THEY are just like any children, full of potential and mischief.
But the story of these Sinti children from Dreihausen, near
Frankfurt, ended not long after their photo (right) was
taken. The country they lived in considered them to have "lives
unworthy of life".
Shortly after they were captured on camera, in the summer of
1942, they were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where
they became just three among the 1.5 million Romany people murdered
during the Nazi Holocaust. It is time that more people learnt about
this forgotten crime.
Along with the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the
Romany were the only other racial group destined for complete
annihilation. The Nazis' "final solution to the Gypsy question" was
designed to exterminate the largest ethnic-minority community in
Europe. About 70 per cent of both the Romanies and the Jews living
in German lands were murdered. The activist Romani Rose (who was
born in Heidelberg just after the Second World War) knows about the
Holocaust, or Porrajmos as it is known in Romani, where it
means "the devouring". "Thirteen members of my family were murdered
during the Holocaust," he says. "My grandfather was murdered
inAuschwitz, and my grandmother in the concentration camp of
Ravensbruck." The diverse Romany community in Germany is
collectively known as the Sinti and Roma, but the Holocaust
affected them all. "It has profoundly shaped the identity of the
minority, and left its indelible mark on the memories of the Sinti
and Roma," Mr Rose says.
As chairman of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma, Mr Rose
tours the world to campaign for equal rights for his community, and
also to raise awareness of the fact that the Romany people of
Europe have shared a common history with European societies for
IT HAS been a long struggle. "A hunger strike at the Dachau
concentration camp memorial in 1980, organised by the Sinti and
Roma civil-rights movement, first raised awareness of the
Holocaust, and created an awareness of the Nazi crimes," Mr Rose
says. Only the English Channel and the efforts of the Allied forces
saved British Gypsies and Travellers from a similar fate.
The Revd Adrian Brook, the diocese of Salisbury's Chaplain to
Gypsies and Travellers, says: "It is startling how few people in
this country are aware that the Romany Holocaust happened at all.
Even many British Romanies know little about the subject."
Mr Rose was instrumental in the getting the German government to
unveil a memorial to this Holocaust in Berlin in October 2012, but
perhaps his greatest contribution to spreading awareness has come
in the form of an exhibition, "The Holocaust Against the Roma and
Sinti", which has toured Europe and the United States. Its most
powerful journey, however, is the one on which it takes its
visitors. This contrasts the terror and organised persecution of
the Nazi regime with the normality of everyday Romany life.
Personal testimonies and family photographs reveal the individuals
behind each victim's unique story.
The exhibition shows how everyday hatred can lead to a
holocaust. The first part documents the beginning of the exclusion
of the German Roma and Sinti, after the Nazis came to power. Then
it covers the genocide of these peoples in Nazi-occupied Europe. A
third part documents the systematic killing of Romanies from almost
every European country in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination
camp. A final part considers current discrimination against Romany
minorities in Central and Eastern Europe.
THIS month, much anti-immigrant hysteria focused on the
impending arrival of many Romanian and Bulgarian Roma in the UK,
who then failed to appear. This provides a stark reminder that
anti-Romany prejudice is never far away.
Across Eastern Europe now, anti-Romany feeling is running
increasingly high. In Hungary, paramilitary killings of Roma have
hit the headlines, and have resulted in stiff prison sentences for
the perpetrators. In the Czech Republic, neo-Nazi marches on Romany
neighbourhoods have been forcibly held back by riot police. In
Britain, vehement opposition to new Gypsy and Traveller sites is
perceived by Britain's 500,000-strong Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller
communities as thinly veiled racism.
The opening of the memorial to the Roma and Sinti Holocaust in
Berlin just over a year ago becamea symbol of the struggle that the
Romany people still face in order to have the darkest hour in their
history remembered. Its construction was dogged by delays,
indifference, and obstructive bureaucracy. For years, a corner of
Berlin's large city-centre park, the Tiergarten, was blocked off.
Barriers hid a small construction site, but little work ever seemed
to be done there. It looked like a project that would never be
Now, however, it stands there for all to see. Designed by the
Israeli artist Dani Karavan, it consists of a circular pool of
water with a triangular concrete plinth at its centre, on which a
fresh flower is placed each day. The words of "Auschwitz", by the
Italian Romany poet Santino Spinelli, are formed in the metal
surround of the pool. They can be translated as: "Pallid face, dead
eyes, cold lips. Silence.A broken heart without breath, without
words, no tears."
Mr Spinelli, Mr Rose, and 12 million Romanies in Europe believe
it is high time that the silence was broken.
Jake Bowers is a Romany journalist, broadcaster, and
blacksmith (www.thirstybearforge.co.uk). Information about the
Romany Holocaust is at www.romasinti.eu.