HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY 2012
PAYING LIP SERVICE TO THE HOLOCAUST (uk, editorial Searchlight)
By Gerry Gable
28/1/2012- Successive British Governments have done more than pay lip service to remembering the Holocaust, as well as the later genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans. Bodies such as the Holocaust Memorial Trust and Anne Frank Foundation have carried out tremendous work also in educating new generations of young people.
But government needs to go further than giving vocal and financial support to this important work; it also needs to legislate to curb the international activities of the thoroughly discredited far-right-orchestrated Holocaust denial industry. Last month with the support of the Jewish Chronicle, Holocaust Memorial Trust, London Evening Standard, MPs, Members of the House of Lords, and academics such as Professor Colin Shindler from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Searchlight called on the Home Secretary to ban the entry to Britain of the so-called Devil’s Advocate Jacques Vergès, who is due to speak at SOAS on 3 February.
The college appears to have washed its hands of responsibility for the actions of the postdoctoral student who, it is claimed, acted alone in organising this event, despite its potential for giving the far right a huge moral and political boost. The hardline nazi IONA London Forum, meeting in London on 21 January, called on its supporters to turn up at SOAS to publicly support this disgusting man. The Home Secretary remains silent, despite all the evidence that shows Vergès’s presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good. Enough of this hypocrisy. As we remember the millions who died at the hands of the Nazis in the week of Holocaust Memorial Day, we expect the Home Secretary to make a public statement announcing a ban.
© Searchlight Magazine
FAR-RIGHT VIENNA BALL SPARKS OUTRAGE ON HOLOCAUST DAY (Austria/Poland)
27/1/2012- Nazi death camp survivors marked Holocaust Remembrance Day in Poland on Friday, while in Austria guests at a far-right ball were accused of "dancing on Auschwitz graves". Survivors joined Israeli and Polish officials at ceremonies for the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau at the site of the former camp where the Nazis killed more than a million people, mostly European Jews. "This place remains a wound on the soul of Europe and the world," Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski said. Participants also mourned the passing of Kazmierz Smolen, an Auschwitz survivor who after World War II helped found a Polish state-run memorial and museum created at the site and served as its director from 1955 to 1990. "He died in hospital today. We learned this sad news at the very moment that the ceremonies were under way," museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told AFP.
On the eve of the memorial day, Turkey became the first Muslim country to air "Shoah", an epic 1985 French documentary on the Holocaust, nationwide. Consisting largely of survivor interviews, "Shoah" -- the Hebrew word for Holocaust -- examines the killing of European Jews in Nazi death camps. "This day of remembrance... reminds us of the importance of drawing the right lessons on combatting racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement. The date was also chosen by Austrian right-wing student fraternities to hold their annual ball in Vienna, which was expected to be attended by several European far-right leaders, including French National Front head Marine Le Pen.
As many as 5,000 anti-fascist demonstrators gathered to protest the ball but the roughly 3,000 guests were able to enter the Hofburg palace, the Habsburg dynasty's opulent former imperial residence, well away from the protests. Protestors, some of them from other countries, most notably Germany, chanted "Nazis raus!" ("Nazis out!") and held placards with photos of Holocaust victims and slogans reading "Don't dance on my grave." Police, who numbered several hundred drawn in from several other regions of Austria, many in riot gear and with helicopters overhead, put the number of demonstrators at only 500, however.
The timing and venue have sparked outrage among those mourning Holocaust victims. The ball draws figures whose parties have in the past been accused of revisionist and anti-Semitic views. "It is all the more regrettable and perfidious that today of all days, people will dance on the graves of Auschwitz," Eva Glawischnig, head of Austria's Green party, said at a Holocaust commemoration ceremony. US President Barack Obama pledged to celebrate the resilience of Holocaust survivors and to stand strong against those who commit modern-day atrocities and against what he said was "the resurgence of anti-Semitism." "Together with the State of Israel, and all our friends around the world, we dedicate ourselves to giving meaning to those powerful words: 'Never Forget. Never Again.'"
