“I appreciate we have some way to go to ensure the Roma and Sinti experiences are highlighted more fully within HMD, but I feel we have taken an important step this year.”
Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
27th of January is internationally recognised as the day to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, marking the day when Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz death camp in 1945. On the 27th of January, 2000, representatives of over 44 countries met at Stockholm to sign the declaration which acknowledged the commitment to remember the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides, thus recognising Holocaust Memorial Day.
Every year the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) organises an event in London that brings together Holocaust survivors, dignitaries and hundreds of guests to remember those whose lives have been catastrophically destroyed by Nazi persecution, the atrocities of the Holocaust and more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia. The theme of this year’s event was “Communities Together: Build a Bridge”, thus emphasising the continuing need to connect with our communities and show respect to others.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Event 2013 began with an exhibition of historical overviews and survivor testimonies, including speeches by Holocaust survivor Kitty Hart Moxon OBE and Sophie, a survivor of the Genocide in Rwanda. At the highlight of the event candles were lit as a symbol of remembrance of all Holocaust and Genocide victims. Candles were lit by representatives of each ethnicity. Ben Helfgott lit the candle for the Holocaust, Roza Kotowicz and Leon Wisniewski represented the Roma victims, Zeira Khan remembered the Rwanda genocide, whilst Imam Ibrahim Mogra and reverend Toby Howarth commemorated the Bosnian and the Darfuri genocides.
This year was very important as Roma and Sinti victims have only very recently been fully represented. Other speakers included Simon Schama and Yoletta Hyange with messages conveyed by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and MP Eric Pickles. In his uplifting speech, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has shown his deep respect and admiration for all survivors of the Holocaust and the other genocides. He stated that although the past cannot be changed, it can be a source of learning “if we fight hate with love, brutality with compassion, and death with an unconquerable dedication to life”.
The Roma Support Group (RSG) was represented by Roma Trustees, Roza Kotowicz (Chair of the RSG) and Leon Wisniewski , who were invited as VIP guests. Leon Wisniewski stated: “We have waited long enough to be able to commemorate the memory of many hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti victims. When I was lighting the candle, I remembered them all… The memory of this Day will stay with me for ever.”
HMD’s events are intended both to bring people together in a solemn remembrance of the Holocaust, and to apply lessons we have learnt from the past to the present day in order to ‘create a safer, better future’. In this context it brings attention to the discrimination and exclusion that Roma people still face every day. Most Roma in Europe live in poverty, at the margins of society and have no official support. Roma communities are increasingly becoming the victims of abuse and are frequently subject to right wing attacks and racism.
Last year a monument was unveiled in Berlin commemorating the 500,000 Roma and Sinti victims of the Nazi Genocide. At the inauguration, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that “it is a German and European task to support (Sinti and Roma) wherever they live, no matter what country”. It is hoped that with increased awareness these issues can be seriously addressed.