Know the past, change the future

Getting a chance to learn from one’s own past is not only an opportunity. It is a big responsibility as well, a chance to change the future and not to repeat the same mistakes that were made in the past. The history of the Roma and Sinti of Europe does not only concern them, but it is the common past, the common history of all – Roma and non-Roma.

Between 1939 – 1945 the Roma and Sinti became one of the victims of the Holocaust, but their tragedy stayed in the dark, hidden from the next generations for too long.  If we look back in  history we can realize that not knowing what happened, not recognizing and not confessing the tragedy that Roma and Sinti have gone through added to the hardships of Roma after the war and sadly, it contributed to the troubles that emerged in the future. The future of the Roma and Sinti after the Second World War became even more tragic. They continued to be victims of discrimination, segregation, persecution, exclusion and this was partly a consequence of a lack of public condemnation of the killings and deportations.

Nearly 500.000 Roma perished during the Pharrajimos. Image from János Bársony – Daróczi Ágnes (eds). 2004. Pharrajimos. Romák Sorsa a Holocaust Idején. [Pharrajimos. The Fate of Roma during Holocaust]. Budapest, L’Harmattan

Only in the last twenty years, with the human rights- and equality focused European and national changes in politics have the Roma issues become a focus and a problem to resolve. Today we know part of the past: Between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti people were killed during the Nazi regime. The fact that today we are aware of this part of Roma history, is due to the hard work and lifelong dedication of people like Romani Rose, who are fighting daily against the discrimination of Roma.

Romani Rose is a Romany activist who lost thirteen members of his family in the Nazi regime, and later on followed the feeling of responsibility, dedicating his life to a cause: that of acquiring recognition of the genocide of the Roma. Born just after the Second World War (1945) in a German Sinti family, he has been managing since 1970 to be part of political life in Germany, fighting against the discrimination of Roma and Sinti and minorities in general. His constant work and belief in the cause lead him to the big success of obtaining the recognition of the Roma and Sinti as a national minority in Germany, in May 1995, as part of the Framework Agreement on the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe. This means the official recognition of Romanes as Roma’s own minority language and their equal participation in the political and social life of Germany. Since 1991 he has directed the Documentation-Cultural Center of the German Sinti and Roma, known for presenting the first permanent exhibition on the Pharrajimos.

Romani Rose

In 1982 the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma was founded, lead by Romani Rose. The founding of the Council was a key moment for the recognition of the Roma and Sinti Holocaust. After years of pressure, exercised by the Council, in 1992 the German Federal Government finally decided to take active role in the construction of a Memorial to the Sinti and Roma murdered under National Socialism. Just few weeks ago, the memorial monument in Berlin was opened on the 24th of October 2012, by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the presence of Roma and Sinti survivors and Roma Elders like Romani Rose. The act of opening the Monument was a significant political recognition for all the Roma and Sinti victims of Holocaust.

Opening of the Roma and Sinti Memorial Monument in Berlin – 24 October 2012.

In a call for unity called “Civil Unity for the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Murdered under National Socialism” from March 2012, an initiative lead by the Roma Elders, the authors point at the importance of recognition of the Roma and Sinti Genocide with the words: “We believe it is essential to commemorate the Sinti and Roma victims of the Holocaust and place them in the history in order to acknowledge the continuing attacks and persecution against Roma throughout Europe today.”

Romani Rose at the opening of the Monument

The possibility to raise their voice is something the survivors need to be able to start a new life of dignity after Auschwitz. “He who survived Auschwitz has two lives: A life before Auschwitz and a life after Auschwitz. And between the two there is Auschwitz – Birkenau. And if he never speaks a word of it his entire life or if he does nothing else his whole life, but speak of it incessantly, he can never be free of it.” – as Eva Fahidi, survivor of Auschwitz states in her confession given to Romedia.

Éva Fahidi, survivor, interviewed by Romedia

We can change the present situation and the future of the Roma today, but giving the deserved respect of the past. Romani Rose’s words are standing out showing us a new path: “How minorities are treated is the measure of democracy and social values as well as the condition of EU membership.”

The key moment is Roma participation in the process of change. We, Roma need to be more active for the change we want in the future and prevent the next generation from full assimilation by promoting our traditions, language and culture.

Written by: Galya Stoyanova, Romani intern at Romedia Foundation