‘This is not a history lesson; this is ongoing’: the Roma Holocaust

Image source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

‘This is not a history lesson; this is ongoing’: the Roma Holocaust
by Matthew O’HARA
27 January 2023

The 27th of January marks a day when humanity remembers the Holocaust and those who tragically lost their lives to a campaign of genocide and racial superiority. 

As in previous years, local councils throughout the UK held lectures and events to commemorate and educate people about the atrocities that occurred to minority communities in the Holocaust.

On Friday, an audience of students, lecturers, and citizens attended “The Forgotten Roma Victims of the Holocaust”, a virtual event hosted by Belfast City Council and conducted by an intercultural trainer and freelance facilitator, Denis Long.

Long, who has worked with the Roma community throughout her career, began the lecture by saying that the legacy of the Roma genocide is very important in the context of remembrance, because usually it is spoken of as “no more than a side note”:

“People know that Roma people were killed in the Holocaust, but are not aware that they were the third largest [cohort of victims].” 

Long described the social and historical context of the Roma people’s suffering in Nazi Germany as well as the complicity of most European countries.

She stated that the Roma were directly targeted by the Nazi regime for complete annihilation.

“By 1938, the Nazi policy deemed the Roma people as inferior”, and they were considered “a racial menace,” Long explained. 

“Historians believe the final figure of deaths to be anywhere from 500,000 to 1,500,000,” she said.

Long detailed the trauma and the struggle that the Roma people endured after the Second World War and how they received no justice and acknowledgement from other European countries in the aftermath of the Holocaust:

“At the Nuremberg trials, the Roma people were not even mentioned, and as a result, no Romani was asked to testify at the trials.

“It took over 30 years for the West German government even to admit that Roma people had been targeted by the Nazi regime.  They only did so in 1979, and this was largely due to the constant campaigning by Roma civil society.

“Roma people who came forward seeking compensation were dismissed and discredited and cast off as liars. Those who did get compensation only received €2.50 a day.”

The Roma people did not get official public recognition of their genocide until 2012, when a mural was unveiled in Berlin — nearly 70 years after the end of the war.

Towards the end of her lecture, Long explained why the Nazis implemented and targeted the Roma people and the longstanding ramifications the Holocaust has had on the Roma community:

“It is important to note that the oppression of the Roma people did not start with the Holocaust.

“The Roma people are known to have arrived in Europe for 900 years and have suffered prejudice and discrimination of their rights by majority populations across many European countries.”

She added, “Discrimination that had been embedded in general policies and negative attitudes reinforced over hundreds of years made it easier for the Nazis to implement a program of mass murder.”

Long’s final point about European treatment towards Roma people was that we as a continent have learnt nothing from the tragedy of the Roma genocide:

“This is not a history lesson; this treatment is ongoing.

“The crimes of the past towards the Roma people have never been laid to rest, have barely been recognised, and there has never been a common reckoning, let alone a changed behaviour of how society behaves towards the Roma population.

“Roma families still get looks when they walk into shops, are met with aggression and hatred and still live in fear for their lives.”

Denis Long finished the lecture with a slide that said “Never Again”, with four messages of remembrance, to address how society can learn from the past and to stop the persisting hated of any minority who has suffered:

  • an acknowledgement of what happened
  • a condemnation of the events and of those responsible
  • an intention to remedy any remaining harm
  • a desire to turn a new page

Image source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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