White House hopeful Mitt Romney, who has accused Obama of watering down strong US support for Israel, argued that "it is not enough merely to reflect on those horrors and the evil that brought it about." "At a moment when the state of Israel is under threat from violent terrorists, from tyrants seeking nuclear weapons, and from a campaign to deny the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the United States must stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally in its quest for peace and security." Meanwhile Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said it was "time for us to acknowledge that Norwegian policemen and other Norwegians took part in the arrest and deportation of Jews."
After Nazi troops invaded Norway in 1940, the Scandinavian country was ruled by a collaborationist government headed by Vidkun Quisling, whose name became synonymous with "traitor" and who was executed after the 1945 liberation. In Romania, President Traian Basescu also said it was important for his country to recognise its role in the Holocaust. "Acknowledging the tragedy of the Holocaust... represents an essential element for the evolution and the maturity of a democratic nation", he said. Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died during the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control.
THE RIGHT TO THINK STUPID THOUGHTS (editorial TOL)
By Ky Krauthamer
27/1/2012- The timing for today’s blog is not what I would have wished. Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, a day earmarked for remembrance of the Nazis’ mass killings of Jews, Roma, and other unwanted groups, and of other state-sponsored genocides in modern history. The reason I’m writing about genocide today is different. It’s a response to the French Senate’s vote earlier this week to criminalize denial of officially recognized genocides. As RFE’s Charles Recknagel pointed out, the bill – which President Sarkozy says he will soon sign into law – is not specifically about the Armenian genocide, although that’s how most media have reported it. The law makes it a crime for French citizens to deny an act officially recognized by the French state as a genocide.
My first thought is to wonder how one legally defines “denial.” My second thought is, no state should have the right to create truth by decree: “Officially, X occurred. X was a terrible thing. Therefore, denial of X should be a crime.” This is intellectual Stalinism, with the best of intentions of course. I think this law is uncivilized and unworthy of the French tradition of rationalism. Whether it will ease or exacerbate relations between Turkey and Armenia, I don’t know, and although I have a good deal of sympathy with the Armenian point of view, I still think the law should be scotched.
This is where I start to get uncomfortable, because the same line of argument must lead me to support dismantling of all laws against genocide denial, including the Nazi Holocaust. Unlike the Armenian case, the Jewish Holocaust touches me personally, since my father’s family were Hungarian Jews who came to America in the early 20th century. I don’t know of any family members who died in the Holocaust, but I’ve been told that a distant relative lived through World War II in Budapest. A number of European countries have laws criminalizing denial of the Nazi Holocaust or other genocides. The professional Holocaust denier David Irving is a despicable writer. I felt hardly a pang of sympathy when an Austrian court sent him to jail, yet at the same time I could not bring myself to feel that justice had been done.
There is a legal exit to this conundrum of what do when freedom of expression laws seemingly permit speech meant to damage another person’s or group’s dignity. It’s to punish speech when it demonstrably contributes to violence or discrimination. The EU does this in its law on racism and xenophobia. The 2007 decision makes certain kinds of “intentional conduct” punishable in all EU member states (although there is a partial opt-out). This conduct may include: “Publicly inciting to violence or hatred, even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.” (My italics.)
Regrettably, the law also punishes “Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising” acts recognized as genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes by the International Criminal Court and the Nuremberg Tribunal. Surely the first clause is more than sufficiently robust to punish the most atrocious genocide deniers, by linking speech to concrete, intentional acts? There is no need to open a legal can of worms by banning public expression of opinion, which is what the second clause does.
© East of Center - TOL Blog
TURKEY MARKS HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY
27/1/2012- Turkey marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, saying in an official statement that it is an occasion to remember the significance of combating racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and airing a French epic documentary about the Holocaust. “Today, on the occasion of the United Nations international day of commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, we remember and honor the memory of more than 6 million Jews and members of other minorities, who lost their lives during this human tragedy,” a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday. “This day of remembrance also guides us towards a future which includes a culture of mutual understanding, tolerance and co-existence and in line with this reminds us of the significance of drawing the right lessons on combating racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism,” it said, also remembering Turkish diplomats who saved many lives from the Nazi regime during World War II and “who thereby make us proud of our history.”
