Rene — Gypsies Remember Their Dead at Auschwitz

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Gypsies Remember Their Dead at Auschwitz
.c The Associated Press
OSWIECIM, Poland (AP) – Gypsies from across Europe gathered at
Auschwitz Monday to remember hundreds of thousands of their murdered
ancestors and to call for wider recognition of their suffering in the
Nazi Holocaust.
The ceremony, exactly 60 years after the night the Nazis gassed the
last 2,900 Gypsies in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, also heard
warnings that today’s Gypsies still face discrimination, especially in
eastern Europe.
Calling Auschwitz “a symbol of the genocide perpetrated on our
people,” Roman Kwiatkowski, the top Gypsy representative in Poland,
said: “These crimes should be properly commemorated. We fear again
that the Roma Holocaust will be forgotten.”
Roma and Sinti are names by which Gypsies in Europe are also
known. Gypsy organizations put their total number at more than 7
Up to half a million European Gypsies are believed to have perished at
the Nazis’ hands during World War II along with 6 million Jews, though
the exact number is not known. Others were sterilized or subjected to
grisly pseudo-medical experiments.
The Nazis considered Gypsies racially inferior and “anti-social.”
Many were deported to a special section of the Auschwitz-Birkenau
concentration camp complex in occupied Poland.
The Nazis liquidated the Gypsy camp on Aug. 2, 1944 and gassed most of
the remaining inmates, including many women, children and old people.
Others were sent to German factories as forced laborers.
On Monday several hundred mourners, including camp survivors and
envoys of several European governments, walked from the barracks area
to the ruins of a gas chamber and crematorium where Gypsy
representatives placed candles on the wall.
SS soldiers blew up the gas chamber and crematorium in early 1945 when
the Nazis abandoned the camp as the Soviet army advanced. In May 1945,
Nazi Germany surrendered.
Hugo Hoellenreiner, a German Gypsy who survived the camp along with
his parents, recalled the daily horror that included visits by camp
doctor Josef Mengele, who used inmates for his so-called medical
“Even today, I cannot understand why they did it to us,” he said in
a moving speech. “I can never forgive or forget what happened to
Monday’s anniversary was observed with speeches and mournful music
amid the ruins of dozens of prison barracks on a vast grassy area,
still ringed by concrete fence posts, watchtowers and birch trees.
Germany’s envoy, Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, noted that
Gypsies have struggled for wider awareness of their suffering under
the Nazis.
“Like the Jews, the Sinti and Roma were brutally persecuted and
systematically murdered with an inhuman determination,” he said.
“This genocide is part of our history. As Germans, we carry the
historic and the political responsibility.”
At a half-dozen ceremonies across Hungary Monday, Gypsies gathered
with candles, saying prayers for tens of thousands of Gypsies from
that country who were killed.
Gypsy and civic leaders also called on Hungarians to help curb
prejudice that still persists.
“It is not enough to fight extremism with laws,” said Jozsef Balogh,
the mayor of Gyor, in western Hungary. “It must be condemned by the
whole of society.”
Prejudice against Gypsies remains strong in Hungary, which has been
under pressure in recent years from international organizations to do
more to integrate them into society.
Surveys show that Gypsies remain less educated, less healthy and more
likely to be poor and unemployed than the Hungarian average.
Associated Press writer Karl Peter Kirk contributed to this report
from Budapest, Hungary.
08/02/04 14:37 EDT