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Ensuring the right to remembrance and dignity for the Roma people

Roma Holocaust 70th anniversary commemoration - Saturday 2 August 2014

GENEVA / NEW YORK (2 August 2014) – On the 70th anniversary of the Roma Holocaust –‘Porrajmos’ or ‘Pharrajimos’– two United Nations human rights experts urge all governments around the world to ensure the right to remembrance for the Roma people.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, and the Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, call for stronger measures and initiatives to keep the memory of the Roma Holocaust alive and enable survivors, Roma communities and others to mark it in a recognized and dignified manner.

“Many people globally have little or no knowledge that Roma were targeted by the Nazi regime. Under the Nazis, Roma were subjected to arbitrary internment, forced labor, and mass murder. German authorities murdered tens of thousands of Roma in the German-occupied territories of the Soviet Union and Serbia and thousands more in the death camps.

Else Schmidt was seven years old when taken in the summer of 1942 from her home in Hamburg. She remembers two men in military coats marching her to a warehouse on the docks where they left her among crowds of Gypsies already gathered there…
(A testimony from the book “Porrajmos” – Recollections of Roma Holocaust survivors)

On the night of 2 to 3 August 1944, all remaining 2,897 Roma men, women and children in the so called ‘Gypsy family camp’ in Auschwitz-Birkenau, were taken to gas chamber V and were murdered by the Nazis.

…Else had no idea why she had been brought there. In fact, she had no idea what a ‘Gypsy’ was...

Much remains to be done to establish the right and possibility for Roma to remember and commemorate with dignity. In several countries where evidence suggests that Roma fell victims to the Holocaust, governments should make 2 August an official day of remembrance for the victims of the Pharrajimos. All the world’s governments and the international community, including the United Nations, must make sure that they include reference to the suffering of Roma in their Holocaust education and commemoration events.

…Else’s parents drew a veil at home over her torment…

In order to allow appropriate commemoration, Roma graves and mass graves, including those that have not yet been marked, must be identified and preserved to enable survivors to remember and mourn in dignity.

…Humiliation at school worked more brutally: ‘I have very bad memories of school, because I still had my concentration camp number tattooed on my arm with just a plaster to hide it…

Violence against Roma is not only a matter of history but is a sad reality for many Roma communities today, also. We must realize that the hatred and the dehumanization of the victims of the Holocaust that characterised the Nazi era, still exist in the hearts and minds of some individuals in Europe today. These individuals are capable of committing violence against our fellow Roma citizens simply because of who they are.

…On the first day, the teachers, who were bad Nazis, forced me to stand up in class…

We must make sure that governments remain vigilant to this risk and take appropriate measures against signs of hatred and stigmatization. They must step up their action against hate speech and incitement to hatred before it is manifested in violence and atrocities. We call on all States to meet their responsibilities by implementing effective measures to protect their populations from discrimination and violence based on their identity.

…They said to me: You must stand here until you have told everyone what is under the plaster…

The growing presence of and support for extremist parties and ideologies, which often target Roma and other minority populations, including immigrants, is of increasing concern in Europe. It is in the interest of all European governments and democratic political parties to step up their efforts to establish necessary integration policies and platforms to ensure that all populations, including the Roma are considered and treated equally, can live in security and raise their children without fear.”

From that day, for eighteen years, Else spoke with no one about what had happened to her in Auschwitz and Ravensbrück aged 8 and 9.

ENDS

Ms. Rita Izsák was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and subsequently her mandate was renewed as Special Rapporteur in March 2014. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx

Mr. Adama Dieng was appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide on 17 July 2012. Learn more, visit: http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/

Check the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. Read the Declaration: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or Margarita Lema (+41 22 917 9248 / mlematome@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN mandates:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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