On the eve of the international remembrance day, Turkish officials attended a ceremony at İstanbul's Neve Shalom synagogue and state broadcaster the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation's (TRT) documentary channel also showed filmmaker Claude Lanzmann's “Shoah” as part of a campaign to promote understanding between Jews and Muslims and to fight Holocaust denial. The filmmaker said this is the first time the film has been broadcast on state television in a Muslim country, The Associated Press reported. "It is a historical event," Lanzmann, 87, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his home in Paris. "It is extremely important that it is being shown in a Muslim country." "The Turks are engaged in a pioneering work and I am sure it (the showing) will be followed by other Muslim countries," he said.
The film is not the first Holocaust film to be shown on television in Turkey. Turkey also has its own Holocaust film: "The Turkish Passport," which was released last year and tells the true story of Turkish diplomats who saved thousands of Jews by issuing them Turkish passports. "Shoah" has also been shown to a limited audience at a Turkish film festival.
Ceremony at Neve Shalom Synagogue
Turkish officials attending the commemoration ceremony at Neve Shalom Synagogue remembered victims of the Holocaust. “Six million innocent people were killed systematically as part of a plan drafted and implemented with cold blood. Unfortunately, this unprecedented tragedy has been met with silence by governments and people in many places across Europe and some even cooperated in sending Jews to the concentration camps,” Ambassador Ertan Tezgör, who attended the ceremony on behalf of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said in a speech to the guests at Neve Shalom Synagogue. Tezgör also called for closer scrutiny of Islamophobia and xenophobia, a rising threat in Europe. “I deeply share the pain of these people who were targeted for nothing but their identity,” İstanbul Governor Avni Mutlu said.
The Turkish commemoration of Holocaust comes amid tensions between Turkey and Israel over Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Ties worsened in 2010 after Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish national and one Turkish American in a raid on a flotilla that was trying to breach Israel's Gaza blockade. Relations remain in a state of deep crisis as Israel refuses to apologize for the flotilla killings. It also comes amid an escalating dispute between Turkey and France over French legislation that would make it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks amounted to genocide.
Most historians contend that the 1915 killings of Armenians as the Ottoman Empire broke up was the 20th century's first genocide, and several European countries recognize the massacres as such. But Turkey rejects the term genocide, saying there was no systematic campaign to kill Armenians and that many Turks also died during the chaotic disintegration of the empire.
© Today's Zaman
REMEMBERING THE HOLOCAUST REMINDS US OF THE NEED TO STEP UP HUMAN RIGHTS COMPLIANCE
Today, 27 January we mark the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in honour of the memory of the millions of victims - including Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and people with disabilities - that were annihilated by the Nazi regime. On 27 January 1945, the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated.
"History has taught us: to look forward we must look back. Yet again Europe is faced with, rising poverty and greater social unrest. Racism and xenophobia remains a cause for concern and may rise fuelled by the current economic crisis,"
says FRA Director, Morten Kjaerum. "Therefore raising awareness about the Holocaust is inextricably linked to educating about human rights, and combatting racism and Antisemitism today. The youth of today need to understand the consequence of choices they make for themselves and wider society. This will help ultimately to build a more inclusive society based on respect for and understanding of fundamental rights and European values."
The FRA is actively engaged in Holocaust and human rights education. Having obtained observer status in the International Task Force on Holocaust Remembrance
, Education and Research in 2007, the FRA has developed a series of teaching handbooks and toolkits
that educators and employees of original sites and museums can use for teaching about the Holocaust and Human Rights and for preparing school visits to Holocaust original sites and museums. Educating about human rights and the Holocaust goes hand in hand with the FRA's on-going data collection of antisemitic incidents in the EU. Having published annually since 2004 reports on Antisemitism in the EU, the Agency is starting this year a survey on Jewish people on their experiences and perceptions of Antisemitism.
