Exploring and Honoring History

Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative

Stuart Richardson, Wallenberg Summer Travel Awardee, went to Krakow, Poland and Auschwitz for the International Roma Youth Conference recently and reports on his experience.

Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative is put on every year by a number of Roma organizations around Europe. The Initiative was formed for two primary reasons. The first was to bring together Roma and non-Roma to discuss the current situation of Sinti and Roma in Europe as well as issues of “anti-gypsism.” Secondly, the Initiative brings together young people to reflect on the Roma Genocide during World War II. For this reason, the conference is held every year to coincide with the anniversary of the liquidation of the Zigeunerlager in Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 2-3, 1944. I took this picture at the opening ceremony of the conference in Blonia Park (Krakow, Poland). There were over a 1,000 participants this year coming from virtually every European country as well as the United States. Canada, and Israel.

rose

Everyone was given a rose at the start of the ceremony to place inside the gypsy camp. I laid mine in the middle of a barrack at the back of the camp.

six survivors of the Roma Genocide

Six survivors of the Roma Genocide joined the conference on the last day. Each had his or her own unique (and in many cases, harrowing) experience. Though, the woman sitting on the far left has the most unusual story in my opinion:

Else Baker (nee Schmidt) is only part-Roma. As a girl, she was adopted by an “Aryan” family in Hamburg. The Nazis attempted to deport her to Auschwitz twice between 1943 and ’44. The first time, Else’s adopted father intervened and prevented the deportation. The second time, the Nazis took her while she was at school. By the time her adoptive parents had realized what had happened, it was too late; Else was already in a train heading toward Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was eight years old. Because Else didn’t have any guardian in the camp, she came under the care of an older Roma woman.

While Else suffered in Auschwitz, her adoptive father was frantically trying to get her back. He began writing to top Nazi officials to persuade them to release her from the camp. He even wrote to Hitler (which was unthinkable at the time). But his tenacity paid off, and eventually Else received an authorization to return to Germany.

One week after her return, Else was forced to re-enroll in school. She had to cover the tattoo she received in Auschwitz-Birkenau with a bandage for fear that fellow students might tease her.