Remembering the ‘forgotten genocide’

The ‘Porajmos’ – which means‘devouring’ in the Romani language – is the name given to the genocide of an estimated 500,000 Roma and Sinti people under Nazi rule. Their systematic extermination by both the Nazis and their collaborators is not widely known, only recently is more attention finally being given to this ‘forgotten genocide’.

The Sinti and Roma peoples have lived in Europe for over 600 years. Originally they lived as nomadic groups. however by the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, many had integrated into Western European society. In Germany, many even served in the army during World War I and were acknowledged as decorated veterans.

In 1935 everything changed for the German Roma and Sinti populations when a supplement to the Nuremberg Laws classified them as “enemies of the race-based state.” The Sinti and Roma were systematically deprived of their civil rights, robbed of their livelihoods, and eventually deported to the death camps in Poland. 20,000 Roma and Sinti perished in Auschwitz alone.

The evils committed against the Roma and Sinti people of Europe during World War II were infrequently mentioned in the years immediately following the war. For decades, their descendants were alone in remembering this horrific genocide. It is only in more recent years that the 2nd of August is beginning to be recognised as Roma Genocide Memorial Day by more individuals, institutions and even countries.

Thorbjorn Jagland, the Council of Europe’s Secretary-General, reflected on this: “The horrors of the Roma holocaust are an undeniable part of our history, but for a long time Europe has turned a blind eye on to what had happened. We have the duty to end the silence that has lasted for decades.”