Impressions after the Roma Holocaust Remembrance Initiative is Krakow/Auschwitz
I was so fortunate to be invited to the Roma Holocaust Remembrance Initiative organized by Ternype in Poland at the beginning of August. Over 400 Roma and non-Roma youth gathered in Krakow for a conference to commemorate the 2nd of August and to fight for the recognition of the Roma Holocaust Commemoration Day. (On August 2, 1944, 2897 Roma from the “Gypsy camp” were murdered in the gas chambers at Birkenau.)
The five-day conference was incredibly well organised, thanks to the passion and enthusiasm of the organising team, who spent months preparing before the event. Participants came from 20 countries, bringing a colourful and diverse spirit along, and excited to meet young Roma and non-Roma youth from across Europe.
Although the 2nd August commemoration was organised for the fourth time by Trenype, this was the first time it gathered so many people and organisations, and the trip exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Participants heard the testimony of Mr. Zoni Weisz about his experience of the Holocaust as a Sinti child. (Zoni Weisz escaped the deportation of his family to Auschwitz. His mother and siblings were all killed at Auschwitz, while his father was killed at the Mittelbau-Dora camp. He was the first Roma or Sinti to address the German Bundestag at the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in May 1944. It was the first time I met a Sinti Holocaust survivor and I was deeply touched by his story and his incredible strength. His conscious fight for happiness regardless of his incredible loss is an inspiration for all of us.
I was asked to hold a workshop about the “Experience of Jewish Youth Organisations with Holocaust Education”. Thanks to EUJS’ partnership with the Yad Vashem Educational Centre and with Yad Vashem's support, I was able to show different methods of how to educate youth about the Holocaust using informal methods, such as films, songs, testimonies, and art. I also spoke about the best and most effective practices of Holocaust educators. I’ve held many different workshops about numerous topics in the past, and spoken in front of many different types of groups, but speaking in front of this particular group was such an honor, and was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Speaking about the Holocaust is never easy to begin with, especially not when a big part of the group doesn't speak English. I was a bit shocked when I started to speak and I heard my words immediately repeated in four different languages as participants simultaneously translated my words into other languages so that their friends could understand. I was worried that it would make the workshop and discussions very complicated and participants would lose their concentration quickly, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s been a very long time since I've have facilitated such deep discussions where participants were so open to discuss one of the most complex emotional questions of human history.
I also participated in a panel discussion about Holocaust education, which was a unique experience speaking on the panel with experts from different fields but with the same goal: educating the future generations.
The commemoration of the 2nd of August in Auschwitz was deeply meaningful and sent a message loud and clear to the world. We, young Europeans, Roma and non-Roma, demand the proper recognition of the Roma Holocaust by European states.
It was truly empowering to hear Roma youth taking the lead, reclaiming their platforms, speaking their own language (Romanise) and demand equality for the Roma communities in Europe. (It also made me think about what it would be like if Jewish youth spoke Yiddish or Ladino at international gatherings, and although very few people speak these languages anymore, it surely would be something to hear them spoken at international conventions!)
In my capacity as President of EUJS and also just as a Jewish woman whose family suffered so much from discrimination and persecution, I believe it is my responsibility to do everything I can to ensure that the 500.000 Roma victims of the Holocaust will be recognised. The Holocaust wasn’t a solely Jewish tragedy, but a human tragedy, and as George Santayana said: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.