BRUSSELS — Jewish European leaders and Israeli lawmakers gathered with representatives of the Roma community in the European Parliament on Wednesday for a joint commemoration of the Holocaust, the first such joint event at the legislative body, with European MPs of Romani extraction lamenting widespread ignorance about the “forgotten victims of the Holocaust” and bemoaning the rise of the far-right.
“Roma are sort of the forgotten victims of the Holocaust. The vast majority of my European fellows still don’t even know that during the Second World War, members of the Roma community, among others, have been oppressed by the Nazi regime,” said Lívia Járóka, a vice president of the European Parliament, rapporteur on EU Roma strategy, and the first Romani female MP in the European parliament, upon unveiling an exhibit on the genocide.
Hundreds of thousands of Roma were killed by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945, of whom 23,000 were interred in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Members of the community, along with the Sinti minority, were also subject to Nazi racial discrimination laws in the lead-up to the Holocaust, forced sterilizations in the 1930s, and medical experimentation in the death camps.
The Hungarian-born Jaroka, whose mother is Jewish and father is Roma, put the number of Roma killed at half a million. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there are no precise figures on the number of Romani victims, but estimates put the number of dead of the one-million strong community in Europe at the time at 220,000.
“All victims faced the same suffering, the same fate, and the same ending by the same perpetrators,” said European Parliament MP Soraya Post, rapporteur on Roma fundamental rights.
At the European Parliament event organized by the European Jewish Congress, Romani Holocaust survivors were present along with Jewish ones for the first joint annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony.
“When I see the survivors, I see my own failure, and my own generation’s failures. And how strong they are, and [that] we have no time to rest. We have to prioritize,” Post told The Times of Israel after the event.
The Romani genocide was only recognized by West Germany for purposes of reparations in 1982, after many of its survivors had died, and many still do not receive full the compensation they are eligible for.
Post, in her address, slammed the rise of the European far right, charging that “neo-Nazis openly parade on our squares, chanting out their hate propaganda.”
“They should have no place in open society. We have seen what they are capable of. We are at a crossroads,” she said.
After the event, she pointed to Bulgaria — “seven of their 21 ministers are extreme right” — and the rise of the Freedom Party in Austria.
“I’m frustrated, I’m also disappointed how they even could get that far.”
Though Jewish and Roma populations enjoyed warm ties in some areas of Eastern Europe before the Holocaust, a joint post-war commemoration is rare. Though billed as a joint event, the unveiling of the Romani exhibit was accompanied by speeches by the Romani MPs, while the main ceremony in the hall featured speeches by Israeli and Jewish leaders on rising anti-Semitism.
Post said there was collaboration between European Jewish groups and Roma groups, particularly among students, though it “could be maybe more visible.”
But she refrained from opining on whether the Israeli government could, or should, have aided their efforts. “About Israel, I don’t know. My father is Jewish…. but I don’t like the regime of Israel today. I support the State of Israel, of course, 100 percent, but I also support a Palestinian state,” she said.
As for Jews, she added: “I think the Jewish people could have done more for the Roma and maybe they’ll think about it and start now.”