German Chancelor Angela Merkel inaugurated a memorial site commemorating the Roma victims of the Nazi era. The memorial’s inauguration comes three years later than scheduled, due to disputes regarding its design and cost.
The memorial is placed opposite the Reichstag Parliament and is located near the memorials for Jewish and gay victims. It consists of a round pool of water and a plinth on which a single fresh flower will be placed every day. A chronology of the Nazi extermination campaign against the Roma has been placed next to the memorial.
At today’s inauguration, Merkel stressed the importance of constructing such memorial sites. She emphasized that “"Every generation must confront its own history afresh. That is why we must have appropriate places where that is possible where people can also go in the future when the survivors are no longer alive." She paid a pious personal homage to the Roma victims as she said that “"Every single fate in this genocide is a suffering beyond understanding. Every single fate fills me with sorrow and shame."
The Roma genocide was for a long time silenced by German authorities and was only officially recognized in 1982. It is estimated that between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma were killed in Europe between 1933 and 1945.
Just as in the case of the Jews, the Nazis deemed the Roma to be racially inferior and, thus, worthy of extermination. Most of the Roma were gassed in Auschwitz or sent to the operation Reinhard camps; those who weren’t, were shot on the spot by the local police. While many people are relatively knowledgeable of the Jewish Holocaust, as should be the case, most today remain completely unaware of the Roma genocide.
The Berlin memorial’s construction is of particular importance given the increasing discrimination and intolerance against the Roma in countries around Europe. Most recently, in August 2012, the French government dismantled several Roma camps situated around several French citizens and forcibly deported hundreds of Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria. The French Minister of Interior called the Roma the scum of Europe, an unacceptable and racist statement for which he received little of its deserved criticism.
Constructing such a memorial sheds light on the immense suffering and discrimination that the Roma underwent during the Nazi rule, thus hopefully generating more sympathy and understanding for the European ethnic minority. It also recognizes the wrongdoings of the German state against the ethnic group. Furthermore, it represents a reminder of how easily growing media, political and social discrimination and prejudice can turn into horrific mass murders. The memorial’s construction should finally bring to attention the fact that just as anti-Jewish sentiment is currently considered unacceptable behavior given the Holocaust, so should anti-Roma manifestations. Such behavior should be frowned upon. Not only politicians such as France’s Interior Minister, but the media and ordinary citizens as well should abstain from throwing racist remarks at a group that in the past has undergone genocide.
Maybe most importantly though, the memorial opens the door for other European states to recognize other past injustices committed against the Roma, which could explain why they are currently the most marginalized ethnic minority in Europe. For instance, during past centuries, many European countries adopted laws prohibiting Roma to stop anywhere or to attend school. This has, to some extent, resulted in Romani cultures in many countries remaining non-literate. In current discussions accusing the Roma for not obtaining an education, this fact is never mentioned. Emphasizing past discriminations against the Roma would shift the blame of integration from the Roma themselves, which are often depicted as unwilling to be “integrated” into receiving societies, to the societies themselves as having shut their doors to the Roma for centuries.
The memorial's construction as well as Merkel’s words today should inspire all of us to end the current Roma discrimination. Their suffering during the Nazi era, portrayed by the Berlin memorial, was cruel, inhumane and enough. In continuing the hate against the Roma we are perpetuating the Nazi legacy, which is shameful and unacceptable. Instead, we should be searching for solutions alongside the Roma people to ensure that their culture and history are adequately respected in Europe and that they can find their own space within European countries and the European Union.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com