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The Roma Holocaust: Remembrance and trivialisation

As Europe’s Roma mark the 70th anniversary of the Porrajmos (Roma Holocaust), elected politicians in both Hungary and the Czech Republic have belittled their suffering.

The opposition Socialists have called on Zoltan Balog, minister for human resources, to resign over his recent remarks concerning the Roma Holocaust.

Deputy head of parliament’s cultural committee, Agnes Kunhalmi of the Socialists, said in a statement on Tuesday that Balog had told public Kossuth Radio that no Roma were deported from Hungary during WW2.

“His words contradict all historical research and were clearly untrue and intolerable,” Kunhalmi said. The government’s efforts to relativise and deny the Porajmos, the Roma Holocaust in Hungary, are beyond European norms and beyond the point where a position could be discussed and explained, she added.

Although the ruling Fidesz party have insisted that Balog’s words were distorted for political ends, he has since compounded the problem by making minatory comparisons between Hungary’s Roma and Jewish minorities.

“There was no deportation of Roma from Hungary; they were deported from Austria. I have witnessed the process through which the Gypsy intelligentsia has begun to say:  ‘pardon me, but we too have a Holocaust, and as such we too are part of this history.’ Yet I would still like to caution my Gypsy friends from concentrating too much on this element of their identity. Because even among the Jewry, many have come to the realization that if the experience of the Holocaust and the knowledge that ‘we were victims’ are the only (or the most important) aspects of Jewish identity, then this creates internal confusion and schizophrenia. And this does not help these communities look towards the future”–remarked Mr. Balog on Kossuth Radio.

A Czech MP has also been accused of seeking to trivialize the Roma Holocaust.

Czech MP Tomio Okamura, the chair of the “Dawn of Direct Democracy movement” (Úsvit) spit in the faces of the victims of the former concentration camp at Lety by Písek when he was quoted in the online political tabloid ParlamentniListy.cz as saying it was a lie and a myth to call Lety a Romani concentration camp. Okamura claimed no one was ever killed at Lety and that the people imprisoned there had died either as a result of old age or as a result of diseases they brought with them to the camp that they caught as a result of their previous travelling lifestyle.

Criticism of Okamura has been sharp, and his assessment of Lety has been dismissed:

Okamura’s words go counter to historical facts as assessed by not only politicians but also experts.

The camp in Lety was founded by the Nazis Aug. 1, 1942 as a disciplinary labor one. By May 1943, a total of 1,308 Romas passed through it. Of them 327 died there, and more than 500 were taken to Auschwitz. Fewer than 600 Roma prisoners returned from Nazi concentration camps after the war. It is estimated that the Nazis killed 90 percent of Czech Romas.

Last Saturday Roma from 25 European countries gathered at Auschwitz to commemorate the genocide, and draw attention to the continued violence and discrimination facing communities today.