The History Lesson Europe Needs Right Now

As the controversy raged over the ethnic targeting and mass expulsions of Roma from France, it was European Commissioner Viviane Reding’s allusion to World War II in an acrimonious exchanges with French president Nicolas Sarkozy that drew the most fire. There followed much mock outrage and a torrent of denunciations from Paris, but there was scarcely a mention of Roma as victims of the Holocaust.

As the memory of the spat between Reding and Sarkozy recedes, and media attention moves away from the Roma, the European Parliament must intervene to ensure that Europeans never forget, and pass a resolution to inaugurate an official day of solemn remembrance for the estimated half million Roma who perished in the Nazi-orchestrated Holocaust.

The ignorance and indifference of the majority concerning this dark chapter of Europe’s past reinforces ambivalence and prejudice against Roma in the present. As activist Romani Rose put it, there is a need to embed this crime of genocide in the collective memory of our nations and "to raise awareness among political decision-makers of the particular historical responsibility they bear towards the Roma and Sinti minority."

The fate of the Roma at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators in the Baro Porrajmos ("Great Devouring") has been neglected for too long. Elie Wiesel never forgot:

I remember what happened in the "night of the gypsies"...  That night will remain with me as long as I live. Throughout the kingdom of the night a whisper of fire ran through from man to man, from child to child. We heard just one word—they are burning the Gypsies.

Almost 3,000 men, women, and children perished in the gas chamber during the night of August 2-3, 1944, as the Germans liquidated the so-called Gypsy family camp (Zigeunerfamilienlager) in Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

In an obscene affront to survivors of the genocide, compensation claims were denied in Germany in the 1950s on grounds that "Gypsies were persecuted under the National Socialistic Regime not for any racial reason, but because of an asocial and criminal record." It is chilling to hear similar rhetoric today. Leading politicians from EU member states would have us believe that Roma are not discriminated against because of their ethnicity, but because they pose a threat to "public order"; because they are genetically predisposed to wrongdoing; because Roma communities function as incubators of crime; and because Roma refuse to assimilate and abide by societal norms. Racist anti-Roma rhetoric, previously confined to the neo-Nazis of the far right, is increasingly seeping into mainstream populist agendas. And those who propagate it do so with seeming impunity.

An awareness of the past is essential to combat anti-Roma prejudice in the present. As Yehuda Bauer has written:

In sheer demonic cold-blooded brutality the tragedy of the Romanies is one of the most terrible indictments of the Nazis. The fact that their fate is hardly ever mentioned and that the mutilated Romany nation continues to be vilified and persecuted to this day should put all their host nations to shame.

There seems to be little shame among EU member states when it comes to treatment of their Roma citizens. There is even less awareness of the dark times endured by the Roma in their history. In a climate of rising anti-Gypsyism, ignorance reproduces prejudice. To break this toxic cycle, the European Parliament should, as a first step, inaugurate an official day of solemn remembrance for Roma victims and survivors of the Porrajmos.

10 Comments

I think your depiction of the current conflict is not correct and the drama here is worded too extremist and shrill. The view that "they are genetically predisposed to wrongdoing; because Roma communities function as incubators of crime; and because Roma refuse to assimilate and abide by societal norms" is widely shared in those nations in which these travellers reside, and possibly partly true, a result of their inbreeding laws and 'negative selection' as adaption to "societal norms" is essentially the end of their old and unique culture, with their strong rascist tribal rules that are rarely understood by distant observers. As the guardian wrote there are fundamentals societal problems in many Roma communities:


In the Czech Republic, 75% of Romani children are educated in schools for people with learning difficulties, and 70% are unemployed (compared with a national rate of 6%). In Hungary, 44% of Romani children are in special schools, while 74% of men and 83% of women are unemployed. In Slovakia, Romani children are 28 times as likely to be sent to a special school than non-Roma; Romani unemployment stands at 80%.



You don't have to mention Elie Wiesel's indecent shoa kitsch. The current events have nothing to do with extermination and a victim status does not make them sacrosanct. The term "Nazi" is itself an anti-semite slogan used by allied propaganda against Germans at large ("Ashkenazi"), extermination was never carried out by the members of the "National Socialist workers party" but special SS bureaucrats and their aids, so we have to be precise here.

