13
Oct

A Film: The Rom ‘Gypsies’ in the WWII Holocaust

Film A-People-Uncounted_500

The Holocaust that resulted in the deaths of millions of European Jews during World War II is well known. However, fewer people are aware that several other groups of people were targeted for elimination by the Nazis, including the Roma, often referred to in the English-speaking world by the misnomer of “gypsies.”

A People Uncounted: The Untold Story of the Roma aims to make up that deficiency in public knowledge. Director Aaron Yeger draws on a variety of interview subjects, including Holocaust survivors, historians, activists, musicians, artists, and average citizens, each of whom has a story to tell about how their Roma ethnicity has shaped their lives. Sadly, prejudice against the Roma lives on—one woman insists on being seen in shadow because she doesn’t want to harm the career of her son, a successful professional, and Roma today are the ethnicity most often singled out for discrimination in the European Union.

Yeger also covers, briefly, a history of the Roma, with an emphasis on the ill treatment they have suffered over the years in Europe. It didn’t start with the Holocaust, but reaches back at least to the 1400s, when several countries expelled Roma from their borders. They received this treatment periodically, by (among others) the Hapsburg dynasty and England’s Henry VIII.

Independent of these threats to life and limb, Roma culture is seldom understood by those outside their society. Instead, stereotypes of dancing peasants and fiddlers or of thieves and scoundrels have been perpetuated in popular culture, and for many people, that’s all they know. One of the greatest services of A People Uncounted is to provide some images that contradict these stereotypes, and Yeger does this with his many interview subjects, who are forthcoming about their lives and goals. The filmmakers traveled to 11 countries to shoot A People Uncounted, which in itself is a tribute to the international nature of the Roma.

For a subject so potentially fraught with emotion, A People Uncounted is a surprisingly calm film, which is a good thing: Yeger’s case is so strong that it has no need to gin up the audience’s feelings. Stephen C. Whitehead’s cinematography plays a key role in conveying mood as well as fact, and he won the Robert Brooks award for best documentary from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers for his work on this film.

Extras on the disc include extended interviews with seven participants. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

14
Sep

The Holocaust’s Forgotten Roma Victims

 More than 500,000 Roma and Sinti were exterminated in the Nazis’ death camps—and it’s time to include them in the official history of the Holocaust.

 

 Sit for a moment and picture all the people you know and grew up with; include your Mom and Dad, siblings, grandparents, and extended family, all your friends from your neighborhood and from school. Do you have everyone in your mind’s eye? Good. 

Now imagine 75 percent of all those people … dead. Systematically murdered because they were related to you or similar to you.

It’s almost too horrifying to envision. However, this was exactly the situation at the end of World War II for hundreds of thousands of Romani survivors of the Holocaust who were targeted for extermination by the Nazis, because of who they were or to whom they were related—because of their ethnicity. (Romani people, also called “Gypsies,” a term considered derogatory by Romani activists, are part of a diaspora that began in India in the eleventh century.)

Between 500,000 to 1.5 million Roma and Sinti were victims of the Holocaust in various camps and in mass killings carried out across Europe. This year, August 2, International Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day marked the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the so-called zigeunerlager or Gypsy Camp, at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Notably, Romani activists increased their efforts to organize memorial ceremonies across Europe and were supported by international organizations, including bringing together more than 1,000 Romani people from across Europe for commemorations in Auschwitz and Krakow; respected journals and newspapers recounted the tragedy to their readers as well.

It is important for the world to recognize that Romani people who were killed by the Nazis and their allies were part of the Holocaust—its logic and its aim of a so-called “final solution”—and not a separate instance of genocide. Generations of school children have learned to call the results of the Nazis’ attempts at race-based exterminations by that name, “Holocaust,” and to infer that the Roma were not part of the same horrible policy enactments is not only historically inaccurate, but also implies that there was a different experience for Roma.

Not only were similar policy statements and pseudo-scholarship used to justify the killing of Jews and Roma on the grounds of “racial inferiority,” but all the Holocaust victims faced the same elite troops, were held in the same or similar camps, died in the same crematoria, and experienced gruesome medical experiments, mass starvation, and other violence. When we talk about the Romani victims of the Holocaust, it is without compromise that we refer to them as Holocaust victims, first and foremost.

The United Nations continues to dither about whether Roma and Sinti should be included in their annual Holocaust Remembrance ceremony.

It is our moral duty and right to preserve the memory of the Romani victims who lost their lives on this day and throughout the war. Thus, in memory of the victims, the signatories call upon governments, international organizations, museums, and commemoration ceremony organizers, as well as scholars, activists, and the media, to accurately refer to the Romani victims of the Holocaust and to reject the description of Romani victims of the Holocaust as being part of an isolated genocide.

