2 August 2020
President of the German Bundestag
Commemoration speech on the occasion of 2 August 2020, Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma
A poem by Santino Spinelli is engraved at the Berlin memorial to the murdered Sinti and Roma:
“Silence / a broken heart / without breath / without words / no tears.”
During the Second World War, five hundred thousand Sinti and Roma fell victim to the National Socialists’ fanatical ideology of extermination. They were marginalised, publically humiliated and defamed, dispossessed, registered according to racist criteria, subjected to forced sterilisation, maltreated and murdered.
Following the issuance in December 1942 of what is known as the ‘Auschwitz Decree’, systematic deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau began. Twenty-three thousand Sinti and Roma from eleven countries were taken by force to the so-called “Gypsy camp”. Only a few survived. The survivors included Sinti and Roma who had defended themselves against being murdered in the gas chambers in May 1944. They armed themselves with knives, spades, crowbars and stones. The SS was forced to retreat. Yet the murder continued.
During the night of the 2nd of August 1944, the SS killed those Sinti and Roma remaining in Auschwitz: several thousand women, children and elderly people. The files from the Auschwitz trial record that “the cries continued until well into the night”.
The 2nd of August is a day of mourning for the Sinti and Roma. On this day, they remember the Porajmos – as the genocide is known in the Romani language. Since 2015, the 2nd of August has been a European memorial day. This day is important in creating public awareness of the painful history of Europe’s largest ethnic minority. Which is desperately needed. For, even today, knowledge of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma is alarmingly limited, including in Germany.
Zoni Weisz, who addressed the German Bundestag in 2011 at the ceremony marking the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, spoke of the Holocaust perpetrated against his people as a ‘forgotten Holocaust’. We as Germans must be deeply ashamed of the fact that Sinti and Roma had to wait decades before being recognized as victims of National Socialism, and made eligible for compensation.
Holocaust survivor Philomena Franz said “The truth hurts, but it is only with it that we can we build our happiness”.
In the near future, the last of those who experienced these events at first hand – whether as victims or as perpetrators – will no longer be with us. The truth remains – and it remains an uncomfortable truth. Every generation must confront this truth anew. It was in the light of the Holocaust that our state committed itself to respect and protect the human dignity of every person. This forms the foundation of our liberal system of law and the values on which it rests. It is the fundamental consensus underpinning our society, which must be defended time and again. We tend to view our democratic order as something to be taken for granted. This is wrong – as shown by everyday occurrences and extremist tendencies.
Even today, many Sinti and Roma experience marginalisation. At school, on the housing market, in the world of work. Many are afraid to admit their ethnicity for fear of discrimination. As long as this remains the case, we cannot talk of social normality. This is what lends such importance to the work of the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s Expert Commission on Antigypsyism. More education, information, dialogue and knowledge are needed. On the turbulent history of the Sinti and Roma. On their ancient language, their oral traditions and customs passed down by word of mouth. On their diverse contribution to European art and culture. On their suffering.
We must be circumspect in dealing with remembrance and with the achievements made so far. This also applies to the Memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma of Europe, which is within sight of the Reichstag Building in Berlin. This we owe to the victims.