On January 27th, 1945, the Soviet army entered the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp and liberated the last survivors of possibly the most tragic period of human history. During the Holocaust, more than one million lives ended in Auschwitz, including an estimated 20,000 Roma. The sadness of this story is compounded when we recognize that most Romani children today don’t know this part of history and will not learn about it in formal education.
A number of initiatives promote recognition of Roma genocide under the Nazi regime. After years of efforts 2 August is starting to be acknowledged as a Roma Holocaust Memorial Day by a growing number of institutions. On the night of 2 August 1944 a total of 2,897 Romani men, women and children were killed in gas chambers in camp Auschwitz II. When the Soviet Army liberated the camp in January 1945, only four Roma remained there alive. Today, 2 August is the day of commemoration of all Romani victims of Nazi persecution.
However, Roma, like the Jews and other groups targeted by Nazi regime, were not only victims. They also fought the system. An important day to remember is the 16 May 1944, which marks the day of Romani resistance against the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau. Unfortunately, these are the pieces of information our children, Romani or non-Romani, will not learn in school. Romani history is neglected and the building of ethnic identity remains solely with parents, whose own knowledge of their history, was also taken from them.
For most Romani children, the content of what they learn about their ethnic identities is extremely limited. Although the situation is improving with motivated individual teachers, the state-designed curricula lack chapters on history, culture and language of the largest ethnic minority in Europe. And where information about Romani communities is included, it is often based on stereotypes of people traveling around Europe, dancing and singing in meadows.
It is crucial that today we commemorate the atrocities of Nazi regime, instead of forgetting them. It is important to keep in mind how they are affecting the situation of Romani communities throughout Europe today – from being ashamed for their ethnic identity to hiding their ethnic identity for the sake of security.
In the Czech Republic’s Lety u Písku, there is a pig farm on the soil soaked by blood of Romani victims of Nazi regime. What used to be a Roma labour camp serves to produce pork today. And one government after another fails to address this, promising for improvement in the future. The annual commemoration of the victims is thus accompanied by the smell of pig. The symbolic meaning of this is extreme. It is time to recognize the victims and learn about the history. Because if we forget our past, we are doomed to repeat it.