Today, August 2, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities commemorates the International Roma Genocide Remembrance Day. This memorial date is devoted to the Roma genocide (also known as Samudaripen – “Mass killing” in the Romani language), which took place during World War II as a result of the racial purification efforts by Nazi Germany and its Axis Powers allies. On April 15 of 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that established August 2 as the annual international observance of this date, which is also officially commemorated on a national basis in a growing number of countries.
In November of 1935, the Nazi German government amended its Nuremberg Laws, which codified its agenda for racial purity, to officially include the Sinti and Roma community among those labeled as “racially inferior” and “enemies” of the Third Reich. Following their inclusion in the Nuremberg Laws, Sinti and Roma people were arbitrarily and forcibly deported to so-called “Zigeunerlager” (“Gypsy Camps”) from across Nazi-occupied Europe.
While recent scholarship has begun to improve our understanding of this terrible atrocity, many of the details remain unknown. The estimated number of the victims oscillates between 500.000 and 1.5 million Roma people killed during the Second World War. This figure includes tens of thousands murdered by Nazi military and secret police units across the Soviet Union, as well as approximately 3,000 who were exterminated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, while others endured forced labor and perished at camps such as Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Representing one of the largest minorities in Europe, for centuries the Roma population has been subjected to different forms of marginalization, racism, discrimination, and identity-based violence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the continent has seen a resurgence of anti-Roma sentiment, fueled by practices of scapegoating that illustrate a dangerous continuation of the processes of anti-Roma discrimination that led to the Roma genocide.
Fueled by the sensationalist and ethnicized approach of the media, hate speech flourishes based on narratives that distort historical facts regarding the Roma genocide and the events that lead to it, glorify perpetrators and eugenics measures, and revolve around the racist stereotype of the “criminal lifestyle” of Roma. These unaddressed narratives, as well as in some cases inconsistent State policies have provided populist thought leaders and extremists a platform to galvanize latent racism in socially fragmented populations, heightening once again the risk for the escalation of violence.
Intergovernmental organizations, such as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) or the Council of Europe (CoE), have provided States with frameworks and recommendations on preventing and countering Holocaust distortion and its present-day impact. The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) through its Roma Integration 2020 Project has also stressed the importance of strengthening the institutional obligations of governments to incorporate and deliver specific Roma integration goals in mainstream policy developments. However, the Roma genocide remains a marginal theme in Holocaust distortion scholarship and expertise, and studies are yet to explore the nexus between the distortion of a still largely unknown historical process and present-day manifestations of anti-Roma racism. In addition, preventing and countering the distortion of the Roma genocide is yet to become a priority in policymaking at the national level across Europe.
AIPG’s Director of Mediterranean Basin Programs, Dr. Gabriela Ghindea, remarked that:
Upholding the comprehensive truth around the Roma genocide requires active and sustained support, so that future generations will be able to better understand the root causes and specific processes that led to this atrocity. Based on the promising results of our emergent programming in 2019, the Auschwitz Institute remains committed to continuing this work, with the support of IHRA, CoE, RCC, and other partners, especially in the area of countering historical distortion, as well as through the promotion and protection of the civil and human rights of the Roma community.
Thus, we are proud to announce that in partnership with the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights – Harvard University we have recently launched a follow-up program: Countering Distortion of the Genocide of the Roma in Southeastern Europe – A Key Element for Developing Anti-Racism Strategies and Anti-Discrimination Policies and Practices.
This comprehensive research project will map common patterns of distortion of the Roma Genocide in 11 countries in Southeastern Europe. The analysis will examine legal frameworks, public discourses (media/social media), memorialization practices, and educational initiatives in the attempt to identify common patterns in these countries regarding the distortion of the history of the Roma genocide. At the same time, the involved experts will explore how (and if) distortion and the State’s response could have contributed to increased incidences of anti-Roma violence, and develop measures to counteract distortion and prevent racial discrimination and the escalation of violence. The research will result in a final report that will be discussed publicly with relevant stakeholders and distributed among key government agencies, civil society organizations, and academic institutions in the targeted countries.