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The Roma: a Minority in Europe

Roni Stauber
Raphael Vago


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1The genocide of the Roma (Gypsies) at the hands of Nazi Germany and some of its allies, known in Romani as the Porrajmos (catastrophe, very much parallel to the Hebrew term Shoah), has still not been properly and exhaustively researched. Indeed, some historians even deny that it was a genocide. However, if one takes seriously the definition of genocide in the 1948 Convention on the Crime of Genocide, there should be little doubt on that point. The definition speaks of an intent to destroy an ethnic, national or racial group as such, in part or completely. If there is anything one can learn from the historical work done until now (2005), it can be stated as a fact that there was a Nazi intent to annihilate the Gypsies as a separate ethnicity, in part. Nazi allies, such as the Arrow Cross regime in Hungary (the Nyilas), and the Antonescu dictatorship in Romania, as well as the Slovak puppet regime, joined this policy, in the main. Clearly, it was a genocide.

2The present volume, the result of a conference held at Tel Aviv University, is yet another important attempt to explore this issue. There is, of course, a continuous effort by some historians, as well as representatives of the Roma themselves, to include their suffering with that of the Jews by using the term Holocaust (together with Porrajmos) in relation to the genocide of the Roma. In my view, this is a basic error: every genocidal act is specific and directed toward a certain group, and throwing them together is a disservice to the memory of the victims. In this case, the Roma were not Jews, and they were not destined to be treated like the Jews. There was a distinction between nomadic and settled Roma, as clearly stated in German documents, although in practice this was not always followed. Nomadic Roma were to be treated like Jews, that is, murdered, while settled Roma were to be dealt with like the local population. One can see this not only in Poland and the occupied Soviet Union, but, as shown in this volume, in the Romanian case. The fact that the murderers of the Roma and the Jews were usually the same individuals, and that in many cases the Germans placed Polish and Austrian Roma together with the Jews, should not mislead us. Soviet POWs were also sometimes murdered together with Roma and Jews. They were among the total number of Soviet POW victims (some 3.2 million, according to some historians). In fact, one can say that Nazi Germany was responsible for three genocides: of the Poles, the Roma, and the Jews—for different reasons, often but not always by different means, and with different results, and by the same people, at the same time. What unites these three genocides is not only National Socialist policy but also, and most importantly, the suffering of the victims—and one must emphasize, that the suffering was the same. Jews did not suffer more, or less, than Roma, Russians, Poles, or anyone else who was subject to torture and murder. Nor is it a matter of statistics. Historians differ as to the number of Roma killed, directly or indirectly, in Nazi-controlled Europe. Some tend to think that about 90,000, out of an estimated one million Roma in Nazi-controlled Europe, died. I would put the number much higher, at about 150,000, or 15 percent of the total number of Roma. However, such numbers hide, rather than illuminate, the tragedy of individuals, families and communities. The present volume directs our attention not only to the overall picture in the different countries, but also to individual stories, to the fate of families and communities, and to the destruction of traditions and ways of life.

3There is yet another difference between the Jews and the Roma: the Jews rebuilt their communities, established an independent state, and received partial restitution of their properties. The Roma did not; they never had anything of great material value that could be restituted. They are still discriminated against, persecuted, disregarded and denied equality, not everywhere but in many places in Europe. Their case should be defended, not out of pity but because they are human beings who should be equal to everyone else, and because they have the same inalienable rights as the rest of us.

4Genocide, or genocidal massacre, has been a part of humanity since time immemorial and it is still with us today. Only by convincing large numbers of people in democratic countries that such acts should be prevented can we raise our heads. The genocide of the Roma, an ancient people with a unique cultural heritage, is a tragedy for all mankind. The present volume deals with parts of that tragedy; it is hoped that other institutions and countries will follow this example. The fact that the conference took place in Israel, at a major academic venue, is a positive sign: Jews and their state have an obligation to remember, not only their own tragedy but that of others as well.

5Yehuda Bauer

6Yad Vashem

7November 2005

© Central European University Press, 2007

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