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May 16th 1944 – the day of Sinti, Romany Resistance

Drive2Survive Co-Chair Sherrie Smith explores what happened on this day 80 years ago and what remains to be done to remember those who died in the Romany holocaust.

Today is the 80th anniversary of that evening in 1944, when over 6000 Romany, stood up to the Nazi SS in Auschwitz-Birkenau and delayed the liquidation of the ‘Gypsy camp’ (Zigeunlager) by fighting off the soldiers sent to take them to the gas chambers. 

The Gypsy family concentration camp prisoners had received a tip off and so mobilized and united together, making crude weapons from whatever they could find. They stood together and fought off the SS officers with guns. In fact Romany often  resisted the Nazis by  fighting back in whatever small ways they could, sometimes by singing and many gave their lives believing it was better to die free than live as slaves to the Nazi regime.

Our predecessors and ancestors’ bravery is often unknown as its untaught. You do not learn it at school, or in Holocaust awareness. This should make us proud and give us hope. We are stronger together, even then in the dark hell of Auschwitz and unimaginable loss and suffering  and those are the sentiments that this 80th anniversary brings forth.Sorrow, pride, and resistance in the face of adversity, and hope for a better future.

Carrying forward the true Romany history and events like this is our duty. So that the young learn and share the sentiments of solidarity and unity.It was shocking when I originally wrote this article for The Travellers Times in 2016,  That here was no official memorial to the over 1.5 million Romany and Sinti Gypsies murdered in World War 2.  In fact Europe only acknowledged the Roma genocide in 2015!  There has been no reparations to the Romany relatives or community,  for their loss.

It is thought  almost 90% of European Romany were obliterated in death camps. Many Romany were killed where they were found shot and buried in unmarked mass graves.There has still been no acknowledgement by the U.K.  Holocaust commission that was also formed in 2015 by this same Conservative Government we have today.  It has no Romany members, On top of this the special envoy for "holocaust issues"  is Baron Eric Pickles,  who was found guilty in the High Court of discriminating against Gypsies and Travellers for singling out Gypsy planning applications, and taking them off his own Department of Communities and Local Government planning Inspectors to determine himself.

This year the United Kingdom is holding the presidency for IHRA The international Holocaust remembrance alliance. Baron Eric pickles is holding the presidency this year for the world to remember Romany. This adds further insult to our loss suffering and refusal to acknowledge our suffering in the Holocaust.There are vague plans to hold a Romany educational conference in London and Scotland towards the end of the year. However, details are yet to emerge.

The purpose of the UK Holocaust commission is to ensure that the memories are kept alive, yet there is no recorded testimony of any Gypsy holocaust survivors, no plans as to how the Romany and Sinti will be acknowledged. Not even an official ceremony for remembrance of the Gypsies and Roma murdered on August 2nd 1944 just for their race.The blood that run through their veins. This is not acceptable and we need to continue to fight back until this is changed. We need to stand together and challenge the continued denial.

Drive2Survive has been pushing for more acknowledgement. Joining the campaign to change all that – a campaign that has been going on for decades. There have been some successes in Europe – but in the UK there needs to be a concerted push this year, for the 80th anniversary. There are very few survivors left that can tell the story, so we have a responsibility to make sure that history is told how it happened and not leaving us and our story of strength.

One of the ways this is helped is by the Dora Love project. A school education project that runs across Essex and Suffolk engaging years 8-10 in secondary schools. Encouraging young people to learn history. I have presented at this for a number of years. Knowledge needs to grow.Over the last few months we have been working with many well-known champions of the Romany holocaust cause such as Dora Love prize patron and creator Emirate professor of Essex university Rainer Schulze , Ruth Barnett, Angel Ivanhoff, Gratton Puxon, and many others, and over the next few years we intend to unite and lobby to ensure that the Romany and Sinti genocide will be officially  acknowledged in the UK.

Annually there is a very moving service independently organised by The Gypsy Council in Hyde park to remember the night of August 2nd 1944, when the Nazi SS returned to the zigeunerlager and succeeded in murdering the remaining 3,000 inhabitants of Auschwitz-Birkenau, but this is not official, nor is it attended or acknowledged by any Government representatives.The struggle for the recognition of the Romany and Sinti genocide has been going on for decades in the face of official indifference. The first community organized commemoration took place in 1967 in Bethnal Green, London, where Johnny Connors sang a poignant lament as a bender tent was burned in the memory of the Roma and Sinti Nazi victims.

Gratton Puxon, a speaker on the day, recalled how Britain had come close to invasion by Nazi Germany, and that the Nazi high command had drawn up plans under “Operation Sea lion" to round-up all the Romany Gypsies  in the UK – alongside the Jews - to continue their evil crusade of genocidal extermination.Individually we must request that our local communities remember these dates – May 16th, the day of resistance, and August 2nd – the day of sorrow.

As a group we will fight for recognition we need to demand answer we will lobby for answers acceptance and acknowledgement. We must look to the Jewish community for help as well – the other victims of the Holocaust – who are officially remembered every year in January at the official Holocaust memorial day trust event in London. Which is attended by Pickles and many other government representatives.

Since 2016 I have organised through various organisations I have worked with that young UK Romany, Gypsies and Travellers. This August 2nd there will be a commemoration organised jointly with Ternypee an international youth movement organisation. Drive2Survive will again as last year be attending and are hoping to take some UK Romany young people to Auschwitz to join with over 400 other Romany from across Europe to remember and attend a service to remember the 80th anniversary.

Please contact Drive2Survive co chair for further information.We must have official recognition of 2nd August in the UK. There must be engagement by the Holocaust Memorial Committee and the government.  It must become an official day of commemoration of the Roma genocide, worldwide.  We owe this to each and every victim, so that their memory will live on and so future generations can learn what hatred, stereotypes, ostracizing and isolation can do if left unchecked and unchallenged.

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