Remember the Roma Holocaust – join us on 2nd August

Amanda Sebestyen reminds us of the horror of the Roma holocaust and of the struggle to get it remembered.

2nd August is now recognised as Roma Holocaust Memorial Day – but not by the UK.

Join the London Memorial event on 2nd August in Parliament Square. And campaign to get the UK to recognise it too.

Flowers and wreaths for Roma victims dot the fence around the pig farm which now stands on the site of a former Nazi concentration camp

It took two days to exterminate all the inhabitants of the ‘Gypsy Family Camp’ at Auschwitz. Jewish and other survivors recalled the screams all through the night of 2nd August 1944 as the remaining Roma fought to the doors of the gas chamber.

This was the second attempt at exterminating the Gypsy prisoners (to make room in Auschwitz for the swift mass deportations of Jews from Hungary, including my relatives).

But – as researched by Rainer Schulze and Michal Schuster – “On 16 May 1944 something completely extraordinary had occurred: Romani people imprisoned in the so-called “Gypsy Camp” of Auschwitz rebelled against the SS. A special SS commando unit of 50 called on the Roma prisoners to leave the residential blocks. Inside the blocks, however, a tense silence prevailed as the prisoners barricaded the doors and prepared to defend themselves with rocks and work tools. The SS unit was startled by this disobedience and their commander decided to postpone the action.”

The entire event was reported by former Polish political prisoner Tadeusz Joachimowski: ‘The Gypsies, armed with handcuffs, knives, shovels and stones, waited to see what would happen. They did not leave the barracks. The SS members were appalled and went away themselves.”

A succession of deportations followed, removing nearly all the able-bodied Romani prisoners to other camps. ‘Only orphans, the elderly, mothers with children and fathers who didn’t want to leave their families remained in the Gypsy Camp.’

Late at night on 2 August these 2 ,897 these survivors were taken to the gas chambers. They fought all through the night and day, and other prisoners have never forgotten it. “Even from within the gas chambers, for a long time afterward, we heard intermittent calls and cries until the gas performed its work and the last voices were snuffed out.” One of the Sonderkommando – the units of young prisoners forced to staff the showers and rake out the bodies – later recalled a Romani couple making love when they were herded into the shower room and unable to fight for their lives any longer. Camp commander Rudolf Höss wrote in his memoir that “No liquidation action of the Jews had been as difficult as the liquidation of the Gypsies”.

For many years the Roma and Sinti of Europe were alone in remembering the genocide – known in the Romani language as the ‘Porajmos’ or Devouring. I have lost count of the times I have heard Middle Europeans claim that there are no coherent histories and that Roma survivor stories ‘don’t make sense’. Among nationalist politicians and their public, the brutal joke circulates that ‘The Jews were persecuted; the Gypsies were just prosecuted’. And indeed the local police were often active in rounding up the ‘Gypsy Nuisance’ into transit camps where many died of malnutrition and typhoid before the remnants were sent to Auschwitz and other parts of the death machine. The guards in those transit camps were not prosecuted after the war but lived on with government jobs. Their tradition lives on in many countries of Eastern Europe where denial of the Roma genocide is widespread and openly genocidal rhetoric is a vote-winner for unscrupulous politicians of the nationalist right.

The best known of these transit camps, at Usti in the Czech republic, was made into a pig farm. None of the local guards were prosecuted after the war; one of them had a lifelong job in the Ministry of the Interior. Year after year of patient campaigning – roses and wreaths dotting the fence around the pig farm – finally led to the promise of a modest monument in 2017.

This work of remembrance has been helped throughout by the pioneering Roma Holocaust research of two British scholar-activists: Grattan Puxon, organiser of this year’s Memorial Day in London, and the late Donald Kenrick, a longstanding member of the Jewish Socialists Group. Grattan and Donald helped start the International Romani Union in the 1960s, and wrote their three-part history of The Gypsies during the Second World War between 1988 and 2006. The Soros-funded, beleaguered European Roma Rights Center has also been campaigning since 1996 against today’s vicious human rights abuses across the continent.

In 2011 the Polish Government made 2nd August a state day of remembrance of the International Romani Holocaust. In 2105 the EU followed suit:

“On the night of 2 to 3 August 1944, around 3,000 Roma men, women and children from the ‘Gypsy family camp’ of Auschwitz-Birkenau were murdered in the gas chambers. They were among hundreds of thousands of victims of the Roma genocide, killed by the Nazis and their allies. The Roma were one of many groups who fell victim to the holocaust.

It is in memory of all these innocent victims and the horrific injustice they suffered and died from that the European Commission commemorates the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day on 2nd August.

Against a backdrop of increasingly divisive rhetoric, hate speech and hate crime, it is important to recall these dark moments in our history and learn the lessons of the past. Many people have little or no knowledge that the Roma were targeted by the Nazi regime. The holocaust of the Roma is an under-taught and under-recognised topic. We must not forget that still today there are too many Roma facing discrimination, and who are victims of hate speech and hate crime in Europe.

The European Commission recalls its support for the European Parliament’s resolution of 15 April 2015 officially recognising Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. We hope that all Member States will recognise it.”

