This week, we dedicate the IATE Term of the Week to the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day which is observed on 2nd August. Ahead of the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, the European Commission released a statement calling for remembrance and continued efforts to protect Europe’s minorities:
We consider it a moral duty to acknowledge and remember all those who suffered under the Nazi regime: among those people were the Roma. Remembering their persecution reminds us of the need to tackle the challenges they still face today and which are too often overlooked.
On 15th April 2015, the European Parliament declared the 2nd August as European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day to commemorate the victims of the Roma genocide in World War II. The date is symbolic: on the night between the 2nd and 3rd August 1944, almost 3,000 Roma were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In the Romani language ‘Rom’ means ‘man’, with the plural being ‘Roma’. ‘Romani’ is the female adjective; ‘Romano’ is the male adjective. In English, the term ‘Romani’ is often used to designate the entire people. Other names are also used to describe the Roma (many of which are considered derogatory), including ‘Travellers’ and ‘Sinti’, but ‘Roma’ is the “term commonly used in EU policy documents and discussions.”
Some people call the Roma genocide the porajmos, or porrajmos/pharrajimos, which means ‘the Devouring’ or ‘the Destruction’ in some Romani dialects. The term porajmos was introduced in the 1990s by Romani scholar and linguist Ian Hancock. However, the term is unknown to or sometimes even rejected by some Romani communities, due to the fact that it can also mean ‘rape’. Other words which have been suggested include samudaripen (“mass killing”), Kali Traš (“Black Fear”), and Holokausto (“Holocaust”).
The Roma genocide took place between 1935 and 1945 in Nazi-occupied territories. The Nazis believed that the Roma posed a danger to German ‘racial purity’ and they were classed as ‘asocial’, a term used to describe anyone who did not fit into the Nazis’ idea of social norms. ‘Asocials’ included alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and pacifists.
In 1936, the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of their German citizenship and right to vote, were also applied to the Roma. From 1937 onwards, Roma across Nazi occupied territories were rounded up into ghettos. In 1942, the mass deportation of Roma and people of mixed Roma descent to concentration camps began. In the camps, they wore badges consisting of a black or brown triangle. Black triangles were used to identify ‘asocial’ prisoners and brown triangles were used specifically to designate Roma men. It is estimated that the number of murdered Roma is between 200,000 and 500,000. Exact numbers are not known, due to missing or destroyed records.
The Roma genocide has increasingly been recognised as such by various governments. On 8th May 1966, the Polish village Szczurowa erected a memorial to commemorate the Szczurowa massacre of 1943, during which Nazi occupiers murdered 93 Roma who had been living in Szczurowa for generations. In 2011, Dutch citizen and Roma Holocaust survivor Zoni Wiesz was invited as guest of honour at Germany’s Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony. In July 2011, the Polish parliament decided to declare the 2nd August the official Roma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day; this decision was welcomed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). On 24th October 2012, the city of Berlin unveiled the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism. In 2015, the European Parliament officially declared the 2nd August as Roma Holocaust Memorial Day.
Today, there are currently about 6 million Roma living in the EU and the majority have EU citizenship.
Further reading and resources
Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_Holocaust_Memorial_Day [Accessed 04/08/2020]
Roma integration in the EU . Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/combatting-discrimination/roma-and-eu/roma-integration-eu_en [Accessed 05/08/2020]
Romani Genocide. Wikipedia. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_genocide [Accessed 05/08/2020]
Roma and Sinti Holocaust. 2020. [Online]. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2020/646145/EPRS_ATA(2020)646145_EN.pdf [Accessed 04/08/2020]
On the interpretation of a word: Porrajmos as Holocaust. 2006. [Online]. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20150924084502/http://www.radoc.net/radoc.php?doc=art_e_holocaust_interpretation&lang=ry&articles=true [Accessed 04/08/2020]
OSCE human rights chief welcomes declaration of official Roma genocide remembrance day in Poland. 2011. [Online]. Available at: https://www.osce.org/odihr/81364. [Accessed 04/08/2020]
European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day: Statement by President von der Leyen, Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner Dalli. 2020. [Online]. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_20_1423. [Accessed 04/08/2020]
‘Asocials’, Definition by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. [Online]. Available at: https://www.hmd.org.uk/learn-about-the-holocaust-and-genocides/nazi-persecution/asocials/ [Accessed 04/08/2020]
Written by Janna Mack. From Luxembourg, she has degrees in Linguistics, Education, and Translation from Glasgow University.