The FRA provides the EU institutions and Member States with independent, evidence-based advice on fundamental rights. It is also developing indicators to help monitor progress in implementing fundamental rights legislation in a number of areas. FRA's overall aim is to contribute towards ensuring full respect for fundamental rights across the EU. Relevant FRA publications include:
© EU Fundamental Rights Agency
FIGHT AGAINST HATE AND INTOLERANCE MUST CONTINUE SAYS OSCE CHAIRPERSON ON HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY
27/1/2012- Speaking on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore, who is currently on a visit to the Middle East, emphasized the need to continue to fight hate and intolerance. “The unique horrors of the Holocaust can never be forgotten. We can only truly honour the memory of the victims of the Holocaust by continuing to fight against anti-Semitism, discrimination against Roma and Sinti as well other forms of hate and intolerance present in our societies today,” he said. “I will personally pay my respects during a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Sunday.” “The persistence of anti-Semitic acts, as well as other hate crimes, is abhorrent and International Holocaust Remembrance Day serves as a reminder of the need for OSCE participating States to do more to tackle these crimes in all their manifestations. This includes ensuring police and other agencies identify hate crimes and respond to them appropriately as well as preventing hate through tolerance education.” The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) publishes an annual report on hate crimes and incidents in the OSCE Region that also highlights best practices of participating States and civil society in tackling them. ODIHR has also developed teaching materials for schools to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. In 2012 ODIHR will release, in co-operation with the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, an update of its overview on Holocaust Memorial Days in the OSCE region.
© The OSCE
EUROPE GEARS UP TO HONOR INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY
One in five young Germans has no idea that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp, poll finds.
27/1/2012- As countries across Europe prepare for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, being commemorated on Friday, European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke of his "specific responsibility" as a German to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. "I feel that I have a very specific responsibility," said Schulz at European Union headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, addressing a crowd of 500 parliamentarians, ambassadors and other guests at an event organized by the European Jewish Congress, "because what was decided at the so-called Wannsee Conference - the extermination of the Jewish people - was done in the name of the German people," Schulz said, referring to the meeting of Nazi officials in 1942 to decide on the "Final Solution."
"The German people of today is not guilty [of the Holocaust], but responsible for keeping the memory alive," he said. "For me, this means that whoever is representing the German nation has one important duty - to take into account our responsibility for the Jews in the world." Schulz said he had decided that the international day of commemoration, which was established six years ago by the UN General Assembly, will become an official annual event of the European Parliament from now on. The date, January 27, is the same day in 1945 that the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated by Soviet forces. During the Brussels ceremony, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, called on Europe "to recognize evil and prevent its reemergence." Meanwhile, as countries across Europe prepared ceremonies for Friday, several began putting out official statements to mark the occasion.
"France is determined to fulfill the duty to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to pass this knowledge on to new generations in France and throughout the world," read a statement released by the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "While the direct witnesses of the Holocaust have, for the most part, already died, the international community has a duty to keep its memory alive so that humankind never experiences such a tragedy again," continued the French statement. "This duty to remember is a collective responsibility. We must reject all forms of trivialization. By remembering the Holocaust we are reminded of the barbarity of which man is capable, but we are also reminded of the acts of resistance and solidarity between human beings faced with the horror of extermination."
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment in the House of Commons - in which signatories can pledge their commitment to challenging all forms of prejudice - during a visit to Downing Street by a delegation headed by founder and president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, Lord Janner, and including Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott. British Labor Party leader and opposition head Ed Miliband, who has spoken publicly of his parents' escape from the Nazis, also added his own message to the book, writing: "Speak up, speak out is an essential message for us all as we remember the Holocaust. It reminds us that we must never forget the terrible genocide perpetrated against Jews. We owe it to all those who perished to remember and speak up against anti-Semitism. We must speak out against injustice and bigotry wherever we find it."
Meanwhile, German magazine Stern published a report on Thursday showing that one in five young Germans has no idea that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp. According to a poll commissioned by the magazine, although 90 percent of those asked did know what it was, "Auschwitz" meant literally nothing to 21 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds who were asked. The poll also showed that almost a third of the 1,002 people questioned were unaware that Auschwitz was in today's Poland.