The main problem is the current drama, Gypsies live in Europe for centuries and belong to European societies and enrich our culture. There is nothing new about Roma but France wanted to test the freedom of movement premises of the European Union, a freedom only created recently. The bitter truth is, no nation in Europe is keen to attract Roma tribe immigration. The question is if societies are wrong, discriminatory and rascist or their Romani culture itself is to blame for the negative track records. I think Romani should get any opportunity by society to prove the undesirable premise wrong and develop their skills. But it creates cognitive dissonance to blame the Romani social situation only on discrimination from their hosting societies (which is an evident problem!) or deny the continuous social inabilities of Romani culture. No victim status should shield them from taking social responsibility for themselves as members of society. They don't need to become sacrosanct as natural born victims, actually sacrosanct is the meaning of the word "Zigan", because that would be actually rascist.

Dear Kurt,

Where I live, I don't often ear such a strong defense of the view that sustain (or is alleged to support) hitorical discrimination against an ethnical group .

Namelly that :

"they [Roma] are genetically predisposed to wrongdoing; because Roma communities function as incubators of crime; and because Roma refuse to assimilate and abide by societal norms" (Rorke)

Let me ask you some few questions:

1.

You quote the Guardian regarding societal problems of Roma. You attribute them to Roma culture

But how can you separate internal cultural factors belonguing to Roma groups from systemic discrimination within national societies they cope with ?

2.

You defend this point of view on the basis of natural selection of cultural groups and norms for you say that some laws protecting their culture would be "negative selection".

In biology, natural selection apply to individuals, not to groups. How would it be the case in social matters ?

And do you call human social conflicts a case of natural selection ?

In that case, would you call systemic discrimination, a fact you admit, a natural selection ?

3.

Regarding the subject matter of the article, the recognition of Nazi - not German - exactions toward Roma :

How does that, as you say, "shield them from taking social responsability" ?

What is the link between a recognition of exaction by political authorities and such religious matters as "sanctification" ?

By extension, you seem to assume that public memory imlpy religious concepts such as "sinn", "guilt" and "redemption".

Why is that ?

4.

The goal of the asked recognition is to prevent discrimination - "an evident problem" as you say.

The mean is to enhance historical knowledge of (some of) the worst racists exactions.

You are true to say that the French law is not a Nazi law. What the author won't pretend anyway. He's just setting the Sarkozi/Reding debate in background of is demand.

But as you oppose E. Wiesel "indecent shoa kitsch", would you attribute those persecutions of Roma by - should you notify - "special SS bureaucrats and their aids" to the "misadaptation" of their culture denying that it is a racist crime, but only a responce to "asocial and criminal records" ?

Or would you deny that those so-called "bureaucrats" acted on the orders of the Chief of NSDAP ?

Or argue that NSDAP active suppoters where not aware of institutional discrimination and spoiliation of minorities and political opponants by NSDAP replacing the German State ?

Would you ague that they, the real NAZIs, didn't support massive exactions ?

And as those NSDAP active members opted for a Führer to decide of the nature of those exactions, up to where exactly to you set their tolerance and/or responsability ?

Finaly, if you do trace a line between what average german people, NSDAP members, active NSDAP members, the aids of SS bureaucrats and SS bureaucrats themselves, won't it be a good reason to remember what openness to discimination could lead to ?

5.

What are your sources regarding the origin and ethymology of the words "Nazi" and "Tzigan" ?


Kindly,

S

I find it shocking that anyone would give recognition to Elie Wiesel in association with the Roma since it was he who wrote so negatively about the Roma in his own book "Night," the context of which I will not put here. He also opposed the inclusion of the Roma at the American Holocaust Museum until his resignation in the 1980's. He has never spoken out against the Romas being persecuted throughout Europe and just recently, while he did ask Sarkozy to reverse his decision about expelling Roma from France, he also made clear that it should not be compared to what happened as in the "Jewish case."

