In May 2017 Liz and I were in Berlin and visited the Sinti and Roma Memorial located next to the Bundestag. It was a very sobering experience.
Excerpted from Deutsche Welle 8.2021
On August 2, 1944, 4,300 Sinti and Roma were killed in the gas chambers of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Genocide survivors described the horrors. To this day, many of their descendants are refused compensation.
Genocide in Europe: Cruelly systematic, horrifically spontaneous
In many countries today there is still very little awareness that Sinti and Roma were victims of systematic genocide, said Karola Fings. She believes the full extent of the murderous violence will only become clear with a wider European perspective.
In response, researchers are working on an encyclopedia of Nazi genocide — a project that the German Foreign Office is backing with €1.2 million ($1.4 million).
In Germany, the genocide was largely ignored for decades. Members of the police continued to employ racist methods, using Nazis files in investigations and blocking acceptance that Sinti and Roma have been gravely persecuted. That, in turn, led to further trauma for survivors: trauma that has extended into the second and third generations, said Fings.
The historian was a member of the German government’s Independent Commission on Antigypsyism which recently issued its final report. Alongside clear recognition of the genocide committed against Sinti and Roma and further investigation through the mediation of a truth commission, Fings said there must be material compensation — and not just in Germany.
“This also applies to those living in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe who after 1945 were completely shut out from compensation,” she said.
The commission also said that, as is the case with Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and their descendants, Germany must also take responsibility for ensuring “that Roma and Romnja are recognized as an especially marginalized and vulnerable group.”
Wherever in Europe the Nazis gained ground, Sinti and Roma were persecuted and forced to fight for their lives. Many were murdered, in camps, or in mass shootings. “It all depended on local occupation policies and who the local proxies were,” said Fings.
In German-occupied Poland, there were the death camps. However, there were also an estimated 180 other locations where massacres are known to have taken place. And when it comes to the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, “most of the victims were not murdered in camps but wherever the killing happened to take place — on the spot.”
In occupied Bohemia and Moravia — today’s Czech Republic — Sinti and Roma were detained at the Lety and Hodonin camps before being deported to Auschwitz. In Croatia, Jasenovac “was a particularly horrific camp, where many were beaten to death.”