Speech by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, at the remembrance ceremony to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under the National Socialist Regime
Translation of advance text
Ladies and gentlemen,
„If we hate, we lose. If we love, we will be rich.“ These are the words of Philomena Franz, born in 1922, a German Sinti woman and Holocaust survivor. They express, clearly and succinctly, the principles of a humane society.
She lost her parents, five siblings and countless relatives in the Porajmos, the Nazis’ genocide of the European Sinti and Roma. She herself survived forced labour and an odyssey through the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück and Oranienburg. Long after the end of World War II, she still faced discrimination at the hands of the German authorities.
What a generous, incredible gift Philomena Franz bestowed on us: in spite of the cruel treatment and tragic losses she had to bear, she did not succumb to thoughts of revenge but was guided by the thought of love.
For many years she shared her memories with others, giving lectures in schools and universities in Germany and abroad. In spite of her physical and psychological injuries, which presumably were never fully healed, she always believed in reconciliation and understanding. We are infinitely grateful to Philomena Franz and many of her contemporaries for this unshakeable belief in the good in people.
Only if people are aware of the past can they help ensure that its tragedies are never repeated. Anyone who has listened to the words of a survivor and been aghast, horrified and deeply moved will surely agree with me that no book, film or play has the same impact. We have to be grateful to the remaining survivors for sharing their very personal stories while they still can and for confronting us with the horrific reality of the Holocaust. But this won’t be possible for much longer. We now have to try to find new forms of remembrance and commemoration.
Unfortunately, the general public in Germany still knows far too little about the persecution of the Sinti and Roma under the Nazis. It is thus often referred to as the „forgotten Holocaust“. Not many people know that the Sinti and Roma were early victims of the Nazis’ racial fanaticism, that they were deported to „gypsy camps“, and that up to 500,000 men, women and children were murdered.
I stand here before you as a representative of the German Government, to commemorate the victims and to keep their memory alive. But that is not enough. The Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism also enjoins us to live up to our responsibility in the present, here and now. Our past obligates us to fight hatred and marginalisation, intolerance and racism, discrimination and stigmatisation – not just in Germany, but around the world.
The Memorial we are gathered by today serves not only to militate against forgetting, but is also designed to exhort us to build a new future.
A future in which 12 million European Sinti and Roma form an integral part of our society – and do not just survive on its margins.
A future in which anti-Gypsyism has no place, in which Sinti and Roma are treated with dignity and respect, and have the chance to lead lives of their own devising.
A future in which the art, culture and history of the European Sinti and Roma have become visible. In this context, the opening of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture here in Berlin last year was a ray of light.
I hope that today’s remembrance ceremony will not only unite us in our grief and mourning, but will give us all courage 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. This we owe to Philomena Franz.