The European Commission honored the more than 500,000 Romani and Sinti victims murdered by the Nazis and collaborators during the Second World War, on the eve of the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day commemorated every August 2.
“Commemorating their historical persecution makes us remember the need to address the challenges they're still facing and that way too often are ignored,” said the first vice president of the commission Frans Timmermans and the Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova in a joint declaration.
The Roma Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated every August 2 to mark the 1944 date in which about 3,000 Romani women, men and children were murdered in the gas chamber V of "Zigeunerlager BIII" (Zigeuner being a disrespectful word for Romani) at Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp.
In the Romani language, the tragedy is known as 'pharrajimos,' which can translate as “destruction.” It's remembered as the worst event in their peoples' history. Other Romani people in the Balkans prefer to use the term 'samudaripen,' translating as “mass killing,” but there's still no general consensus in the community regarding how to call this tragedy, sometimes even borrowing the word 'holokausto.'
There are no official figures regarding the victims, but it's estimated that about 19,000 were murdered in Auschwitz, out of the 23,000 that were sent by the Nazis to the Romani families concentration camp. The rest were transferred to Buchenwald and Ravensbrück concentration camps for forced labour.
In total, between 220,000 and 500,000 might have been killed during the Second World War, which could amount to half of the Romani population in Europe at that time.
“Seven decades after... they're still facing hate, violence, discrimination and racism on a daily basis,” said Timmermans and Jourova, who also pointed out this population doesn't have its basic needs covered, such as a education, medical care and dignified housing.
The Commission highlighted the responsibility of the whole European Union and member states to guarantee “more effective policies” to remember the “historical genocides” and promote “education and research in this field,” as well as defending the European values of equality and non-discrimination.
Both Timmermans and Jourova will meet on Thursday with a group of survivors of the genocide and young Romanis in the former camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, in what used to be occupied Poland.
The memorial day, organized by the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma in collaboration with the Roma People Association in Poland, is expected to reunited 300 Roma and not-Roma young people coming from 20 European countries.
In Strasbourg, France, the Roma and Travellers Team is organizing a commemorative ceremony in memory of the Roma victims at 12.00 pm on the lawn in front of the Palais de l’Europe.