Work (doesn’t) make you free: Roma Holocaust Memorial Day was commemorated in Krakow

This year, on the 2nd of August, on the territory of the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Complex, which was once the infamous extermination camp, more than a hundred Roma from different parts of the world gathered together. Gathered to commemorate the common memory and tragedy that took the lives of thousands of Roma in 1944, leaving pain and sadness forever. Every year on the 2nd of August, the world celebrates the International Roma Holocaust Day.

In the suburbs of Krakow, where on the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp “Work makes you free” is engraved in German, reminding of the terrible crimes of Nazi Germany, solemn and commemorative events were held on the occasion of International Roma Holocaust Day. The initiative organized by the International Roma Organization TernYpe, once again united Roma communities and created a platform and space for learning about the past through dialogue and personal meetings.

More than 200 people took part in the DIKH HE NA BISTER event – mostly Roma and those who in one way or another are related to Roma culture and identity. The Federal Government Commissioner for Antigypsyism, Mehmet Daimagüler, the deputy of the European Parliament, Romeo Franz, as well as journalists, the public, Roma human rights defenders, historians, and artists also joined the event.

Through their own experiences, collective pain and complicity, the participants reflected on the topic of war, cultural memory, the Holocaust, and the past. And besides everything, understanding the importance of the past, those present thought about building a new strategy of Roma self-identification in the modern world.

Nataliia Tomenko – co-founder of “Youth Agency for the Advocacy of Roma Culture “ARCA”, artist, Roma jurist from Kremenchuk also took part in the solemn events, representing the Roma communities in Ukraine and reminding the world about the war that is currently taking place in our country, therefore about preventing the terrible Holocaust during the Second World War.

“I stand here before you as a young Roma woman from Ukraine who survived the cruel war that is happening even now before our eyes. At the same time, I represent the voice of the Roma Council of Ukraine, here near this memorial place where our Sinti and Roma ancestors were killed during the Second World War.

What we must understand every time we visit the Auschwitz-Birkernau extermination camp is that we must never again be passive observers of genocide, cruelty and injustice. Today we stand together as witnesses of the current genocide committed by Russian fascism in Ukraine. When today we remember the genocide during the Second World War, we must speak out against Russian aggression, distortion and falsification of the history of the genocide. On the 1st of March, 2022, Russia even bombed the Babyn Yar Memorial in Kyiv, the site of the Nazi mass murder of Roma and Jews during the Second World War., which is a holy place for our communities in Ukraine. It is painful to see the trauma of those who survived the Genocide, who are suffering today and fighting for survival,”— Nataliia Tomenko said during her solemn speech at the commemorative events. At the same time, the Roma activist called on the Roma young people, who are the main force of the modern and future Roma movement, to rise up in all European countries, raise their voices, oppose modern Russian aggression and remember the lessons of the past.

In addition to the official Dikh He Na Bister ceremony, which took place on the territory of the extermination camp memorial complex, there were trainings and informal meetings with all the participants of the convention for several days, where everyone was able to reflect on the past traumas of the family, community and own nation; to talk more about the contemporary context of Roma, antigypsyism and human rights.

Chinara Maidova – art director of “Youth Agency for the Advocacy of Roma Culture “ARCA” also joined the event. She spoke about her own experience of her participation, adding that the event, which takes place annually in the same place, is primarily intended as a reminder of the prevention of terrible war crimes today. Dikh He Na Bister is primarily about common traumas, both individual and collective immersion in the past and representations of the cultural heritage of Roma communities in the context of today; memories that form a new and correct vision of one’s identity.

In general, during the Second World War, more than 20,000 people died in the camp, and during the entire period of the genocide, from 600,000 to 1,500,000 Roma suffered from repression.In addition, historically, during the Second World War, more than 20,000 people died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and during the entire time of the genocide, from 600,000 to 1,500,000 Roma suffered from repression. Among them were hundreds of Roma from Ukraine.

Today, the Roma of Ukraine continue their struggle in their own country, fighting against the terrorist state of the Russian Federation, serving in the ranks of the Armed Forces and believing that only strength of spirit, faith and their own resistance will help them overcome the dictatorial regime of imperialism.

Read also: “Never again”: Roma and Ukrainian activists reflect on war traumas

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