Speech by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, at the remembrance ceremony in honour of the last Sinti and Roma murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944

02.08.2017 - Speech

--Translation of advance text—

Ladies and gentlemen,

Relations between Europe and its largest ethnic minority are still defined by marginalisation, incomprehension, unfamiliarity and ignorance. Sinti and Roma remain on the outskirts of our societies. That grieves me. We cannot accept this because otherwise we would be guilty of causing further harm to the some 12 million Sinti and Roma in Europe.

We have gathered here today to remember 2 August 1944. At 7 p.m. on this day 73 years ago, the part of Auschwitz-Birkenau that the Nazis called the “Gypsy Camp” was sealed off following an order from Berlin, and 1,408 of the prisoners classified as still capable of working were transferred by freight train to Buchenwald concentration camp. The remaining 2,897 women, men and children were murdered in the gas chambers.

In total, some 22,600 Roma and Sinti had been imprisoned under inhumane conditions in Auschwitz alone by 1944. Over 19,300 Sinti and Roma were murdered in Auschwitz.

Most of them died as a result of the cruel and intentional starvation rations or of diseases and epidemics; over 5,600 people were killed in the gas chambers, while others became the victims of individual violence or medical crimes.

The Holocaust of the Sinti and Roma – called “Porajmos” in Romany, which translates as devouring – annihilated half a million people.

Here in Berlin, the persecution of the Sinti and Roma began in a particularly abhorrent way in the summer of 1936. The aim was that Berlin would be “zigeunerfrei”, as the Nazis put it, by the start of the Summer Olympics – in other words that there would be no more Sinti and Roma in the city. Wilhelm Frick, who was Reich Minister of the Interior at the time, tasked the President of Police in Berlin with conducting what was called a “day‑long, city‑wide manhunt for gypsies” and interning those identified by the authorities.

These 600 men, women and children, who included Otto Rosenberg and his family, were later transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where almost all of them were murdered.

The Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered under the National Socialist Regime stands as a symbol of our country’s special responsibility. We recognise the genocide of the Sinti and Roma, which is one of the darkest chapters of our history.

Despite this recognition, the Sinti and Roma in Germany and Europe remain a largely unknown chapter in our continent’s history.

It is no coincidence that the Porajmos is known as the forgotten Holocaust. And yet it is part of Europe’s shared culture of remembrance, like the Shoah of the Jewish victims.

That is why I would like to take this opportunity to thank the foundation, its director Uwe Neumärker and his team for the dedication and hard work with which they keep memories alive.

However, commemorating and remembering are not enough. Something must also grow out of them. Our awareness that injustice was perpetrated but not acknowledged means we have a duty to the present and the future.

Mr Höllenreiner, you are a good example of how one can live up to this duty, as are Romani Rose, Zoni Weisz and Otto Rosenberg. You live in Germany and fight for the rights of Sinti and Roma. Without you, we would not be here today. Without you, we would not have this day of commemoration for the Porajmos. Without you, we would not have this memorial.

Germany was very reluctant to recognise the crimes by Nazi Germany against the Sinti and Roma as genocide. I am grateful to you for repeatedly raising this issue with us. Please do not stop making demands of us, be it in your pursuit of an independent commission of experts or the establishment of the role of a commissioner to combat anti‑Gypsyism.

There is still so much to do. There is still a lack of awareness that Sinti and Roma have not only been part of Europe and part of our societies for centuries, but have also influenced and enriched us. But instead of contact and interaction, all too often we still witness ignorance and stereotypes that are simply not called into question. As the majority society, we need to change our perception of and stance towards the Sinti and Roma.

For this reason, I am particularly happy that we were able to celebrate the opening of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture here in Berlin in June. It is a wonderful project that fills us all with pride. I hope it will help to remove prejudices and to raise awareness of the culture of the Sinti and Roma all over Europe.

Vaclav Havel once said that “the treatment of the Roma is the litmus test of democracy”. Our democracy and Europe still need to pass this test. Let us do something. Let us do the right thing. And let us do this right thing together.

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