A learning resource and information center about Romani (Gypsy) culture and social issues.

IRU Speaks at
Washington Conference
on Holocaust-Era Assets
A key speaker during the Washington, D.C. Conference on Holocaust-era Assets, November 30th – December 3rd 1998, was Dr. Rajko Djuric, the President of the International Romani Union (IRU).  His speech on the Holocaust pleaded for recognition and justice for the thousands of Roma, the "forgotten victims", who perished in the Porrajmos (Romani Holocaust).

Ladies and gentlemen,

The International Romani Union is most grateful for the invitation to participate in this conference. We are grateful above all to the government and the people of United States of America who have made it possible for the historical truth of the around 12 million Romanies be heard, the truth of a people which the Nazis planned to completely exterminate, as too they planned to eliminate the Jews. Receiving the opportunity to participate in this conference also moves us to express our gratitude to our brothers and sisters to whom we are linked by historical fate, the Jews, whose systematic study of the Holocaust has contributed to keeping alive the memory of our people's Holocaust.

In contrast to the Enlightenment, whose most learned representatives, Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alambert, gave humanity the encyclopedia, a compendium of all the scholarship, social and artistic experience of the time, our age has seen the creation of an “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust“! The sufferings and the anguish of my people, the Romanies, and the half a million Romanies murdered in Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, Jasenovac etc. occupy significantly more space in this encyclopedia, an encyclopedia of death, than do the entries in contemporary general encyclopedia on my people's history, social life and culture from our origins through until today. My people's entire history and current way of life are literally overshadowed by our better documented and more comprehensively researched “way of death”. This trail of death and suffering began in Dachau in 1934 and led via Marzahn near Berlin (where in 1936 during the Berlin Olympics a camp with a cynical name “Resting Place” was set up specially for Sinti and Romanies) all the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau and so-called “Gypsy Camp” B II e.  Christian Bernardae describes in his book “Vergessener Holocaust” (Forgotten Holocaust) how 4,000 Sinti and Romanies were sent to Crematorium no. 1 there in just one night, from the 2nd to the 3rd of August 1944.

On the 3rd of August 1994 the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Romanies’ extermination was marked in Auschwitz. Assembled there at the place of our mothers’ and fathers’ suffering, we received letters from the President of Poland, Lech Walesa, from the President of Czech Republic, Václav Havel, and also from Pope John Paul II. The message of the Pope read as follows:

Together with all the participants of the commemoration in Auschwitz I kneel down, deeply moved and in defense, at the place which holds the ashes of the Nazi's genocide. In particular, remember the tragic fate of the Gypsies, our sisters and brothers, who were interned in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have done this many times as Metropolitan Bishop of Kraków, and today I do it as Pope.
Ladies and gentlemen,

When I contemplate the history of my people an image of Simon Luis appears before me. Simon Luis was a Romani from France interned in the concentration camp in Buchenwald. Simon was tattooed over much over his body – on his fingers, his back, his arms and hands. When the Commandant noticed this he ordered that Simon be flayed alive. The English Holocaust researchers, Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxton, describe how Simon's skin was removed from his body, treated, and then used to cover the Commandant's desk. When I try to imagine the tattooed signs and symbols on that poor man's skin I always arrive at the conclusion that the history of my people is in fact like the skin of that martyr.

To respect the historical truth I also must mention another incident from the long series of sufferings and sorrows of my people. In a group of people who Dr. Mengele was conducting experiments on were two Sinti children, the Mechau brothers. These children were selected out to suffer for the simple “reason” that, following an interplay of the laws of genetics each had one blue eye and one dark eye -  a case of so-called heterochromia. It is told that Dr. Mengele pulled out the children's eyes and then killed them single-handedly. The eyes of these martyrs, which will remain open as long as we exist on this planet, and which I feel are also watching us here at this conference, were sent to the laboratory of the Ophtalmological Clinic in Berlin.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is no scale on which to measure the eyes and the screams of children! Never will there be scales to weight human skin with tattooed signs and symbols. There is no gauge for the ashes and the blood of Auschwitz.

