Roma Holocaust foregrounds deep-rooted discrimination against the minority

August 2 is Roma Holocaust Memorial Day.

President Zuzana Čaputová meets with Adela Maková whose family fell victim to the Roma Holocaust.President Zuzana Čaputová meets with Adela Maková whose family fell victim to the Roma Holocaust. (Source: Twitter/Zuzana Čaputová)

Slovak politicians and the European Commission have marked Roma Holocaust Memorial Day on social media. More needs to be done to root out discrimination against the Roma, they also said.

The day falls on August 2.

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Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger (OĽaNO) posted on Facebook that people cannot face discrimination and prejudices because of their ethnicity and feel inferior.

“We must not tolerate this,” he said.

The prime minister, who described the Holocaust as the most horrific event in [European] history, is convinced that Roma Holocaust Memorial Day is the right way to never forget the horrors of the Second World War and to never lose the ability to discern often disguised racial ideologies spread today by extremists of different kinds.

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Visiting Roma memorials

On the evening of August 2, 1944, nearly 3,000 Roma were sent to death at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp on the territory of today’s Poland.

More than 500,000 European Roma people are estimated to have died during the Holocaust.

From Slovakia, about a thousand Roma people are believed to have lost their lives during the Holocaust.

Many were persecuted by the Nazi regime established by the inter-war Slovak state. Roma people could not use public transport, go to events, and they were only allowed to enter towns at certain times. Moreover, Roma men had to work in several labour camps in the Slovak state.

Under communism, the matter of the Roma Holocaust remained taboo.

The State Scientific Library in Prešov, eastern Slovakia, runs a virtual tour that takes people to sites around Slovakia that honour the Roma people who perished during the war. The tour is also available in English.

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Little-known holocaust

On the August 2 memorial day, Justice Ministry’s State Secretary Ondrej Dostál said that the Roma Holocaust is still a little-known topic to people in Slovakia.

Read also Pope to the Roma: We are all members of one team Read more 

The Roma Holocaust is often referred to as the unknown holocaust.

“What happened to the European Roma is still shrouded in lack of research and public knowledge,” said Zuzana Kumanová, human rights advisor to Justice Minister Mária Kolíková (SaS).

The EU has been marking the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day since 2015.

Because the Roma Holocaust is not as widely known as the Jewish Holocaust, President Zuzana Čaputová emphasised that it is therefore even more important to preserve the stories of those Roma who survived. She pointed out her meeting with Adela Maková from Badín, central Slovakia.

“She was just one year old when members of the Hlinka Guard [the militia that took part in the Holocaust in Slovakia] killed her father-insurgent,” the president said.

On Tuesday, Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok (SaS nom.) honoured the perished Roma and thanked them for their participation in the 1944 Slovak National Uprising against the Nazi regime.

The country’s plenipotentiary for the Roma, Ján Hero, has announced that his office in cooperation with MPs and the Foreign Ministry are working on the definition of anti-Roma racism.

Criticism of Slovakia

PM Heger also noted on the memorial day that “many times the Roma are doomed to failure and side-lined by society.” Around Slovakia, there are many Roma communities that are segregated and live in poverty.

Most recently, a group of MEPs have visited some of them, appalled by the horrible conditions that European citizens live in today. A video from their trip has been reportedly seen by several EU commissioners.

If Slovakia does not improve the Slovak Roma’s living conditions, the Commission could take over the management of EU funds for Slovakia, wrote on July 27.

The country has also been repeatedly criticised by the Council of Europe for its approach to the Roma, especially when it comes to discrimination and segregation in schools.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the challenges and discrimination Roma minority is still facing,” the European Commission said on August 2.

The Commission will present a first assessment of the national Roma strategies this year.

“In our Union, we strive for openness, tolerance and respect for human dignity for all people. Only in this spirit can we fight racism and discrimination.”

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