2 August 2020
Director of the OSF Roma Initiatives Office
Statement on the occasion of the European Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma 2020
Every August 2, we commemorate our grandmothers and grandfathers who were exterminated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. While we pay respect to the victims, it is almost impossible to say something that has not been said already.
Year after year, we repeat that this tragedy was not an event in the distant past. Year after year, we repeat that it was only the most violent episode in our continuous oppression. And, year after year, we repeat that we still face violent racism in its old and new forms.
Peter Hollenreiner, a Holocaust survivor who we lost this week and who we will remember forever, felt this on his own skin. After the war, he removed the number tattooed on his forearm as a prisoner in Auschwitz. But then, a few years later, he decided to have it tattooed again as a protest against the prisons of racism we are in today.
Beyond the words, what has been done since the previous August 2? What have our states done toward our liberation from the prisons of past and present racism?
Recently, the 47 member states of the Council of Europe agreed that they should take action to include Roma history and the remembrance of the Roma Holocaust in formal and non-formal education. In diplomatic terms, this is a big achievement. If we look at it from a historical perspective, though, might this be too slow and too late? Will it take another few decades for children, youth and the general population to start properly learning how racism led to the Roma genocide and how it shapes the Roma experience today? For how long will they grow up in the ignorance and prejudice that reinforces anti-Roma racism and supports far-right politics?
As long as politicians lack the moral courage to lift up this issue, above crude electoral calculation, the far right will continue to grow. The growth of far-right extremism and terrorism in Germany, Hungary, Italy and other countries is a clear sign that the poison of Europe’s genocidal past has not been eradicated from the politics that determines Europe’s future. This is not only a danger for Roma. It is a danger for all who believe that democracy, the rule of law and human rights are at the core of European values. We know where it will lead if Europeans give up on these values—to the destruction of Europe.
When public officials speak on August 2, therefore, we need them to speak with urgency and the determination for action so that memorials are built, schools and universities teach, museums present, research institutes document, and media and cinemas broadcast how racism led to the Roma genocide and how it hurts the Roma and Europe today. Only then will we know that the Roma lives lost in Auschwitz really matter and that remembrance has made us better as a people, collectively responsible for those living and those yet unborn.
President of Austria
President of North Macedonia
President of the Slovak Republic
President of Romania
President of the European Parliament
Secretary-General of the Council of Europe
Commissioner for Equality, European Commission
Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights
President of the German Bundestag
Deputy Marshal of the Sejm, Poland
Ambassador of Canada in Germany, Special Representative of Canada to the EU and to Europe
President of the World Jewish Congress
Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma
President of the Association of Roma in Poland
Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Chair of the Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)
President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany
Chair of the Board of Trustees of the EVZ Foundation