On 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 recognition and remembrance of the Roma genocide that occurred during World War II. On April 15, 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution establishing August 2 as the annual international observance of this date, which is also officially commemorated at the national level in many countries around the world.
In November of 1935, the Nazi German government amended its Nuremberg Laws, which codified its plan for racial purity, to officially include the Sinti and Roma communities among those labeled as a “problem,” “racially inferior,” and “enemies” of the Third Reich. Following their inclusion in the Nuremberg Laws, Sinti and Roma people were arbitrarily persecuted and forcibly deported to the so-called “Zigeunerlager” (“Gypsy Camps”) from across Nazi-occupied Europe.
Scholars have begun to improve their understanding of this terrible atrocity, but many details remain unknown. The estimated number of the victims oscillates between 500,000 and 1.5 million Roma people killed during this period. 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.
Originally from central/northern India, the Roma groups arrived in Europe around the 14th century. Representing the largest ethnic minority group in Europe, for centuries, Roma have been subjected to different forms of marginalization, racism, discrimination, and identity-based violence. In the past couple of years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Europe has seen a resurgence of anti-Roma sentiment, fueled by scapegoating practices that illustrate a dangerous continuation of the processes of discrimination that led to the Roma genocide. Preventing and countering the distortion of the Roma genocide is yet to become a priority in policymaking at the national level across Europe.
Over the past years, AIPG’s Mediterranean Basin Programs (MBP) has continued its Roma-related work in Southeastern Europe through a comprehensive research study carried out in eleven countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia, which resulted in the publication of a research report in 2022, titled The Roma Holocaust/Roma Genocide in Southeastern Europe. The year-long research project – 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, and the resulting report have contributed to transnational inclusive dialogue and action regarding memorialization, research, and education as tools to prevent anti-Roma discrimination, identity-based violence, mass atrocities, and democratic backsliding.
Today, the Auschwitz Institute stands with the Roma community in remembrance of the atrocities that occurred during the Second World War. AIPG stands with those fighting for full and universal recognition of the Roma Genocide as part of our shared historical record, not only for historical accuracy but also as a vital component of post-conflict education and atrocity prevention, as well as a means to overcome segregation, stigmatization, and marginalization of Roma and Travelers. Universal recognition of this history inhibits the spread of dangerous revisionist and denialist agendas while reinforcing the essential processes for truth, justice, and memory that contribute to resilient societies.
*All references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).
Roland-Sylvestre DAWA is a Legal Lecturer and Researcher at the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences at the University of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) and a Ph.D. student in International Relations, specializing in international politics at IRIC Yaoundé in Cameroon. He has participated in three AIPG online training courses and in-person training sessions on the prevention of genocide and identity-based violence.