In our recent survey of one hundred young people not a single one mentioned the Porrajmos – the Romani Genocide. The Porrajmos, which means ‘the devouring’ was the Nazi attempt to destroy the Romani people in Europe.
The people had been persecuted before Hitler came to power in Germany with Romani people being barred from public places like swimming pools, forced to carry ID cards in certain states, their freedom of movement restricted by the police who kept them under surveillance. The situation for the Romani Gypsies and Sinti people continued to deteriorate when Hitler came to power. By 1935, the Nuremberg laws, which forbade marriages of Jews and Germans and stripped Jews of their citizenship, were expanded to include the Roma people as well. When the Second World War began the Roma people were sent to ghettos and then to concentration camps. Many Roma were sent to Auschwitz from 1943 onwards and were housed in a separate area called the ‘Gypsy Camp’. Of the 23,000 people who were held in the Gypsy camp around 20,000 were murdered. In excess of 200,000 Romani Gypsies and Sinti people were murdered by the Nazis and their allies.
Even today the Romani people face a battle remembering the events of this genocide. On 2 August 2019, the charity Romano Lav (which tries to help the inclusion of Roma people) erected a rose tree and plaque in Queen’s Park, Govanhill to mark Roma Genocide Memorial Day. The memorial, believed to be the first formal installation for the remembrance of the Roma people in Glasgow and possibly Scotland, was vandalised recently. This despicable act shows the struggle the Roma people have in reminding people of the need to remember the persecution they suffered.
Furthermore, the attack on the memorial not only illustrates the lack of respect for the memory of those who were murdered during the Porrajmos but also evidences the level of hate still directed at the Roma people today. We spoke to Marc Willers QC, a lawyer who specialises in Gypsy, Traveller and Roma law, about the situation today. Mr Willers told us that hate crimes against Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people is being fuelled by a fear of the ‘other’ and has been on the rise recently with increased concerns over immigration from Eastern Europe. In addition to this Mr Willers feels that the failure to take these crimes seriously and to investigate them properly simply allows perpetrators to act with impunity. Racism against Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people is often called the ‘last acceptable form of racism’ and Mr Willers sees increased action on the part of the police as an important part of the solution.
Finally, we asked Mr Willers how young people can help raise awareness of and reduce prejudice against Gypsy, Traveller and Roma (GTR) people in Britain today. He commented that it was ‘really important that people are educated about GTR people, their traditions, customs and beliefs, at an early stage in their schooling and that the curriculum highlights the positive aspects of their culture and busts age old myths that have been passed down through the generations.’ From there, Mr Willers believes, young people will be in a position to tackle the stereotypical views held by their relatives and friends and help ensure that GTR classmates and their families feel part of our society.
We absolutely agree with Mr Willers and think that it is the responsibility of young people to consign the ‘last acceptable form of racism’ to the dustbin of history.