THEIR DENIAL AND OUR SILENCE MOCK INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL (opinion)
By Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance
27/1/2012- Jan. 27, the anniversary of the day Soviet soldiers liberated the Auschwitz death camp in 1945, is the annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The United Nations, which will convene a solemn ceremony at its world headquarters, features online this statement by Holocaust survivor Nechama Tec: "The Holocaust teaches us that no matter how oppressive life is, some people are able to rise above the cruelty of their times by extending helping hands to one another. It is this ability to risk one's life on behalf of others which ought to give us hope." But if the grandchildren of the victims of Hitler's Final Solution are to have hope for the future, they'll need the international community to go beyond annual moments of silence by beginning to speak out against mainstream global anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial. Here are a few examples U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon should consider for his speech:
While international action is belatedly underway to head off Iran's nuclear ambitions, no government or NGO has tried to bring the regime to The Hague for it's state-sponsored Holocaust denial and pre-genocidal anti-Jewish and anti-Judaic rants. The insidiousness of the recent TV show "Saturday Hunter," starring loathsome religious Jews, would have made Hitler weep tears of joy. Also available are a series of animated cartoons mocking the 6 million victims of the Holocaust, which until last week were available on YouTube.
Everyone is courting the electorally victorious, supposedly "moderate" Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Yet the group's first move was to block Jewish prayers at the graveside of a saintly scholar and its Arabic language webpages tout Holocaust denial while a spokesmen observes that the Shoah is "a tale" exploited for politics, and that "the entire world, and Germany in particular, has become yearly scapegoats of world Zionism, and has capitulated to the greatest political extortion in history." No western democracy has condemned the Brotherhood's religious intolerance.
As European Union members prepared for Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Dutch government rejects calls for an apology for Holland's "indifference" to the fate of more than 100,000 Jews -- 75 percent of Dutch Jewish citizens -- murdered in the Holocaust.
A Riga court removed the city council's ban on "Legion Day" paving the way for a march down main street honoring 140,000 Latvians who fought in the Waffen SS during WWII.
Authorities pay lip service to the destruction of Lithuanian Jewry during the Holocaust but rewrite the historic narrative of WWII to deny any collaboration by Lithuanians in the mass murder of more than 90 percent of their Jewish neighbors.
London School of Economics students chose Nazi-themes for their drinking songs. A Jewish student had his nose broken for daring to protest, leading an activist group to label the LSE "a campus conducive to intolerance and anti-Semitism."
"Hitler chic" continues to manifest in fashion, music, advertising campaigns, and even school competitions across Asia- from Japan to Thailand to India.
The Friends Seminary in New York refuses to withdraw an invitation to musician-turned-polemicist Gilad Atzmon whose book, "The Wandering Who?" argues that the Holocaust "was not at all an historical narrative," that Auschwitz was not a "death camp," that "accusations of Jews making matzo out of young Goyim's blood" may be true, and that "Hitler might have been right after all."
The society still struggles with the legacy of hate left by Hitler's Thousand Year Reich. A just-released report commissioned for the Parliament laments that anti-Semitism remains deeply embedded among Germans, not only among the far-right and Islamist extremists, but the public at large. From Holocaust denial online to chants of "Jews to the gas chambers" at football matches, to denial of Israel's right to exist by increasingly radicalized Islamists, Wolfgang Thierse, Vice President of the German Parliament warned, "the problem is not a question of a few selective issues but is long-standing and chronic."
What's the common denominator of these diverse examples? Silence and indifference. Too many of today's diplomats, media and ethical voices fall silent when the targets of hate are Jews. Despite the fact that hatred targeting Jews and Judaism remain disproportionately high, in 2012, today's Jewish victims are not deemed worthy of moral solidarity. Yet, history teaches that unchallenged anti-Semitic libels inevitably ignite anti-Jewish acts. This International Holocaust Memorial Day we urge those who take the time to stand in silence for 6 million dead Jews, to also speak up in defense of embattled live Jews.
Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian and consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, contributed to this op-ed.
© The Huffington Post
IHRD: THE FIGHT AGAINST RIGHT-WING EXTREMISM IN EUROPE MUST CONTINUE (press release ENAR)
27/1/2012- Today, on International Holocaust Day, the world commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. On this occasion, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) calls on all European countries to follow the example of the German government by creating a central database of dangerous neo-Nazis. The German government’s commitment to take the fight against right-wing extremism seriously can be commended, although it comes years too late. This move is all the more important in the current climate of growing intolerance against ethnic and religious minorities and repeated incidents of racist violence across Europe. The ‘never forget’ promise made after the Holocaust continues to have a particular relevance today.
However, the creation of a database alone is not sufficient – it should be accompanied by effective action by state and police authorities to effectively prevent racist violence. For instance, in the case of the murders of immigrants committed by a group of right-wing extremists in Germany between 2000 and 2007, officials knew of the neo-Nazi affiliation of some perpetrators, but failed to act on the links. The European Network Against Racism therefore calls on European politicians and decision makers to effectively address the rise and appeal of the far-right, which they have neglected, or worse, from whom they have borrowed ideas to gain votes. They also need to change the tone of the current public debate into a positive one, highlighting the benefits of diversity in European societies.
ENAR President Chibo Onyeji said: “The Holocaust showed the world what can happen if racism and prejudice are allowed to thrive. Recent events - from the tragic killings by far-right extremist Anders Breivik in Norway in July, to violent anti-Roma protests in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic in September and to the discovery of a series of murders committed by a neo-Nazi organisation in Germany since 2000 - confirm that these lessons still need to be learned.”
© EUropean Network Against Racism
A staggering 95 percent of the Czech-born Romani and Sinti population perished in the war, most through extrajudicial killings
26/1/2012- The Porrajmos, literally “the Devouring,” is the term the Romani people use to describe the genocidal wave of terror known to most of the world as the Holocaust. While estimates of the total number of so-called “Gypsies” (the dark-skinned Roma, Sinti and other peoples who migrated to Europe from the Indian subcontinent centuries ago) killed during the Second World War vary from 500,000 to 1.5 million, records show nearly 22,000 died at Auschwitz before the notorious Nazi death camp was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945. Nearly every Romani man, woman and child who survived internment in Czech-run camps near Hodonín (Moravia) and Lety (Bohemia) — now the site of a controversial pig farm — later perished in the so-called “Gypsy family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau before its liberation by the Soviet Army, 67 years ago this Friday. Countless more were killed in extrajudicial killings.
“The percentage of Roma killed in the so-called Czech lands — the mass murder of the ethnic Czech Roma — was almost ‘perfect,’ almost total,” Markus Pape, a German-born human rights activist who for more than a decade has worked closely with the local Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust (VPORH), told Czech Position in an interview on the anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation, noting that a staggering “95 percent of the Czech-born Romani population” perished in the war. Historians believe that the vast majority of Romani victims were in fact slaughtered outside the death camps — killed with a bullet to the head and tossed in a roadside ditch or buried in shallow graves in the fields and forests where they had sought refuge. Einsatzgruppen (mobile “task forces”) killed tens of thousands of Roma in the German-occupied eastern territories; these victims were left out of the Nazi’s otherwise meticulous records.
“The generally accepted [conservative] figure is that half a million Roma were killed in the Second World War. In Auschwitz — the main site of their systemic killing — there were 22,000 Roma victims,” Pape said. “This shows that most were killed in the forests, during local massacres [pogroms] or by the Wehrmacht — who often justified it as necessary to purge territory behind the front of possible spies. Therefore, there is no exact number; there is no list of names, as it was done without any administration.”
