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Today, many friends and supporters have gathered once again at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under the National Socialist Regime. I am most delighted that you have come. I would like to welcome one person in particular, namely Zoni Weisz. I still vividly remember the very personal and stirring speech that you gave in the German Bundestag eight years ago today on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
At that time, you gave us an arresting account of how you experienced discrimination, disenfranchisement and persecution as a seven year old Sinto.
You yourself only just managed to escape deportation. “I was alone. I was a child of only seven years of age, and I had lost everything. I fell into a bottomless pit of despair.” What could possibly be worse, ladies and gentlemen?
Zoni Weisz was able to tell us his story. Anyone who has listened to accounts by Holocaust survivors – and was aghast, horrified and deeply moved – will agree with me when I say that this is not something that a book, a film or a play can convey. We can be so thankful that the survivors remind us, all the while they still can, of the horrific reality that was the Holocaust.
Today is also about shedding light onto the past. Some 500,000 Sinti and Roma were cruelly murdered during the National Socialist era or died of hunger, exhaustion, illness or the effects of torture – 500,000 life stories and individual fates that can no longer be told. In many cases, not even the victims’ names are known to us. Who were they? What traces did they leave behind?
It pains me that the genocide of Sinti and Roma continues to receive far too little attention among the general public. We are therefore still right to call this the “forgotten Holocaust”. The Memorial we are gathered by today serves not only to militate against forgetting, however, but is also intended to exhort us to build a new future.
This Memorial reminds us to live up to our responsibility both today and tomorrow. Our past obligates us to stand up to hatred and marginalisation, intolerance and racism, discrimination and stigmatisation – not only in Germany, but around the world.
Many of the prejudices that the National Socialists worked steadfastly to foment for more than a decade have still not fully disappeared, even more than seven decades later. Sinti and Roma are often powerless to defend themselves against these stereotypes. Sometimes it is only thoughtlessness, carelessness or disinterest that lead Sinti and Roma to be on the receiving end of derogatory remarks.
Often, however, they are also exposed to malevolence and, in the case of assault, even blind hatred. To this we must add the significantly poorer opportunities that they have to contend with in society, at school, in the labour market and in the health system. This must change as a matter of urgency. Above all, we must change – each and every one of us must keep on reflecting on our own behaviour and purge our minds and vocabulary of prejudices and antiziganist tropes.
There are some rays of hope here, however. I am particularly pleased that a platform has been created here in Berlin to foster Sinti and Roma culture and to help a broad public become acquainted with it in the form of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC).
Another initiative that enjoys support from the Federal Foreign Office is the RomArchive, an international digital archive for Sinti and Roma art, which was officially launched a few days ago. This archive is not only aimed at Europe’s largest minority, but, above all, also at Europe’s majority societies. In so doing, this project intends to counteract stubborn prejudices and stereotypes.
I am grateful to our Federal President for inviting us for the first time to attend an evening at Schloss Bellevue focusing on art, literature and music by the European Sinti and Roma on Tuesday. What a wonderful and important evening that was. After all, what we need is both, namely remembrance and commemoration of the genocide and its victims and positive narratives and role models.
It is still necessary to talk about discrimination and marginalisation. But let us also tell of how the Sinti and Roma enrich and inspire our society. Let us be proud of those who contribute to culture, media, business and the world of politics. They are still far too few in number. I am thankful that Roma are now running for the European Parliament and will hopefully soon be successful candidates for the German Bundestag. Sinti and Roma are part of our society, and we are grateful for this fact.
I hope that today’s memorial ceremony will encourage us to work together to forge a society characterised by diversity and respect. There is no room for hate, marginalisation and intolerance here in our midst. This we owe to our past. This we owe to ourselves. And this we owe to the 500,000 Sinti and Roma who were victims of the Holocaust.