To say that "Wiesel never forgot" should read "Wiesel chose not to remember."
.
In a review of Elisabeth Fonseca's book "Bury Me Standing". the reviewer wrote:

"In recent decades, a Gypsy intelligentsia has begun to emerge. Fonseca presents detailed profiles of several. Dr. Ian Hancock, an American Gypsy, and the author of The Pariah Syndrome, was instrumental in bringing about, in April 1994, the first-ever Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., on the human-rights abuses of the Gypsies. After prolonged efforts, Hancock also succeeded in the Gypsy inclusion in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Gypsy inclusion had long been opposed by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner! It was only after Wiesel's resignation, writes Fonseca, herself an American Jew, that one Gypsy was allowed onto the museum's 65-member council. (The council comprised more than thirty Jews as well as Poles, Ukranians, and Russians among others but not a single Gypsy.)" END

To add further insult, Wiesel has stood by for years as the Palestinian people are being slowly and methodically destroyed by Israel who carries on the tradition of the Nazis using its own deplorable methods

Kurt, I am hoping I am merely confused by your words. Are you attempting to say that Gypsies are to blame for our own situation? I ask because I am one of those gypsies who was placed in special ed classes. It was not my parents or surroundings that caused this, it was a racist Hungarian principal. I did not belong in special education, I had the learning capabilities of average children, if not above average (in maths). Many, if not most, of the children being placed in those schools do not belong there, they are not special needs children and are planty capable of learning like the average white child. It is racism that places those children in those schools. And in regards to adults being unemployed, this is also largely due to racism. Such as the case in Glod, Romania, where a new factory is just down the road from them, but they are unemployed...because racist employers will not hire Gypsies. This is common place.

We are certainly not angels. We have our share of criminals, just the same as your ethnicity does. But that doesn't mean you should attempt to pass of the wrongdoings of bigots as us playing the victim. I know many Gypsies who would gladly work, if only someone would hire them.

Rasa that is a terrible injustice. I've seen a great share of this growing up in Yugoslavia... though with a mixed situation. In part of Serbia for example where I was a refugee Gypsies were treated just like any other neighbors with very little or no prejudice and certainly equal treatment at schools. In Croatia, however, for some reason I don't remember seeing any Gypsies in my school. I get a feeling that they were not as integrated there. Now I live in Australia and find similar lack of "integration" with certain members of the aboriginal community and even clustered suburbs of tight ethnic communities (Bosnian, Serbian, Lebanese...etc). I am a firm believer that we all have the same capacity given the right opportunities and fair chance and it is always governments failure and managing society appropriately, from education to employment. Word "Cigan" is very common in Yugoslavia, but "Romi" is the official name for your group.

It is interesting Dejan how you refer to Aboriginal communities and other ethnic communities in Australia not being 'intergrated' in society, and I believe with you that it is a government failure of 'managing society appropriately'. Very well said!
Racism runs deep and there is a lot of work to do to make people see that it is their own presumptions and racist thinking that excludes groups of people from participating in the societies they live in while they all have the capacity to live a life of fulfullment and enriching cultures if the world around them is open to it.
Thank you for speaking out for your people in Australia!
The Aborigines are the gypsies of Australia and treated like outcasts in their own country.

sorry for all the typos..

When it comes to the Eastern European / Balkan ethnic nationalism often feels extremist, emotions cook up and blame to the other groups gets strong, the result is tensions, conflict and violence. I am often shocked when I talk to Hungarians, young educated Hungarians and they present teachings that they were a homogenous racially pure people, sounds like 1925 latest pseudoscience.

As of the Romani, their tribal rules are very strong and inhumane to their own people, which is also a means to keep their culture alive, in particular I mentioned ancient inbreeding rules between guilds.

"...if you do trace a line between what average german people, NSDAP members, active NSDAP members, the aids of SS bureaucrats and SS bureaucrats themselves, won't it be a good reason to remember what openness to discimination could lead to?"

