Chair of the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, Martina Maschke, and Committee member Gerhard Baumgartner, attended 2 August commemorations at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, at the former Łódź Ghetto as well as the unveiling of a new memorial to the Roma and Sinti victims in Chełmno on behalf of the IHRA.
In addition to representing the IHRA, Maschke and Baumgartner were also members of an Austrian delegation, headed by Christian Illedits, President of the Parliament of Burgenland, and Bettina Vollath, President of the Styrian Parliament. Burgenland and Styria were the two provinces from which most of the Austrian Roma were deported to Auschwitz and Chełmno.
The commemoration at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum marks the day in 1944 when the last group of nearly 2,900 Sinti and Roma were killed in the gas chambers. Martina Maschke was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss future IHRA cooperation with both Romani Rose, Chair of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, and with Roman Kwiatkowski, President of the Association of Roma in Poland.
At the event, Roman Kwiatkowski spoke of the need for solidarity: "With all my heart I thank all of those who are not Roma for choosing to be here with us today, to honor the memory of our murdered brothers. They were also your brothers."
Romani Rose, head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, stressed: “We cannot allow Europe to plunge into darkness again. The struggle for democracy and human rights must continue." The IHRA interviewed Romani Rose in the run up to the 2 August to discuss what the day means to the Sinti and Roma community, and what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance can do to support these commemorative efforts.
Raymond Gûreme, a resistance fighter and a French Roma survivor of Auschwitz, delivered an impressive speech in which he said to the young people present: “You must resist. You must resist the discrimination, racism, violent evictions to which the Roma and Travellers are falling victim across all of Europe. We, the old ones have lit the flame. Now, it is up to young people to feed it, make it grow and so that we become stronger. Young people, stand up! Stay standing and never fall to your knees."
A large TernYpe International Roma Youth Network meeting was also held in Cracow and Auschwitz around 2August and Nevena Bajalica, a member of IHRA's Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, accompanied the group to the commemoration. In 2014, the IHRA funded a two-year educational project by TernYpe to support Roma and youth organizations in developing their commemorative events and activities related to the genocide of the Roma.
Following the commemoration at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the delegation drove to Łódź where they attended a commemoration event in the former ghetto where Roma were concentrated in 5 block houses. Martina Maschke was pleased to meet Joanna Podolska-Ploka, Director of the Mark Edelman Center.
On 3August the group continued on to the former extermination camp Chełmno where Gerhard Baumgartner delivered a lecture on the deportation and annihilation of the more than 5000 Austrian Roma to Auschwitz and Chelmno. After a short guided tour by Director Dr. Anna Ziolkowska, a commemoration ceremony was held and a memorial for the Austrian Roma victims was unveiled by Roman Chojnacki, President of the Roma Union Poland, and the newly elected President of the Austrian Roma Culture Association, Christian Klippel. Martina Maschke also met with President of the International Romani Union, Zoran Dimov and with the Czech Ambassador to Poland, Jakub Karfik with whom she discussed the promising news concerning the recently announced progress on the issue of the Lety concentration camp.