Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
We write to you today to reiterate our request for the official recognition of the Genocide of Roma and Sinti ('Porrajmos') which occurred during Nazi occupation of Europe in the Second World War.
In addition to committing genocide against the Jews, the Nazis committed genocide against the Roma and Sinti. On Aug. 2, 1944, the remaining 2,897 Roma and Sinti men, women, elderly and children imprisoned in the Zigeunerlager ("Gypsy Camp") were murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. According to the most recent estimates, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Roma and Sinti were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. For this reason, the international Roma community has designated August 2 as the day to commemorate the Roma and Sinti Porrajmos.
Given the Nazi ideology of "racial purity," Roma and Sinti were among the first victims. With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, anti-Roma laws proliferated. The Nuremberg Laws directly targeted Jews and were extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes and their bastard offspring" in late 1935. In 1936 the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit was established under the supervision of Dr. Robert Ritter. Soon after, the first Roma ghettos were established and Roma and Sinti deportations to concentration camps began.
Despite this history, the Porrajmos, which is often referred to as the "Forgotten Holocaust," remains widely unrecognized by governments around the world. After the war, scant political and academic attention was paid to the fate suffered by the Roma and Sinti. During the Nuremberg trials, there was seldom mention of the mass murders of Roma and Sinti, and Roma witnesses were not invited to testify.
Only in April 2015 did the European Parliament finally adopt a resolution recognizing the historical fact of the Porrajmos. The resolution declared "that a European day should be dedicated to commemorating the victims of the genocide of the Roma during World War II." It states, furthermore, "the need to combat Antigypsyism at every level and by every means, and stresses that this phenomenon is an especially persistent, violent, recurrent and commonplace form of racism."
Our inability to recognize the Roma Genocide continues to normalize hate and discrimination against these peoples today.
Romanipe invites the Canadian government to follow the example of the European Parliament and to formally recognize the Porrajmos. This recognition would grant legal and moral legitimacy to the Roma and Sinti, allowing them to be rightfully integrated into the history of the Holocaust and included in all official ceremonies, commemorations and events that honour the victims of the Second World War.
Our inability to recognize the Roma Genocide continues to normalize hate and discrimination against these peoples today. Last year, a monument dedicated to the Roma and Sinti victims was tragically vandalized in Berlin. Events like these signal the need to change perceptions and attitudes toward Roma and Sinti, in order to build a culture of understanding and acceptance rather than one of hate. In your note left in the book of remembrance at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, you mentioned the importance of remembering this painful part of our history, and our commitment to never again allow such darkness to prevail. The lack of indignation at the recent killings of Roma by far-right extremists speaks to the very real dangers and consequences of forgetting the past.
This is why we ask the Canadian government to respect its commitment to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and its aim of recognizing the Genocide of the Roma. Officially recognizing August 2 as the day of memory dedicated to the Porrajmos ensures that the Roma community's right to remembrance is respected and that the untold stories of Roma and Sinti victims and survivors are honoured. Such recognition also serves to delegitimize current hate and violence, and acknowledges the fact that Roma and Sinti men, women, and children still suffer from discrimination and persecution.
We invite your government to make a statement that draws attention to the plight of Roma and Sinti during the Holocaust and to mark this solemn occasion on August 2 this year.
A version of this open letter was originally published by Romanipe. Click through for a full list of signatories.