2 August 2020
Marija Pejčinović Burić
Secretary-General of the Council of Europe
Commemoration speech on the occasion of 2 August 2020, Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma
Distinguished guests, Dear friends,
At a moment when Europe and the wider world are grappling with the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic, it is important that we cleave to the values we hold dear. So, while it is right that the format of this year’s Memorial Day service has changed, it is equally important that it is retained.
The second of August marks 76 years since the last group of Roma and Sinti prisoners – men, women and children – were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau’s infamous “Gypsy Camp”: Around 3 000 people out of total of at least half a million killed. Remembering those people is vitally important. Not only because each of the victims deserves our respect, important though that is – but also because Holocaust Remembrance is essential for keeping historical memory alive. So that we understand what happened, what humanity is capable of, and the need to ensure that it never happens again.
That’s why remembering the Roma Holocaust is a primary objective of the Council of Europe’s Strategic Action Plan for Roma and Traveller Inclusion. And it also plays an important role in the Recommendation adopted by our 47 member states just last month, calling for the history of Roma and Travellers to be included in school curricula and teaching materials.
It is right that young people – that all people – should understand that this community has been present in Europe over centuries, with a rich culture that has survived despite the hatred, prejudice and discrimination that it has often faced and which, left unchallenged, can lead to historical revisionism and Holocaust denial.
We must never turn a blind eye to these things. Rather, it is incumbent on us to work for a future in which everyone sees the intrinsic value in every individual: Where we embrace diversity, mutual respect and the value of living together and learning from one another.
The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees in law the fundamental rights to which all Europeans are entitled. But laws are not enough. We need a culture of acceptance and mutual understanding where discrimination becomes unthinkable and dignity indispensable. Progress has sometimes been slow, but there are positive signs.
Too often ignored, the Roma Holocaust was formally recognised by Germany in 1982. And since then, an increasing number of European countries – most recently Romania – have established a day of commemoration for Roma victims of this terrible crime. This is an important acknowledgment that a better future can only be built on a solid understanding of the past.
My thoughts today are with those who lost their lives, those who survived, and the Roma and Traveller communities who continue to contribute to the rich and diverse cultural life of our continent.