Mon, Jan 24, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Gypsies plight overlooked when we remember the holocaust


Sixty years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, the still marginalized gypsies of Europe are fighting for a wider recognition of their suffering during the holocaust.

An estimated 250,000 to half-a-million Gypsies, also known as Roma, died in the holocaust at the hands of Nazis and their collaborators in Europe.

Of the victims, an estimated 20,000 were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Their suffering has largely been overshadowed by the mass murder of Jews, of whom 6 million were killed in the holocaust.

The estimates of gypsies killed in the Holocaust vary greatly because of the belated acknowledgment of their tragedy and a lack of research into their plight, according to Claude Cahn of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center.

"There was almost no recognition of the Romani holocaust until the 1980s and there was no real effort at documentation," Cahn said.

"It is no wonder that the holocaust is becoming a basis of Romani unification in the recognition that Roma are one people with one common fate and that the treatment suffered during the holocaust is emblematic -- if extreme -- of the threat to Roma," he said.

At Auschwitz, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died from 1940 to 1945, a solemn event on Thursday (Jan. 27) will mark the day 60 years ago when the Soviet Red Army liberated the largest of the Nazi death camps from the Germans.

Romani Rose, a former camp inmate and chairman of the German Council of Roma, is expected to be among the speakers who will recount the suffering of the gypsies.

Anti-gypsy laws branding Roma racially inferior and "anti-socials" were enacted in Germany during the mid-1930s and extended to Austria when it was annexed by the Nazis in 1938. Similar laws took effect across Nazi-occupied Europe.

Widespread discrimination was followed by mass extermination, with tens of thousands of Gypsies killed in Nazi-occupied parts of Europe while others were deported to concentration camps to face near-certain death.

An estimated 9,000 of the estimated 11,000-strong Austrian gypsy population were murdered in various camps, including Auschwitz, according to Rudolf Sarkozy, president of the Roma Cultural Association in Vienna.

"Most of the Gypsies were killed in Nazi-occupied territories where they were executed or worked to death," said historian Szabolcs Szita of the Holocaust Memorial Centre in


"Others underwent ghastly medical experiments at concentration camps where they were also murdered, often without a trace because Nazis did not even bother to register many of them," he said.

Szita said few written records remain of the crimes or victims.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, nearly 3,000 gypsies -- mostly elderly men, as well as women and children -- were gassed in a single night on Aug. 2, 1944 in the darkest day of the Romani holocaust.

Aug. 2 is now the holocaust remembrance day for Gypsies.

The massacre followed a show of resistance on the part of gypsy inmates on May 16, when thousands armed with improvised knives, shovels and wooden sticks resisted orders to get on trucks that would have taken them to the gas chambers.

Nazi officers wanted to clear out the barracks to make way for the 450,000 Hungarian Jews arriving at the camp that month and who would also be murdered.

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