Holocaust remembrance – we cannot stay silent again

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A Roma man places roses as he pays his respects during an international commemorations of the Samudaripen (the Romani genocide) outside the pig farm in Lety, Czech Republic, 24 June 2017. [EPA/MARTIN DIVISEK]

It has been seven decades since the Holocaust and we are still witnessing hate crime against minorities in Europe. We still see Neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists openly marching and parading in the streets, Soraya Post writes ahead of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Soraya Post is the first Member of the European Parliament from an ideologically anti-racist and feminist party – The Feminist Initiative from Sweden. She is a member of the S&D group where she is the spokesperson for Roma issues.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, we remember and honour all the children, women and men that were tortured and murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust and we reinstate our commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, racism, and other forms of intolerance. We can never forget this brutal genocide and the suffering and pain that it has caused for its victims, their families and our societies.   

During the Holocaust, a total of 11 million people were murdered in concentration camps in Europe by the Nazi-regime. The Nazis persecuted, tortured, imprisoned and murdered everyone that they deemed “inferior” to the Germans. The biggest group of victims was the Jewish people; 6 million were murdered by the Nazis in the concentration camps, two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe.

Roma people were the second-largest group of people killed on racial grounds in the Holocaust; around 500 000 – 1 million Roma people were killed by the Nazis. Other groups of victims were people with mental or physical disabilities, gay people, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, political opponents and other resistance activists. All victims faced the same suffering, the same fate and the same ending. None of them got another chance at life.

27 January, marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops on 27 January 1945. After the liberation, the Jewish Holocaust survivors could seek justice at international and domestic courts but the majority of the victims never got the chance and many perpetrators of Nazi-era criminality never got punished.

The Roma Holocaust, also called Porrajmos or Samudaripen, was only recognized in 1982 when Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany acknowledged that the Nazi-regime had persecuted and committed genocide against Roma people on the basis of their race.

In Auschwitz, a permanent exhibition on The Destruction of the European Roma was only opened in 2001. In Berlin, the first memorial site was not uncovered until 2012. This year also the European Parliament’s Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony will feature an exhibition on the Roma Holocaust curated by the Central Council of German Roma and Sinti.

This year’s commemorative theme of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility”. Set by the United Nations, the theme underlines the continued duty to learn about and remember the Holocaust.

The survivors of the Holocaust have shared and still share their stories and experiences so that future generations would never have to relive these horrible crimes against humanity. However, there are not so many survivors left so it is up to all of us to retell their stories, such as the stories of Sinti Holocaust survivors and activists Ms Rita Prigmore and Mr Zoni Weisz.  

It is also up to all of us to prevent future genocides. It has been seven decades since the Holocaust and we are still witnessing hate crime against minorities in Europe. We still see Neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists openly marching and parading in the streets, spreading their hate. Many parliaments in Europe have members from right-wing extremist parties. It brings me great sadness and pain that the survivors of the Holocaust yet again have to witness genocides, crimes against humanity and see boots marching on the streets. We cannot afford to ignore this, we have to stand up and create a future where we do not have to apologise, a future that we can be proud of, where diversity in all its forms is valued and promoted.

According to reports from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), hate crime is surging in Europe. FRA defines hate crimes as “violence and offences motivated by racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, or by bias against a person’s disability, sexual orientation or gender identity”.

Racist and xenophobic reactions towards refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants persist across the EU. Anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism are parts of an everyday reality for many people living in Europe. Just this month FRA published a report saying that in many parts of the EU, civil society is under threat. This is very worrying considering the crucial role civil society plays in upholding democratic processes and in promoting human rights.

We must not stay silent and indifferent to this hate; we have to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, racism, and other forms of intolerance. Raising our voices is not only the right thing to do but our joint responsibility as well. We cannot forget what happened seven decades ago and we cannot let hate dominate Europe again.

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