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Roma – Europe’s forgotten victims of the Holocaust

25 January 2007

MRG statement to mark International Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January

As the world marks International Holocaust Memorial Day, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) remembers the Roma community, the only other population besides the Jews targeted for extermination on racial grounds, but whose plight has largely been and remains forgotten.

Samia Khan, MRG’s Head of Programmes says, ‘The human tragedy of this genocide has been hidden from the public eye.’

According to MRG over 60 years after the end of the Second World War the Roma community continue to face widespread public prejudice and official discrimination. There are currently between 7-10 million Roma people in Europe, making them the largest minority in the region

‘The Roma are marginalized and discriminated against in many aspects of life. This will inevitably have repercussions on how people view their history,’ Silwia Ingmire of the London-based Roma Support Group says.

Figures from the US Holocaust Memorial Research Institute put the number of Roma lives lost at between 500, 000 and one and a half million. As a proportion of the Roma population, it parallels the percentage of the Jewish population exterminated by the Nazi regime. Historians estimate that between 25 and 50 per cent of all European Roma were decimated.

Classed by Nazi theorists as asocials, Roma were subjected to internment, forced labour and massacres in Germany and occupied Europe from 1936 onwards. Thousands suffered medical experiments before being led into the gas chambers of the extermination camps. On one night alone in August 1944, 3,000 Roma people were gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The German government did not formally recognize the Nazi genocide against the Roma people until 1982. 12, 000 affected Roma families have only recently received compensation through a US $ 1.25 billion Holocaust Victims Assets Litigation fund.

MRG partner groups in Europe say targeted attacks and discrimination against Roma communities continues in Europe. The European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest has reported that coercive sterilization of women is encountered in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

According to Ingmire, ‘Mainstream European society has to reconcile its unequal relationship with this minority. It is not a new issue, the Roma people have been in Europe for over 700 years.’

International Holocaust Memorial Day aims ‘to ensure that the horrendous crimes, racism and victimization committed during the Holocaust are never repeated’.

MRG’s Samia Khan says ‘if this Day is to act as a reminder to us of our responsibility to protect the civil and human rights of all people in our society, then we must also apply this sensitivity to the Roma community.’

Notes to editors

  • Established by Tony Blair in the UK in 2000 and designated by the UN in 2005, International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates all of the communities who suffered as a result of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution. 27 January was chosen as it is the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].