Truth and justice are the only measure of things.

For my people, however, truth and justice have passed us by.

My people did not suffer only under the Nazi regime – in various countries Communist dictatorship also took a terrible toll: Romanies were murdered in the Stalin era in the former USSR; in Romania under Ceausescu they were brutally persecuted; in former Czechoslovakia Romani women were forcibly sterilized … A new, dark chapter in the history of the Romanies began in 1989: there were anti-Romani pogroms in Romania; in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia Romanies were beaten up and killed; in former Yugoslavia there was suffering on a massive scale, particularly in Bosnia. My people have gone down in history for its suffering, and only as such. Its survival, its naked physical existence, bears the imprint of death, suffering and anguish much more indelibly than it shows any signs of progressive legislation, social justice or democracy. The historical knowledge about my people's past and the facts of its current life stir in me the words of the Spanish poet Antonio Marchado y Ruiz:

Sing him a song, dear brother
the Gypsy Jesus is still waiting
to have the blood washed from his hands
to be taken from the cross!
If it is true that all those who suffer and die for their truth are united with God and humanity, that they become a cornerstone of the future buildings of humanity which after all the anguish and blunders will finally be erected on earth in keeping with principles of humanity, that would at least be a consolation to us. We expect of this conference that it open our people the door to justice. What our people deserve, in keeping with the laws of historical truth and justice, must be utilized to serve its progressive activity and social development.

Only those who know the history of the Romanies, who have studied the Romani community, and who recognize the current economic, political and social conditions and circumstances which the Romanies live under in various countries of the world – particularly in Europe, where the Romanies’ Holocaust and that of the Jews began – can contribute to this progress. Whoever neglects these facts and circumstances could cause unforeseeable damage to the Romanies and our community, which in itself is segmentary and is still based on organic solidarity. Redistribution must therefore be carried out in harmony with historical awareness and real needs, and must be as fair as possible. Priority should be given to investment in the Romanies’ future, above all the schooling and education of the younger generation; furthermore, it has to serve the construction of ethnic and cultural institutions which will guarantee the preservation of the Romanies’ identity but also contribute to our development. Institutions, which will enable us to effectively combat racism in the contemporary world, will also be of significance. Parallel to this the economic and social problems of the many Romani families have to be resolved.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today our people are faced with grave dangers, beginning with the armed injustice in the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia, the violence and the threats of neo-Nazis, and including the fact that they are forced to live in ghettos, without enough daily bread, which is a negation of every purposeful existence in this world. Thus for us Romanies the future has not yet been freed from the past, nor has the past been resolved on the scale of a humane future; our people have still seen neither victory nor defeat – we are living proof of the fact that in the countries of both the victors and the vanquished of the Second World War people are still tormented and humiliated. Like no other people in the world we have been left with the burdens of life – all that is hard, meager and cheerless. Even our children are born, so to speak, with pre-determined dark fates. Those who deprive our children of the right to a future commit a crime against our people.

Myself and the members of the International Romani Union's delegation ... appeal to this high and respected conference and request that, in the spirit of historical truth and justice and in accordance with the word and the notion “holocaust”, it make a contribution towards resolving these problems, which will allow our dead to rest in peace and will give a sign of hope to the living, especially our children. Those who feel the sufferings and misfortune of our people and who sympathize with the pain will be able to set up standards of justice and fair redistribution simply and easily. Those, on the other hand, who neither know of nor understand the Holocaust of our people, who do not want to hear of the Romanies’ misfortune, will be prepared to walk all over these principles, our dead, and the future of our people.

Together with the delegates of the International Romani Union I hope – and am even deeply convinced – that this high and eminent conference will effectively hinder and repulse any potential attempt of this kind, whichever quarters it comes from.

In hope that the memory of the victims of the Holocaust will live eternally and the hopes of the living will never falter, I sincerely thank you all for your attention.


Posted 3 January 1999.


Chakra

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