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Germany’s Roma Community Commemorates Holocaust Victims

In Berlin, Romani Rose of the Central Council of German Roma and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined a commemoration for members of this minority who were murdered by the Nazis. Steinmeier apologized to the Romani people.

Berlin, October 24th, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — Roma, who used to be called Gypsies, a term that can be discriminatory, use the word Porajmos for the murder of up to half a million of their brothers and sisters in Nazi Germany and its concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Berlin’s Memorial to the Sinte and Roma Victims of National Socialism was built to commemorate them. Ten years ago, to the day, it was inaugurated.

Romani Rose spoke to the guests of today’s event at the Memorial to the Sinte and Roma Victims of National Socialism. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Systematically Murdered

For the anniversary, Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier appeared at the Memorial today. He said, in Nazi Germany and in countries occupied by it, Romani people had endured immeasurable misery. They had been bullied, persecuted, disfranchised, excluded, expelled from their jobs, pressured into giving up their businesses, declared stateless persons, arrested, incarcerated, robbed, expropriated, abducted, abused, forcibly sterilized and systematically murdered.

Zoni Weisz’ siblings and parents were murdered by the Nazis. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

According to Steinmeier people of Romani origin in Germany endured a lot even after World War II. He said the perpetrators, followers and antiziganist haters did not just disappear, as the survivors of this minority had noticed. In West Germany, the Roma had hardly gotten support. Instead the crimes that had been committed against them, had been contested or justified.

Apology in Romani

President Steinmeier reiterated an apology he had expressed earlier this year: “On behalf of our country, I ask for your forgiveness”, he told the many representatives of the Roma community who were part of the ceremony, and he did so in both German and Romani.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke to other guests at the Memorial to the Sinte and Roma Victims of National Socialism on Monday. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Zoni Weisz, a prominent 85-year-old Romani Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered in Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, said he thought of his loved ones every day. This trauma would last all his life. Weisz also said the question how the genocide could happen had still not been answered. He also commented on an issue which is threatening the memorial in Berlin right now. Deutsche Bahn is planning a new ‘S-Bahn’ train line and says the Memorial to the Sinte and Roma Victims of National Socialism has to be removed at least in part. The Roma community needed to be taken seriously, Weisz said. “The only good solution is an alternative route [for those trains]”, he stressed.

Democracy and Cohabitation

Romani Rose has been President of the Central Council of German Roma since 1982. At the event, he said the nation of law and democracy needed to be defended. That way, the cohabitation of all people would be defended as well. There were some positive developments today, Rose stated, but also nationalism. A new, racist way of think was spreading again. Because of recent antiziganist and antisemitic agitation, people felt threatened in their existence. This was not only a problem that affected Roma or Jews only, but everyone who lived in this society. Therefore, those tendencies needed to be confronted.

Romani Rose has been President of the Central Council of German Roma for 40 years. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The Memorial for the Roma and Sinti murdered by the Nazis is located only a few steps away from Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin’s Tiergarten park. The Reichstag building is right there as well. Around the corner, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe commemorates the 6 million Jews the Nazis murdered as well.

Permanent Exhibition

The one for the Roma and Sinti was designed by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan who died in 2021. It has walls made out of milk glass. On them, a chronology documents the terrible history of the genocide that was committed against the Roma and Sinti between 1933 and 1945 in both English, on the outer walls, and German, on the inner ones. It started with discrimination, when Hitler came to power in 1933 and ended in mass murder.

A water basin marks the center of the Memorial. Around it, the names of concentration camps are engraved into stone plates. Many of the Nazi’s victims of Romani origin were murdered in Auschwitz. A new permanent exhibition about the stories of nine Romani Nazi victims was inaugurated today. One of them is Zoni Weisz.

‘Memorial Mile’

In 1992, when the late Helmut Kohl was Chancellor, the German government decided to go ahead with the construction of a memorial of this kind. Due to arguments, it took another 20 years until it was completed. There were those who did not want a ‘memorial mile’ in Berlin’s city center. The Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism is located close by too. So is the Memorial to the Victims of National Socialist ‘Euthanasia’ Killings.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, was among the guests as well. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The Central Council of German Roma and Sinti had demanded a memorial for decades. It was finally completed in 2012 and inaugurated on October 24th of that year.

Related feature: Hated, Incarcerated, Evicted, Discriminated: Bulgaria’s Roma Minority

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