Statement of the Deputy Comissioner for the Rights of National Minorities on the Occasion of the International Memorial Day of the Roma Genocide During the Holocaust
On the night of August 2, 1944, the members of the National Socialist police state organization murdered approximately three thousand Roma children, women and men at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. Pursuant to the 1972 decision of the Paris Congress of the World Roma Organization, it is on August 2 that we commemorate the European and Hungarian Roma victims who were persecuted and murdered for their ethnic origin in the Second World War.
The Roma faced hate speech, discriminative regulations and police misconduct as early as in the 1920s in several European countries. One decade later, in Germany they were already deported and deprived of all their rights. Then in the 1940s the Roma population of the Third Reich was compelled to endure severe humiliations and injustice, similarly to the Jewish population.
In Hungary, anti-Roma measures were taken relatively early. As early as in 1938, regulations were adopted on qualifying the Roma as an unreliable ethnic group and the police authorities were instructed to take strict action against them if necessary. The year 1944 saw the establishment of at least thirty ghettoes and concentration camps, where several tens of thousands of Roma citizens were forced to work in inhumane circumstances. Smaller Roma groups were transported to German extermination camps in the spring of 1944, while in August, Roma labor service units were set up. There were mass killings at several Hungarian settlements such as at Doboz, Várpalota, Lajoskomárom or Lengyel. This racism directly affected a total of several hundred thousand persons of Roma origin, which means almost one third of the Roma communities in Hungary.
Unfortunately, we can witness anti-Roma sentiment, sometimes even attacks in our days as well, from the part of different neo-Nazi, neo-fascist and paramilitary groups. These many times involve deaths as well. This is why on this day in Hungary, we do not only commemorate the victims killed during the Second World War.
Exactly sixty-five years after the Auschwitz-Birkenau tragedy, on the dawn of August 3, 2009, Mária Balog was killed with a shotgun in her house at Kisléta, Hungary and her daughter of thirteen was also seriously injured. As part of the attacks that came to be known as a killing spree against Roma persons with racist motives, the criminals committed assassinations against Roma persons on a total of nine occasions, using weapons and Molotov cocktails and they took the lives of as many as six citizens. But it was also a tragic sign of racist violence that in June 2018, Neo-Nazi groups in Western Ukraine made several attacks on Roma citizens and on June 23, they killed a Hungarian speaking young Roma man and injured his relatives.
By also taking the above into account, on 2017, I issued my policy statement entitled “The Social Attitude Shaping Role and Hungarian Situation of Education on the Romani Holocaust”, in which, besides stressing the importance of commemoration, I wished to draw attention to the key importance of the proper education of the persecutions in the period between the two world wars and the subsequent events of the Holocaust from every aspect.
I am convinced that a healthy defense mechanism against harmful tendencies can only develop in society if we equip our young people with truthful historical knowledge from the start, to make them capable of recognizing exclusionary intents and incitement to hatred. This will not only help the Roma/Gypsy population use their rights defined in the Fundamental Law of Hungary, i.e. their rights to preserving and disclosing their identity but it may also prove to be suitable for strengthening values based on respecting human rights in society.
Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay, Prof. HC