Roma 'finally' get official Holocaust commemoration

26th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Roma community will for the first time be guest of honour at official Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations in Germany Thursday, after a decades-long battle for greater recognition.

Nearly 66 years after World War II ended, a Roma Holocaust survivor will address the Bundestag lower house of parliament, just as Berlin names a street and a gymnasium after Roma murdered by the Nazis.

Dutch-born Zoni Weisz, 73, will speak 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, the vast majority of them Jewish.

"It is the first time that the fate of the Sinti and Roma of Europe has been placed at the centre of the the commemorations. Finally," said the head of the Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany, Romani Rose.

The Bundestag said Weisz was "surprised and honoured" to have been chosen to speak on the "forgotten Holocaust" -- what historians say was the extermination of between 220,000 and 500,000 of the around one million Roma in Europe.

The Nazis murdered six million Jews across Europe during World War II.

The Roma and related Sinti, like the Jews deemed racially inferior by the Nazis, were also systematically persecuted, confined to ghettos and special camps, deported and killed.

In concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck, they were the subject of grotesque medical experiments.

But West Germany did not recognise the genocide until 1982.

Weisz, the son of an instrument maker, is one of the sole survivors of his family, which was deported in 1944 when he was seven. He owes his escape to a policeman who helped him flee during the raid.

His parents, sisters and younger brother were murdered at Auschwitz while Weisz survived in hiding.

"Until 1944, we were a completely normal, happy family" in the eastern Dutch town of Zutphen, Weisz has said. He later became florist to the royal family.

Also on Thursday, the eastern Berlin district of Friedrichshain will rename a street "Ede and Unku", the name of a 1931 book telling the true story of a friendship between a German worker's son and a Sinti girl before the Nazi era.

"Unku", a nickname for Erna Lauenberger, was deported with her family and killed at Auschwitz.

"Ede and Unku" was banned by the Nazis and its young author Grete Weiskof, a Jewish communist writing under the name Alex Wedding, fled Germany in 1933.

Meanwhile a gymnasium in Berlin will be named after the boxer Johann Trollmann, aka "Gypsy" Trollmann, who fought for Germany's light-heavyweight title in 1933. Although he won on points, the Nazis denied him his title for having a fighting style that was "un-German".

Trollmann, a Sinti who protested the decision by dyeing his hair Aryan blond, was later killed in a concentration camp.

"The fates of Erna Lauenburger and Johann Trollmann represent the fate of half a million Sinti and Roma victims of the genocide. But there has not been enough discussion of these crimes," said local councillor Jan Stoess.

"Germany had played down this genocide for decades," Silvio Peritore of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma told AFP.

"Zoni Weisz's speech at the Bundestag is a positive sign."

Germany is also to inaugurate this year near the Reichstag parliament building a memorial to Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis.

Peritore said there were about 10 million Roma in Europe, 70,000 of whom have a German passport. Tens of thousands of others live in Germany, most of them refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo.

© 2011 AFP

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