First and foremost the actual extermination is mostly a matter of technological capability and not special cowardness. When it's well organized you don't need many persons to actually perform killings. The "innovation" of the German SS was its efficient industrialized process. Becoming a victim of cultural extermination is no special "virtue" for the affected group. As of the "jews" affected keep in mind that they were constituted as a group by the prosecution, they probably considered themselves primarily as Germans, Dutch, Polish citzens and were only made into "jews" by racial pseudoscientific separation and laws enacted towards this end such as the Nuremberg Laws.

Your idea of a "slippery slope" where openness to discrimination leads to industrialized mass annihilation as an escalation step carries a lot of moral load. To a certain degree ethnic tensions are normal and just need to be openly moderated and deescalated, not covered up by a moral taboo. You see, I view the concept of openness totally different. From an "open society" perspective it makes much more sense to focus on technological and institutional conditions and safeguards than on moral. E.g. the "efficiency" of exterminination of "jewish" citizens from the Netherlands was a direct result of the fact that the Netherlands had a national register which mentioned religion, not that the persons setting it up were more immoral, discriminatory or more fanatic. And the mere fact that there are public records which mention religion are not discriminatory per se but an institutional risk.

It is dangerous to politically instrumentalise past persecution and put the weight of the past incidents on a discussion. I find that indecent and inappropriate. In particular it makes it appear as if the victims are the subjects of the process and not the objects of a machinery that turned their relatives into victims for random scapegoat chance and racial pseudoscientific categories.

"Leading politicians from EU member states would have us believe that Roma are not discriminated against because of their ethnicity, but because they pose a threat to "public order";"

In reality we see leading EU politicians in Brussels and Strassbourg speak out against discrimination and social esclusion of Romani and they are very concerned about the social situation of Romani in their main European nations, a social situation which is no recent development but they find too little has been done to overcome the development. In other nations the situation is different.

Most modern governments do not define their own population or their citizenship by "ethnic" categories. The "state people" are the people living in the state. That of course conflicts with a very old tribe of travellers which is defined by friends, foes and themselves by ethnic categories.

I am very much in favour of creolisation for societies. I believe that people and ethnicities should mix and that a mixed and diverse population is more prone to environmental and cultural transformation challenges. While I share the rascist presumption is true that we are partly biologically predisposed (and be it concerning the genetic feature if we can drink milk) I reject the implication that there were high or subordinate races as that is inhumane and hypocrite. Rascists believe in purity and hygiene and construct enemy groups on the basis of pseudoethnic criteria, rascism in the classic sense is ethnic narcissm.

The downside of the construction of ethnic victim groups is that you socially construct e.g. French jews, German, American and Bulgarian jews as the members of a same ethnic people although they don't speak the same language and share culturally very little.

I see the degration of the Romani is partly a result of their own racial policies and partly as a result of a tradition of societal exlusion. The negative social selection process over the centuries goes like this: Romani, able or willing to adapt to their host societies and invited, leave their tribal structures and mix. Romani not able or not willing to adapt don't. So the survial of the Romani ethnicity is its own curse, inbreeding makes things worse. The evolutionary result is biological and cultural factors, and a vicious circle. Ethnic segregation leads to decline, the same can be found in the European nobility. This should be overcome on both sides. The best long term strategy would probably be more mixed couples and equal societal chances than a reinforcement of Roma ethnicity.

Diese Debatte ist einseitig, da sich nicht nur die Frage stellt, ob Roma/Sinti ein "Kriminalitätsg-Gen" haben, sondern auch, ob nicht die Romagegner ein ganz besonders kriminelles "Intoleranz-Gen" besitzen.
Beide Seiten müssen versuchen aufeinander zuzugehen, um dabei nicht nur die negativen Seiten, sondern auch die Vorzüge der anderen Kultur wahrzunehmen. Klar muss dabei sein, dass für beide Seiten dabei die Menschenrechte als alleinige Richtschnur dienen. Das lässt sich aber nur durch eine konsequente Civic Education erreichen, die aber in fast allen Ländern der EU nur ein Stiefmutterdasein fristet. Wer also die Roma und Sinti mit Fokus auf die Zukunft fördern will, möge sich an der Förderung von Civic Education beteiligen.

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