On September 18, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USMMM) will hold a symposium to showcase new and emerging scholarship on Roma and the Holocaust. Roma and non-Roma scholars will present findings from their exploration of pre-war persecution and on the effects of the Holocaust on Romani communities in its aftermath. This is most welcome, and yet we are mindful that, while the USMMM is currently mobilizing scholars and allowing for more recognition of the Romani victims of the Holocaust, there is still no Romani representative—or two or three—on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.  Nothing less than full Romani participation in the direction of the Museum’s affairs by representation on its Board will allow us a true voice into the commemoration of our people’s past losses and sufferings.

Removing Roma and Sinti from Holocaust history by creating a separate genocide and by denying their voice in the Holocaust ceremonies signal a disregard for the memory and the dignity of the Romani people. Yet, the United Nations continues to dither about whether Roma and Sinti should be included in their annual Holocaust Remembrance ceremony.

Only 10 percent of the hundreds of millions of dollars made available by the United Nations for the survivors, and which the U.S. Government was given the responsibility of disbursing, was set aside for non-Jews, and none of that found its way to the Romani survivors. When the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council was established in 1980, no Roma were invited to participate, and as mentioned above, it has no Romani member today.

The experience of the Holocaust is an indispensable part of Romani history, a suffering that permeated Romani families’ identities, and solidarity, for generations. The policy of “racial extermination” actualized by the Nazis was a primary event in the history of human civilization, and, as our Romani Elders noted at the memorial to the Roma and Sinti in Berlin, was the result of “state policies that were justified through vicious theories, administrative criteria, and institutional practices based on blood right-based citizenship, the assumed hierarchy of fictive human races.” That such justifications are seen again today in marches, rallies, hostile actions, and speeches by Neo-Nazis and sympathizers in many European countries, and which once again find the Roma and Sinti and Jews in the crosshairs, should galvanize every well-meaning world citizen into a renewed commitment to remember with the highest standards of truth-telling and without regard to prejudices.

Before policy decisions can be made, it must first be determined who the victims are; removing Romani people from Holocaust history may result in further injustices to be committed against survivors and their families in the future.

This will not be tolerated.

Romani people have the right to accurately represent our own history and it is the responsibility of others, especially those with the power to influence, to acknowledge our place in history and to correctly describe it.

We believe that the accurate recognition of the Romani Holocaust and the representation of Roma and Sinti in Holocaust ceremonies are necessary steps that must be taken in a longer struggle for shifting the narrative on Romani people. Objective and true information about Roma and Sinti can lead to overcoming stigma and embracing Romani people as equal members of society, deserving of dignity and respect.

Signatories (alphabetical order):

Glenda Bailey-Mershon, The Foundation for Romani Education and Equality (FREE)
William Bila, Board Member, Roma Education Fund, Budapest, Hungary and Board Member, Roma Education Support Trust, Leicester, UK
Sarah Carmona, Post-Doc Researcher, Laboratoire IRMMC Université de la Manouba, Tunis, Tunisia, and 2015 Lillian Robinson Scholar, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Montreal, Canada
Qristina Cummings, Descendant of Survivors
Gina Csyani-Robah, Founder, Canadian Romani Alliance
Ian Hancock, Director, The Romani Archives and Documentation Center and State Commissioner, Holocaust and Genocide Commission
Angela Kocze, Visiting Assistant Professor, Wake Forest University Research Fellow, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Sociology
Ronald Lee, Romani Author and Educator
Margareta Matache, Instructor, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University 
Nathan Mick, Vice President, StateBook International
Valeriu Nicloae
Jud Nirenburg, Board chair, National Roma Center of Macedonia and Chair, American Council for Romani Equality
Kristin Raeesi, Research Professional- Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Iliana Sarafian, PhD Researcher, University of London, UK
Marius Taba

 

7
Sep

Forgotten victims of Hungary’s Roma murders

Five years ago, six Roma Gypsies were murdered by far-right extremists. Half a decade on, authorities seem to have little interest in the surviving victims of the Roma Community.

 

Never could I have imagined that, says said Tibor Nagy. People attacking others and murdering at random. “That was a man hunt,” he says. Years later, horror and disbelief are still clear to hear in the 47-year-old’s voice.

On the evening of November 3, 2008, in the north-eastern village of Nagycsecs, far-right extremists set Tibor Nagy’s house on fire and shot at his family as they tried to flee. They murdered his wife Éva and his brother Jozsef. Although he, too, was injured, Tibor Nagy survived.

