, heritage and community experiences. On both counts, it is clear why fighting against GRT discrimination remains a key part of the organisation’s work. As a proud Jew, today I stand in solidarity with the GRT community, to remember the hundreds of thousands of Roma lives lost to the hate of the Holocaust.
By Avital Carno.