Pharrajimos

It was in 1944, on April 16 that Hungary began its deportation of thousands of people, mainly Jews and Roma, to Nazi death camps in Germany and Poland. As well as August 2 (Holocaust Memorial Day) and January 27 (Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz), this day also plays an important part in remembering and breaking the silence.

The latter two days are internationally recognized and acknowledged while April 16 refers only to Hungary, having been introduced in 2004 and taught in schools. However, recent studies into what is known about this day showed that it was hardly common knowledge.

In the early 1990s Romani intellectuals and scientists proposed that Pharrajimos (meaning “devouring or destruction of” in Romanes) was to be a word defining their people’s genocide during the Holocaust. It refers specifically to the destruction and annihilation perpetrated by Nazi Germany, Croatia, Hungary and their allies during the Second World War against the Roma.

In Eastern Europe, the Romani community suffered gravely but the official number of Roma killed in the Pharrajimos still remains the subject of some speculation, with figures varying from 600,000 to over a million.

The Belzec concentration camp was the setting for the gassing to death of hundreds of Roma. However, staggeringly some years later a claim for damages was lost due to German laws which did not recognise persecution of Roma as a racially motivated offence.

This was because the Roma actually were considered to be of Aryan race but were persecuted on grounds of alleged criminality instead.

On top of that, it was claimed that there was unwillingness on the part of the German authorities to acknowledge wrongdoing.

It was not until the 1980s that the German government officially apologised for the genocide of Roma after which the process of compensation did, at long last, start to gather momentum.

The first known victims of the Pharrajimos were in the southern Carpathians in 1941. The Hungarian authorities at the time stated that foreigners, supposedly returning Roma and Jews, had not been able to provide documentation proving their Hungarian citizenship. They were suspected of being Serbian or Ukrainian and executed.

The genocide was accelerated upon the German occupation in 1944. From internment camps, Jewish and Romani prisoners were deported to Auschwitz in mid-April. Romani ghettos and forced labor were both part of the poisonous process.

When the central government of the Arrow Cross party took over in October, the Roma were forbidden from living in permanent residences. Subsequently, the Roma had their homes raided after which trains carried overcrowded carriages full to the Nazi concentration camps of Dachau, Mauthausen, Rawensbruck, Bergen-Belsen, Natzveiler.

From 1944 until the end of the war the killing was relentless with more and more Roma murdered on the spot as the Western Front started to emerge as the victors. As the Russian army approached, 118 Romani men, women and children were murdered at Varpalota Graber lake after rumors spread that they had helped the Russians. In early November a serious crackdown began as one Romani survivor reported: “As we marched through villages, others had joined us. Some babies died on the journey and those who tried to escape were shot and left at the side of the road. It took two weeks to travel to Komarom and there was never enough water for everyone. Many died after an outbreak of typhoid fever, while others were simply killed. The dead were thrown into a big hole and lime was poured on them. One day we were gathered into little cars and noone knew where we were going. “Damn you Gypsies and Jews” shouted one Nazi guard. Suddenly sirens roared and bombs fell. Our wagon was hit and some managed to escape. We had to hide in the woods for a year until the end of the war”

After the war details of the extent of the Romani killings were slowly revealed.

Unfortunately, it has not been possible to identify exact numbers and names of victims.

For an insightful account of the how the Roma suffered during the Holocaust, we recommend “Pharrajimos: The Fate of the Roma During the Holocaust” by Janos Barsony and Agnes Daroczi.

http://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.org  Pharrajimos, The Fate of the Roma During the Holocaust, Edited by János Bársony and Ágnes Daróczi, Idebate Press 2008 New York,Amsterdam,Brussels ISBNhttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.orghttp://www.theromanielders.org 978-1-932716-30-6