The murders of the Nagycsecs were the first in a series of attacks throughout 2008 and 2009, in which six Romanies were killed. Among the victims was a five-year-old boy. Another 55 Romanies were also injured. The last of the murders was committed five years ago on August 3, 2009. Three weeks later, four suspected right-wing extremists, who were known to the authorities, were arrested in the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen.

Failure of the authorities

On the 5th anniversary of the last murders, the Hungarian public and above all the political elite have lost interest in the subject. The media rarely reports about the Roma killings. And as of yet, there has been no public commemoration to honor the victims, or any visit by state leaders.

After the murders, most of the affected families fell into a state of misery. Many of the victims were left disabled for life and with psychological illnesses.

Similar to the NSU murders in Germany, investigators were left in the dark for a long time. Initially they handled the murders as a simple crime, but later began to pursue the case as a crime of right-wing extremism. For a long time investigators were uncoordinated and Hungarian intelligence agencies withheld information about the perpetrators.

Burial of one of the Roma murder victims in Tatarszentgyoergy in March 2009

 The social-liberal coalition, which was in office at the time of the killings, is responsible for the failure of the authorities in the murder investigation. No one from the coalition has apologized to the victims. Even the national-conservative Orban government don’t seem to be interested in a resolution. Secret investigations into further accomplices and sloppiness in the intelligence agencies during the Roma murders have been delayed.

Second Class Roma citizens

“In Hungary, Romany affairs and Romany victims are second-class-citizen matters,” says Jozsef Gulyas, a former liberal member of parliament, who led an inquiry into the murders in 2009. “The state doesn’t address racist crimes enough and there are no harsh statements from political leaders against these crimes.”

Among Hungarian politicians, there’s only a little opposition to such statements; for example, against public anti-Romany outbursts. Calvinis pastor, Zoltan Balog, who is also the current Minister for Human Resources in the Orban government, is one of the few Hungarian politicians who has made a gesture to the victims of the Roma murders. Every year he holds a memorial service and invites survivors and family of the victims.      

Photo of Roma murder trial in August 2013

 “Symbolism is important,” says Balog, emphasizing that as a consequence of racist crimes, the education curriculum needs to be changed. “We must awaken more understanding in the next generations than there is at the moment. We have a lot of work to do.”       

 Zoltan Balog also established financial support for the survivors and relatives of the murder victims. The fund recently received a pay-out of between four and seven thousand euros from the government. Some families were therefore able to modernize their humble dwellings by having gas or running water installed. Others wanted to move into better housing. Many of the survivors and their families need regular support to cover the costs of medication and treatment.

 Many ruined lives

That’s also the case for Tibor Nagy. After the death of his wife and brother he was diagnosed with diabetes, and as a result has become blind in one eye. He doesn’t have money for diabetic food and medication. In winter, Nagy and his daughter are often left without firewood and have only the bare necessities of food.

Photo of the Nagy family in their current home

 Like the other surviving victims of the Roma murders, Nagy could have regularly applied for compensation from the state – if not a final judgment against the perpetrators. Last August three of the Roma murderers were sentenced to life imprisonment and an accomplice to 13 years. All four have since appealed. When the second trial will begin remains unclear.

Tibor Nagy wishes that the perpetrators could be imprisoned to the end of their days. In a resigned voice, he says he can’t expect much more from life. “The murderers killed my wife and brother and they destroyed my life. I won’t have much happiness in this life anymore.”

 

4
Sep

‘Racists’ blamed for Homeless Tent attacks on Roma

A local group assisting homeless EU migrants in southern Stockholm has claimed that “racists” were behind the weekend attacks on camps which left tents and car tyres slashed.

A campsite in Högdalen cleared by police in February. Photo: TT

4
Sep

Sweden remembers Roma Holocaust

A travelling family in 1951

 

 

Some 70 years have passed since the so-called “gypsy night” when close to3,000 Roma died at Auschwitz-Birkenau and memorial ceremonies were held in Stockholm and Malmö on Saturday to mark the event.

4
Sep

Sweden orders Textbook on Roma Discrimination

A Romani language class in Malmö. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

 

In March the government published a white paper detailing what Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag called “an unknown and dark part of Swedish history”. The document revealed historic treatment of Roma in Sweden, detailing systemic abuse and police opinions that it would be best to kill them off.  The government also created a Commission Against Anti-Romanyism, aimed at “bridging the trust gap between the Roma groups and the rest of society”.

On Thursday the government announced it had asked the commission to create school and teaching materials from the white book, to be used in all of Sweden’s secondary schools.  “If we are going to fight the alienation of Roma that we see today, we must be aware of this dark history of abuse,” Ullenhag told newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

 The Swedish National Agency for Education, the Living History Forum, and the Roma discrimination ombudsman will collaborate to produce the school materials. Ullenhag said that Swedish students should already be learning about the history of Romani people in Sweden, but that the quality of available materials and   information had been poor.  “Some of this information we didn’t even know about until the white book was released,” he remarked.