The Porrajmos as a ‘historical footnote’
The horrors of the death camps have been exhaustively documented. However, the wartime fate of the Roma — who, like Europe’s Jewish population, were persecuted for centuries before being singled out for extinction by the Nazis along racial lines — is less widely known or understood; their tremendous suffering and loss often reduced to little more than a historical footnote. An estimated 70 percent of Europe’s Romani population died in the “Devouring,” yet no Roma were called to testify at the post-war Nuremberg Trials — and no one spoke there on their behalf. While the fate of the Roma may now seem inevitable, in the earliest days of the Third Reich, their origins posed a problem for Hitler’s racial ideologues. Nazi anthropologists knew that the Roma had arrived in Europe from India and believed them to be descendents of the original mythical “Aryan” invaders of the subcontinent, who returned to Europe. So Nazi racialist Hans Gunther found a justification for measures already long in place to control “the Gypsy plague.” If the Roma were no less “Aryan” than the Germans, he theorized, their supposed “inherent criminal character” must have stemmed from having mingled with “inferior” races over centuries of nomadic life.
In 1933, after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the Nazis introduced a law to legalize eugenic sterilization, to control population growth among “Gypsies and most of the Germans of black color.” In 1939, the Nazi’s Office of Racial Hygiene issued a statement saying, “All Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick [...] the aim should therefore be the elimination — without hesitation —of this defective element in the population.” The following year, at a concentration camp in Buchenwald, 250 Romani children were used as human guinea pigs to test cyanide gas crystals. In later years, adult Roma were used as subjects in cruel experiments conducted at Buchenwald on the effects of drinking sea water on human health.
But even in January 1942, when the Nazi bureaucrats decided on the “final solution” regarding the “Jewish problem” — i.e., through mass extermination in concentration camps — the so-called “pure Gypsies” (like the more integrated and well-off Sinti peoples) initially weren’t targeted for extinction along racial lines; they even continued to serve in the Germany army. (The Sinti were typically traders and merchants; their language is akin to Yiddish, in that it is nearly a German dialect; its grammatical structure follows that of German although most words have a common root with the Romani language.) But before the close of 1942, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, the principal executor of the “Final Solution,” gave orders that all Romani candidates for extermination be transported to Auschwitz; and in November 1943, expanded the order: all “Gypsies and part Gypsies” were be treated “on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.”
“Contrary to the fate of the Jews, Roma and Sinti were still taken into the German army until 1942 and only then did Himmler give the order to deport all the Roma and Sinti to Auschwitz, to the so-called ‘Zigeunerlager’ [Gypsy camp] — no matter what way of life they led, but only on the basis of their race,” said Pape, who has done extensive research on the Romani Holocaust and helped gather the testimony of survivors, in particular from Czech-run camps. “On Dec. 16, 1942, Himmler sent a letter to all the authorities it concerned saying that the deportation of the Roma and Sinti should concern all of them — on the basis of their origin, as co-called inadaptable people. So, in the end, this was genocide. Sometimes the Czech Roma complained that they were not among the ‘inadaptable’ or criminals. But in the end, the Nazis made no distinctions,” Pape told Czech Position.
The pig farm
The vast majority of Romani people living in what is today the Czech Republic are descended from Slovak Roma; their ancestors transferred here to the Czech lands in Communist-era resettlement programs. “That’s the reason why there is such a weak protest against the Lety pig farm today; most of the Roma here today have their origin in Slovakia … where 90 percent of the population survived. The Fascist puppet government there focused mainly on the property and deportations of Jews,” Pape said. “Slovakia was, at that time, a very agricultural state, and the Roma were needed in the fields for seasonal work.” Czech officials have been slow to acknowledge the wartime persecution of the Roma, and have come under unwelcome pressure from the European Parliament and other international organization. Not only do precious few memorials exist to honor the memory of those killed in the war, efforts to remove the pig farm from the Lety site, the largest Czech-run camp — where over 1,300 Roma were interned at a time — have been in vain.
