On 16 May, the Roma Resistance Day, we honour the victims of the Roma Holocaust and the Roma people who fought against oppression, discrimination and exclusion.

78 years ago, the commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp decided to terminate the separate Roma camp in order allow the placement of new arrivals of Jewish prisoners from Hungary in the camps. However, the Roma were aware of the plan and prepared to defend themselves. They gathered stones, sticks, iron bars and pickaxes and smuggled them into their barracks to resist the attack. On 16 May, hundreds of SS gunmen stormed the camp of 6,000 Gypsies, but they faced unexpected resistance unprecedented in the history of concentration camps. The battle between the guards and the desperately defending prisoners lasted all day, and the Roma held out heroically. At the end of the day, the camp commander ordered the siege of the Roma camp to be suspended – Roma prisoners managed to defend themselves, albeit at great cost. After the attack, during the summer, the younger, able-bodied Roma prisoners and women were transferred to other camps, leaving only the almost 3,000 elderly, sick and children in Auschwith-Birkenau. The SS finally attacked them on 2 August 1944, and although the prisoners defended themselves, they were no match for the overwhelming troops.

The heroic resistance to Nazi brutality became part of the Roma identity, as a desperate struggle to preserve human dignity. Since then, this day has also been an opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that the Roma are an important and active part of history. It is of crucial importance that, through education and social awareness-raising, future generations are made aware not only of the historical commemoration but also of the need to speak up and act in defence of our inalienable human rights in all cases and in all circumstances. I have drawn attention to this in my previous general comments and in my joint reports with the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights.

As Minority Ombudsman, I also see it as my duty to draw attention to the NGOs that are committed to working for remembrance and make people remember. 16 May is therefore also an opportunity to highlight the project that the Phiren Amenca International Network for Roma Youth is implementing. The organisation is a network of Roma and non-Roma volunteers and voluntary organisations from 20 countries in Europe and Canada, committed to fighting racism and prejudice. One of the organisation's seminar series, which has been running for many years, is on Roma resistance, the Roma Holocaust and the fight against anti-Gypsyism. This international multi-part programme brings together young Roma and non-Roma people aged 18-30 who are committed to learning about the subject. The professional events aim to provide participants with an understanding of the history of the Roma Holocaust, human rights and the basics of non-formal education, and to inform them about the applicability of this method in the fight against discrimination, intolerance and anti-Gypsyism, as well as in education on the Holocaust. 

In 2022, the first event of the seminar series took place in Oświęcim, Poland, from 11 to 16 April, where participants learned about the events in a series of workshops, followed by a commemorative visit to the Auschwitz Museum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau sites. The second meeting will take place on 2 August in Germany, where participants will learn about the history of the Buchenwald concentration camp. The third and final event of the seminar will give participants the opportunity to learn about the educational work of the Yad Vashem Memorial Complex, which will take place in Jerusalem from 10 to 15 October.