World Genocide Commemoration Day

Dear Editor,
December 9, 2020 is World Genocide Commemoration Day. It is a day set aside by the United Nations “to commemorate the victims of genocide, and highlight humanity’s responsibility to prevent future genocides.”
The UN document defines genocide as “the intentional and systematic eradication of an ethnic, racial, or religious group.”
The world has seen many such attempts at wiping out an entire people, such as the nearly 11 million people (some estimates indicate 15-20 million) systematically murdered by Germany during World War II. A more recent but no less horrifying genocidal atrocity was the Rwandan genocide, in which up to 1 million people were murdered in one of the bloodiest frenzies known in human history.
Of course, when we speak of genocide, what immediately comes to mind is the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed in German concentration camps and other pogroms across occupied territories. What is generally not talked about, however, is the genocide of the Romani (Gypsy) people of Europe before, during, and after the Second World War. Some estimates claim as many as 1 million being put to death during the war itself.
In January 2013, Zsolt Bayer, a founding member of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz Party, said, referring to the Romas, “Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals and behave like animals. Animals should not exist.” The current leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, when asked in 2017 what his “first priority” would be if he became PM, answered: “Tougher enforcement against Gypsies and travellers”.
But neither Ross’s nor Bayer’s xenophobia is new. From their very advent into Europe from India about 1,500 years ago, Romas constituted one of the largest, if not the largest, ethnic groups in Europe, and have been subjected to one of the longest and most sustained ethnic persecutions in every European country in which they were found. And this persecution continues unabated up to the present time, despite the platitudes of the Council of Europe.
The worst horror against the Roma people, however, was systematically carried out by Germans during the war years, yet their story is not known. It is believed that Jews and Romas lost about the same percentage of their total number by 1945, but the fate of the Romas was not discussed at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, and almost no reparation has been made to survivors since then. In fact, it was only in 1979 that the West German Federal Parliament identified the persecution of Romas as being racially motivated. By that time, only a handful who would have been eligible for any compensation was alive.
Once deemed “racially inferior”, German authorities under the leadership of Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler commenced the extermination of the Romas in their tens of thousands in the German occupied territories of the former Soviet Union and present-day Serbia, and even greater numbers were killed in the camps at Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Similar mass murders took place in Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausenm and Ravensbruck concentration camps.
In 2001, Dr. Emil Schuka, President of the International Romani Union, poignantly declared, “I would like India to be the moral protector of the Romani people around the world.” This faith in India notwithstanding, India has done precious little to be such a moral voice for the Roma people, though Indian non-governmental agencies like the Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad Bharat have been interacting with Romas for many years now.
Romas, however, still cherish a hope that someday India will eventually recognise them, as Jovan Damjanovic, the president of the World Roma Organisation Romanipen, in an interview with the Hindustan Times, said: “We are expecting, after all these years, India should recognise the Romas as Indian national minority. There is anthropological and physical evidence that we belong to India. Indians could win at cultural, economic and political level by accepting the origins of these 12-15 million people.”

Swami Aksharananda