Roma Holocaust survivor honoured in Germany

27th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Roma man was for the first time guest of honour at official Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations in Germany Thursday and made a poignant call for better treatment of his people in Europe.

Speaking before the Bundestag lower house of parliament in Berlin, Dutch-born Holocaust survivor Zoni Weisz, 73, said Europe had still failed to learn crucial lessons from the Nazi era.

"In western European countries such as Italy and France, (Roma) are again facing discrimination and exclusion and living in inhumane conditions in ghettos," he said.

"We are Europeans, let me remind you, and must have the same rights as any other resident, with the same opportunities available to every European.

"It is unacceptable that a people that has been discriminated against and oppressed for centuries is today, in the 21st century, still shut out and robbed of any honest chance for a better future."

Weisz was speaking on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, which Germany has marked since 1996 with official memorial ceremonies for Holocaust victims.

It was the first time that a Roma was the keynote speaker at the commemoration.

Historians say the Nazis exterminated between 220,000 and 500,000 of the around one million Roma in Europe during World War II.

Italy and France have drawn international criticism for their treatment of Roma of late, with Paris under fire last year for rounding up thousands of Roma from illegal camps and sending them back to Romania and Bulgaria.

European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding sparked a row with Paris in September over her vocal criticism of the French government's treatment of Roma in which she drew parallels with World War II.

In October, the European Commission dropped a threat of legal action against France over the expulsions after Paris vowed to change its freedom of movement laws.

About 10 million Roma live in Europe, 70,000 of whom have a German passport, according to the Central Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany.

Tens of thousands of others live in Germany, most of them refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo.

© 2011 AFP

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