The UK has not done so. There has never been a single Gypsy, Roma or Traveller included on the government’s Holocaust Commission. Here is work for us – let’s get behind righting this injustice.

Please bring your friends and family so we can show real solidarity. See you at noon this Friday 2nd August at the Gandhi statue in Parliament Square. For full details see below

Further links and further reading

Jesse Jackson is coming to the ceremony at Auschwitz this Friday:

There will be a full live broadcast of the ceremony from Auschwitz by Romea TV:

Grattan Puxon, co-founder and first general secretary of the World Romani Congress, now the International Romani Union with 39 member countries, adds: “The IRU is sending delegates from Serbia representing 30,000 Roma to London for Friday 2nd August; a first step in the long work of building and democratising the Roma representation movement.”

The Documentation Centre of Roma and Sinti in Germany records that resistance put up by Roma on 16 May 1944 at Auschwitz is said to be the biggest uprising that took place at the camp, involving 6,000 Roma inmates. I would also wish to draw the attention of the Conference to Jasenovac Concentration Camp in war-time Croatia, where it is believed 80,000 Roma were murdered. See Dragoljub Ackovic’s account, Roma Genocide in Jasenovac Camp, published 1997 by The Museum of the Victims of Genocide, Belgrade.

An interview with Vilem Bock , a Sinto refugee In London whose father had been in Auschwitz:

And several volumes of survivor testimony across Europe collected by Paul Polansky.


London event 2 August: 75th-Year Roma Holocaust Commemoration & Conference

Official notice



Starts 12.00 noon, Friday 2nd August, on Parliament Square

(nearest Underground Station: Westminster: meet by the Statue of Mahatma Gandhi)

Then 2 pm to 5 pm Free Conference at Greencoat Place Conference Centre. 24 Greencoat Place, London, SW1P 1RD (Nearest Underground Station St. James’ Park or Victoria, but in walking distance from Parliament Square

Gathering on Parliament Square we shall remember all who died in the Holocaust, first Roma and Jews, the primary victims of Nazi ethnic genocide, then the socialists everywhere, including those in Germany, the disabled, the mentally ill, the socially unaccepted and outcast.

When the mourning is done let us move on then, opening our eyes to the present. The reality of today’s racism, which has its roots and its ideology in the same viscous marsh of fascism. Just last week Gani Rama, wearied and worn down by the effort to keep alive his Romani identity was beaten to death in the centre of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

Let us protest the death of Gani Rama, and all the other hundreds of Roma and Travelling people, who have been murdered by racists or have died as the result of ethnically targeted policies adopted in the present era even by midstream political parties. Such was one among the latter who died as a result of the brutal, mass-assault eviction at Dale Farm in 2011. He was Dan Sheridan. He could not live without his life-support. They took it away from him.

And there were others who died. For their cause we shall march up Millbank, turning right towards Smith Square for a “Red Card” protest outside Europe House over failure of the EU to curb anti-Roma racism and violence, and the illegal deportations from several member states.


At 2pm we shall be meeting up in conference at the Greencoat Centre therefore, to decide what action can collectively be taken to confront what many see as a continuation of the Holocaust. All are welcome and we may be joined by others who have commemorated elsewhere. We will plan how to ensure progress of the Democratic Transition and reform of IRU/World Roma Congress election system

Discussion will centre around “8 April”, Roma Nation Day. The day when Roma and Pavee people stand up together under the same flag, recalling the roots of their movement back in the 1971 World Roma Congress. So, on 8 April 2020, it is proposed, we must do the same but bigger, standing up in every city in Europe; some of us travelling to a possible mass demonstration in Brussels.

Here to lead us in our deliberation on such a task will be Marcello Zuinisi, spokesperson for the Nazione Rom [Roma Nation] organization which is right this moment fighting on the front line against Italian Minister Matteo Salvini, the man who has declared war on Roma and Sinti. We in the UK had “Stamp on the Camps” in the headlines. In Italy they are writing it right now with bulldozers, as they did at Dale Farm.

Other speakers include: Grattan Puxon, Virgil Bitu, Toma Mladenov, Ladislav Balasz and Ulrike Schmidt (Amnesty)

There will be a short film on the Holocaust introduced by film-maker Victoria Most



Comments (6)

  • Richard Hayward says:

    Thank you for a reminder that the atrocities of the Third Reich were a crime against a common humanity, and to be remembered as such – not a series of events to be cynically exploited for sectarian ends.

  • E Riley says:

    I am proud to have added many details of Roma persecution in the Holocaust to wikipedia, where there was a lack of information, and I would encourage everyone to add to this knowledge

  • different frank says:

    Carefully does it. I was called antisemitic for talking about this.
    Apparently, there was only one holocaust.
    The others do not matter.

  • Patricia Franks says:

    Remarks like yours,different frank,can only encourage racism.What a shame.

  • Linda Watson says:

    I have read this too late. I knew nothing of this commemoration and will share now. I would like to know more. This is the kind of thing the UK should be loudly supporting.

  • Richard Hayward says:

    In what way does a criticism of sectarian attitudes from some quarters ‘encourage’ racism? I would have thought the reverse was true.

    What a looking-glass world this has become.

Comments are now closed.