 Dialects of Romani have been spoken in Sweden for 500 years, and it counts as one of the five official minority languages of Sweden. Scando-Romani has even given Swedish some of its modern words, including tjej, a common word meaning “girl”.

10
Aug

Rich People are Loving Gypsy Caravans

 Round roof vardo, piebald horse

Well-to-do folk are spending tens of thousands of dollars on newly built gypsy caravans, and the Wall Street Journal is hot on the trail. The Journal, forever the go-to source for the latest in rich people trends (like water features,absurdly large closets, tricked-out basements, and whatever it is “teen lounges”are) recently ran a piece about how the mobile architecture once used by Romany families (and, you know, wandering psychics in The Wizard of Oz) has become coveted by Europe’s elite, being used as “guesthouses, party spaces, and studios.” These aren’t the typical ragtag, hipster-built “gypsy junkers” one sees pop up on the market every once in a while, these are artisanal and prized, with the details that are an old, Catherine the Great-style opulence. Here are the best lines form the story:

8. Earlier this year, a wealthy Russian throwing a party for his daughter’s 25th birthday on a Greek island decided a gypsy caravan would add a nice touch.

7. The most ornate of the wagons resemble giant Fabergé eggs, with gilded woodcarvings, cut glass mirrors and red velvet interiors.

6. Under his guidance, craftsmen in the Czech Republic build the wagons from scratch, carving intricate patterns on the exteriors and adding brass trim, and, if requested, sandblasting the windows with floral designs.

5. It takes about six weeks to build a new caravan, he says, with up to eight men working full time.

4. The price of his caravans ranges from $30,000 for a simple design to about $60,000 for the most ornate.

3. “It’s a piece of movable art,” says Tim Jasper, a designer whose eponymous U.K.-based design firm builds garden wagons, as he calls them, or upscale, modern gypsy caravans.

2. He sold it for $150,000 to a wealthy ranch owner in Colorado who used it as an ornament on her property.

1. [Another] client […] says she fantasized about owning a wagon ever since she saw one in the movie Lassie Come Home as a girl. ‘It’s like a little dream come true,’ she says about her vacation home.

30
Jan

The Rom Holocaust

Here is an incredible article on the Rom in the holocaust by writer Mike Doherty and images by Robert Dawson.

 http://www.anglunipe.si/

5
Nov

Comment on The Rom and the Blonde Child

 As I researched the Rom for Destiny’s Consent, it became immediately clear that the Romani are some of the most discriminated against people in the world.  Here is an article I found worth reading.

http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2013/10/gypsy-blood-libel-the-enduring-legacy-of-romani-discrimination/

26
Aug

A Documentary about the Rom: “A People Uncounted”

A People Uncounted
 
Director: Aaron Yeger
Writing Credit: Aaron Yeger
Genre: Documentary
Duration: 99 minutes
Release date: Aug 02, 2013

Synopsis:
A history of the Romani people in Europe and their fate under
the Nazi regime.  It’s common knowledge (at least I hope it is) that the
Nazi death machine  affected more than just the Jewish population of
Europe. Also caught in the steamroller were homosexuals, the disabled,
Communists, Poles, Soviets, political dissenters and the

Romani, commonly referred to as Gypsies.
Aaron Yeger’s 2011 documentary A People Uncounted focuses on
this last group, opening with a history of the Romani people in
Europe and then examining their fate under the Nazi regime.

“Gypsies” were so called because they were thought to have come
from Egypt, although India is a more likely origin. Their dark skin
cast them as the “noble savages” of Europe, while laws preventing
them from owning property enforced their nomadic lifestyle.  They
continue to face racism today, but it was the Nazis, with their
“final solution to the Gypsy question,” that managed to do the
most damage to this far-flung, nationless race.

As a call for remembrance, this is a powerful document. Yeger
tracks down numerous Romani survivors of the camps, uncovering
horrible stories of abuse. One woman breaks down as she recalls
eating human flesh to survive. Another man tells of a nightmarish
encounter with the infamous Angel of Death, Josef Mengele.

The film is not trying to shoulder aside memories of the Jewish
Holocaust; merely to add another chapter to the Nazis’ list of crimes
against humanity. Modern Romani have even suggested Parrajmos
as an equivalent to the Hebrew word Shoah, and a label for the half
million or more of their people slaughtered in the camps.

That’s technically a countable number, but large enough to feel
impersonal. This is just one reason why the eyewitness accounts
collected in this film cry out to be heard.