Olivia Marks-Woldman

75 years on, remembering the Roma victims of the Nazis

Roma prisoners  (Credit USHMM/ HMDT via Jewish News)
Roma prisoners (Credit USHMM/ HMDT via Jewish News)

 On the evening of 2 August 1944, the ‘Gypsy Family Camp’ at Auschwitz-Birkenau was ‘liquidated’ under orders from Heinrich Himmler. Following weeks of deportations, all 2,897 remaining Roma and Sinti men, women and children were taken to the gas chambers and murdered.

In total, 200,000 Roma people were murdered by the Nazis – 20,000 at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

On Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January), we commemorate all victims of Nazi persecution, and encourage people to share their experiences at events across the UK. But many people still don’t know about the persecution of the Roma people. Whilst most people have at least some knowledge about the notorious Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, fewer people are aware that Roma people were imprisoned, forced into slave labour and murdered at the camp.

Under the Nazis, Roma people were targeted for complete destruction. More than 200,000 Roma people were murdered or died as a result of starvation or disease – about 25% of the pre-war population. Many more were imprisoned, used as forced labour or subject to forced sterilisation and medical experimentation.

But the end of the war did not signal the end of the suffering for Roma people. Communities across Europe have continued to face persecution, discrimination and prejudice based on their identity.

A recent study from the charity Protection Approaches found that 41% of British people surveyed believe gypsy, Roma or traveller communities are a threat to Britain’s success and prosperity. This is deeply worrying – Roma people are being targeted across Europe, not because of individuals and their actions, but due to indiscriminate prejudice against the whole community. The findings of this research show the persistence of negative stereotypes which continue to influence attitudes in Britain today.

We know that, on Holocaust Memorial Day, people across the country organise exhibitions, displays and performances to share the experiences of Roma people. One of the life stories often shared is that of Otto Rosenberg.

Otto Rosenberg’s ID card (HMDT via Jewish News)

He faced persistent discrimination as a young Sinti boy living in Nazi Germany, and remembers being called a ‘dirty gypsy’ by other children. Shortly before his 16th birthday, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he had the number ‘Z 6084’ tattooed on his arm. Otto was sent to another concentration camp on the night of 2 August 1944. His family members who were left behind, including his sister and grandmother, were murdered that night in the gas chambers. Otto survived, but struggled to cope with the loss of his family for the rest of his life.

Today, on 2 August 2019, we join with people across the UK and internationally on Roma Genocide Remembrance Day to remember those who were murdered that night at Auschwitz 75 years ago, and all Roma people persecuted by the Nazis. We stand with the Roma community against the prejudice they continue to face today.

About the Author
Olivia is the Chief executive, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
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