Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma
Commemoration speech on the occasion of 2 August 2021, Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma
Ladies and Gentlemen,
77 years ago today, 4,300 people were murdered in the gas chambers here in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. They were the last Sinti and Roma in camp section B II e, which the SS called the “Gypsy camp”, most of them old, sick and children. Those who were still considered fit for work by the SS had previously been transferred to other concentration camps, where they were also to be subjected to extermination by slave labour.
Today we remember all 500,000 Sinti and Roma who were murdered in the Holocaust and we remember all the people who fell victim to the National Socialist reign of terror in Europe. They are all united by the injustice they suffered and it is our obligation to preserve their common legacy in the future.
“Auschwitz” – this name, more than any other, has become a symbol of the unprecedented industrial mass murder perpetrated by the Nazis and their helpers in Europe against the Sinti and Roma as well as the Jews. A crime against humanity, meticulously planned, bureaucratically organised and carried out. The prerequisite for this breach of civilisation, unique in history, was the racism of the Nazis, with its core of extreme and radical antiziganism and anti-Semitism.
Auschwitz is the conscience that appeals to all of us to raise our voices against the murderous racism that is rampant again today with its numerous deaths. Our remembrance is not connected with the transfer of guilt to the present generation, but with the common responsibility for the future of all of us.
It must fill us with great concern when we look at the current state of the European Union. The attempt of some member states to weaken the separation of powers, the fundamental principle of the rule of law, is staggering – especially after the experience of the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis and the communist dictatorship in Europe.
In this way, they are undermining democracy and destroying the united Europe. Meanwhile, they are directly opposing the values on which the European Union is based: the equality of all people before the law, the individual freedom of the individual, human dignity. They are deliberately setting in motion centrifugal forces that threaten to tear our democratic community of states apart from within.
The European Union must act with all its might here and defend itself with all the legal means at its disposal against such a request by individual governments.
An important guarantor of our freedom is an independent press. Any attempt to restrict the freedom of the press must be rejected in the strongest possible terms. In Europe, we do not need opinion journalism, we need critical journalism that openly speaks out when those in power are in the process of destroying democratic structures.
We owe freedom, peace and prosperity in Europe to democracy. Each and every one of us bears a special responsibility here. We must resist the deliberate destruction of our democracy at the ballot box and no longer accept this situation uncritically.
We owe this to those who were murdered and to the survivors of the Nazi terror that dragged the whole of Europe and Germany into the abyss.
Survivors like 97-year-old Sinteza “Zilly” Schmidt, who lost her entire family, including her 5-year-old child, on 2 August 1944. To this day, she asks herself again and again why she of all people survived the inferno of Auschwitz. Her answer is clear: “So that I can bear witness to everything that happened there.”
Today, more than 76 years after the liberation of Europe from National Socialism, the voices of those who can bear witness are gradually falling silent. So it is up to us, the generation born later, to keep their legacy alive and to ensure that Auschwitz is never forgotten.
This is all the more important at a time when anti-gypsyism and anti-Semitism are spreading again and when a new nationalism is taking hold in the parliaments of Europe.
In order to counteract these frightening developments, to secure and permanently maintain peace and prosperity for all, we in Germany can refer to our constitution, in which human dignity was enshrined as a fundamental right after the experiences of the Holocaust. In Europe, it is the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states in Article 1: “Human dignity is inviolable.”
Nevertheless, Sinti and Roma in Europe are increasingly the victims of police violence, have to live in inhumane conditions in the slums of Central and South-Eastern Europe, in the middle of the countries of the European Union, and have to endure a system of apartheid in the areas of education, housing, health care and on the labour market. Governments are responsible for this. Even more: through corruption, aid money provided by the EU seeps away without reaching the people.
77 years after the events of 2 August 1944, this state of affairs is a scandal and I appeal to the governments, based on Europe’s history, to take responsibility here and to counteract these racist and undignified conditions.
It is up to us, through education and constant remembrance of the horrors of the Second World War, the Nazi terror and the Holocaust, to fill the vision of a united and peaceful Europe with life and to preserve a future for coming generations.
2 August 2021