“In the last declaration by the Czech government concerning the history of Lety, they used a quite euphemistic term — calling it a ‘camp of forced concentration’. It means that someone invented a new term to avoid using the term ‘concentration camp’; this shows there is a strong will to deny what really happened there,” Pape told Czech Position. “I think the fact that there is a pig farm is still run on the Lety site shows that in general the Roma are still considered to be second-class citizens, especially when you look at Lidice [the site of the massacre of in reprisal for the assassination of reprisal for the assassination of Nazi governor Reinhard Heydrich in 1942] and Terezín [the concentration camp known is German as Theresienstadt] and other places of Nazi persecution of the ethnic Czech or Jewish population in this country, it is not understandable … why the Roma victims don’t deserve similar recognition.”
Even though the Czechoslovak authorities made a major investigation into what happened at Lety— and found most of the perpetrators who caused the death of at least 241 children — none of the guilty persons was ever punished. “This fact is to very difficult for the Roma to accept,” Pape said. At the same time, most Romani survivors of the Czech camps agree to speak about their experiences only if they are not shown or identified on local media, so great is their fear, even today, of persecution by skinheads and other racist groups active in Czech society. “The local government has also abused the fact that the Roma in the area, who are of Slovak origin, don’t want to protest because they don’t want to drawn attention to themselves.”
Auschwitz and ‘Uncle Mengele’
A law establishing Lety as a work camp for “nomads” was passed in March 1939 by Czechoslovakia’s proto-fascist Second Republic. In 1942, the Nazis designated the Lety facility as a “concentration camp” specifically for Roma. Those who survived the malnourishment and typhoid rampant in the Czech-run camps of Lety and Hodonin, met their death in a special “Gypsy family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but not without a fight, Pape said. Entire Gypsy families were deported to Auschwitz—Birkenau. The first transport arrived on February 26, 1943, when the Gypsy Family Camp (Familienzigeunerlager) was still under construction; when completed, it comprised 32 residential and six sanitation barracks, according to the figures compiled by the death camp’s museum and memorial association. “Diseases killed the majority of the prisoners in the Zigeunerlager. Children deported to or born in the camp were particularly at risk, with noma (‘water cancer’), scarlet fever, measles, and diphtheria all endemic,” it notes.
The Germans intended to exterminate the Roma completely as early as May 1944. On May 15 that year, Gypsy Camp director Unterscharführer Georg Bonigut ordered the inmates to stay in their barracks. The next day, some 50 to 60 SS men surrounded the camp and attempted to force the prisoners out of the barracks. They attempted to force the prisoners out of the barracks, but failed to do so. “In May 1944, thousands of Sinti and Roma [at Auschwitz] barricaded themselves in, ready to fight the SS men. They had found out that on that same day all of them were to be killed, by gas, at once. The SS decided not to attack, or try to kill these people,” Pape told Czech Position. “Unfortunately, later on, the ones who were still healthy enough to work were sent on to other concentration camps and only a few of them survived; and the children and old people were killed in a massacre in Auschwitz."
Unlike in the case of Jewish and other inmates, the Roma and Sinti interned at Auschwitz had been allowed to stay together as families because the Nazis had learned from past experience that separating Romani parents from their children made them impossible to control as a group and exploit for forced labor. Survivors of Auschwitz have said the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele — known for his inhuman experiments and fascination with twins — seemed particularly keen on working with Romani children, who called him “Onkel Mengele.” He would bring them sweets and toys and personally escort them to the gas chamber. “I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away,” Vera Alexander, a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins, told the American scholar and rabbi Michael Berenbaum. “When they returned, they were in a terrible state: They had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parents — I remember the mother’s name was Stella — managed to get some morphine, and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.”
The liberation of the Auschwitz — 67 years ago this Friday — came too late for the Roma, as it did for over a million Jews, tens of thousands of Poles, political prisoners, homosexuals and “asocials” of all nationalities sent to the death camp. Nearly 22,000 Roma died in its gas chambers or from starvation and disease. Just months before the liberation by the Soviet Army, the Nazis closed the “Gypsy family camp,” gassing some 2,897 Roma on Aug. 2, 1944, a date marked by the Diaspora every year to commemorate the “Devouring.”
Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, designated by the United Nations as the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust coinciding with the day of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This article was first published in Czech Position last year.
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