International Roma Genocide Remembrance Day

On this day, August 2, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities commemorates International Roma Genocide Remembrance Day. This date is devoted to the Roma Genocide, 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 Nuremburg Laws, which codified its agenda for racial purity, to officially include the Sinti and Roma community among those labeled as “racially inferior.” Following their inclusion in the Nuremburg 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. However, current estimates place the number of Roma people killed during the Second World War at nearly 500,000. 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.

Addressing the occasion of the 2020 International Roma Genocide Remembrance Day, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, referenced the Council’s recent recommendation for the inclusion of Sinti and Roma history into school curricula and teaching materials. In her remarks, she emphasized that “a better future can only be built on a solid understanding of the past.”

In October of 2019, the Auschwitz Institute joined with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to conduct a four-day regional training seminar in Bucharest, Romania. The seminar, entitled “Countering Distortion through Governmental Action: Building the Capacity of Government Actors for Promoting and Protecting the Civil and Human Rights of Roma,” created a common baseline level of knowledge among its international attendees that facilitates a productive exchange of ideas and best practices. It also fostered acknowledgement of the shared features of Roma history in Southeastern Europe, especially regarding the atrocities committed against them and contemporary approaches for confronting the legacies that have arisen as a result. In particular, the participants discussed the challenges that societies still face when dealing with discrimination against Roma communities and deliberated over effective solutions to these challenges, identifying possibilities for the development of common projects.

AIPG’s Director of Mediterranean Basin Programs, Dr. Gabriela Ghindea, said:

Recognition of the Roma Genocide still remains at dangerously insufficient levels in numerous countries today. Much of the persecution that targeted the Roma before, during and after World War II has still not been adequately addressed, largely due to a convenient distortion of history.

Unfortunately, persecution and discrimination against the Roma communities did not end with the horrors of the Second World War. Based in the lack of acknowledgement and active distortion of the crimes committed during that period, contemporary anti-Roma sentiment and discourse has remained popular, especially in Europe. Representing one of the most significant minorities in all European countries, the Roma population is nowadays still subject to systematic marginalization, discrimination, and identity-based violence in all essential areas of public life. The ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic has augmented these phenomena, leaving Roma communities more vulnerable than ever before.

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 last year, the Auschwitz Institute remains committed to continuing this work, 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.