The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.



In this activity participants look at the historical persecution of Roma through the lens of human rights and plan an action project to raise awareness about Roma victims of the Holocaust.

Related rights

• The right to non-discrimination
• The right to life
• The right to free movement


• To be aware of persecution of the Roma during the Holocaust
• To practise skills to select, plan and carry out a public action
• To develop a sense of human dignity and a sense of justice


• Flipchart paper and markers
• Copies of the handout "A brief history of the persecution of the Roma" 
• For Part 2: Selecting and planning an action, it may be useful to have access to the Internet or printed reference materials.

•  Copies of the example of the action project flowchart in chapter 3  (optional)


 • Tell the group before the session that you are planning to discuss   the Holocaust, and speak separately with anyone who may be likely to find it difficult.
• Make copies of the handout, one copy per small group.
• Consult Compass chapter 3 on "Taking Action".


Key Date
  • 8 AprilWorld Roma Day
  • 2 AugustRoma and Sinti Genocide Remembrance Day


Part 1: Preparing the group (90 minutes)

1. Ask participants to form small groups of 2 to 3 people who share the same sense of identity. This may relate to their ethnicity or nationality or any other aspects of identity that are relevant to the participants. Give them a few minutes to share their feelings about this identity within their small groups.
2. Give out the handout "A very brief history of the persecution of the Roma people". Ask the groups to read the handout, identify which human rights were the subject of the actions described in the timeline and write them down.

3. Ask the small groups to pair up to share their answers and to address the following questions:

  • How did the restriction of certain rights in the beginning, facilitated more restrictions and, eventually, the violation of the right to live?
  • How would you feel if "your" people had been the target of this kind of treatment at some point in recent history? (Ask participants to concentrate on the group they selected under point 1)

5. Bring the group together and facilitate debriefing based on the following questions:

  • Were you aware that Roma were one of the main groups persecuted during the Holocaust?
  • Which other groups were targeted by the Nazis and their collaborators for extermination?
  • Were these groups persecuted in your country as well? How?
  • Was it difficult to identify the rights to which the actions in the timeline relate?
  • Has this activity helped you get a better understanding of how violation of some rights can lead to more human rights violations?
  • What do you think is the most difficult aspect for a community that has lived through this?
  • Would you say that people today are aware of how historical persecutions impacted the way in which of certain groups in our society relate to the majority?
  • Roma people are still facing discrimination in Europe. Can you give recent examples from your country or community? Why do you think that is?

6. Ask the participants what they know about the situation of the Roma today in their country and across Europe. Which human rights violations are they likely to experience?

7. Tell the group about the Dosta! campaign and suggest that they might like to carry out an action project to support the campaign.

Part 2: Selecting and planning an action project
This part of the activity is based on Chapter 3 of Compass –  Taking Action – which you can consult for more detailed ideas.
1. Explain that the action project they organise cannot aim to resolve completely the issues identified in the previous session, but that it should try to achieve a concrete and measurable result which will be of some benefit to the Roma community.
2. Ask participants to identify any suggestions on the flipchart that they feel might be achievable by the group. They may want to break down some of the suggestions or to add others.
3. Discuss the suggestions and come to a consensus decision on an action for the group as a whole. Use the action project flowchart in Chapter 3.  Check that:

  • the action they have identified will contribute to resolving the problem
  • the action is realistic, given the resources of the group and given the obstacles they may come up against
  • the "solution" is concrete enough so that they will know whether they have achieved it or not.

4. Draw up a Decision Sheet, so that everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing, and when.
5. Get to work!

Part 3: Carrying out the action project

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Questions about the action:

  • Do you feel satisfied with the action as a whole? Why? Why not?
  • What do you feel about your own contribution, and about the work of the group?
  • What do you think were the main achievements of the action? Do these fit with the objectives you set out initially?
  • Do you think you could have done anything differently, so that the action would be more effective? Please explain your opinion.
  • Did you make any mistakes?
  • What would you list as the main "learning points" if you were to organise another action (on any theme)?

Questions about the learning process:

  • 1. What have been the most important results for you personally? Do you feel that your views or attitudes have changed in any way? Please explain your opinion.
  • 2. What did you find most difficult about the whole activity, from the first session through to the action itself?
  • 3. What was most satisfying?
  • 4. How do you think it would be possible to build on what you have done? Do you feel motivated to do this?
  • 5. What have you learnt about human rights from doing this activity?
  • 6. Is it difficult to campaign for human rights? After this exercise, would you get involved in a campaign for human rights?
  • 7. Are the rights claimed by the Roma "exceptional", or would they apply to other groups of marginalised and persecuted people? Explain your opinion.
  • 8. Why is work with remembrance important for human rights education?
  • 9. How is the Holocaust education approached or dealt with in your country?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

You should allow 90 minutes for Part 1 "preparing the group", 90 minutes for Part 2 "preparing to take action" and 60 minutes for Part 4, the debriefing and evaluation. How long Part 3, the action project, takes will depend on the action taken! The different parts can be carried out consecutively or on different days.

There are a number of elements that make this activity complex, not only from the point of view of organisation, but also from the point of view of content.
You will need to be aware beforehand of the composition of the group and their likely reaction to the activity. If any of the group has relatives who were targeted in the Holocaust, or who have been the victims of other comparable events, you may want to discuss the activity with them beforehand so that they have the possibility to prepare themselves, or to be absent if they do not feel ready.
You will also need to approach every stage of the activity with sensitivity and flexibility, and should certainly not rush any of the discussions if you feel that people need more time to express their feelings. If this is the first time that the group has been confronted with such issues, it may be more effective to run Part 1 as a full 90–120-minute session, and then to leave some time before approaching Parts 2 – 4.

In Part 1.1, you would be advised to think beforehand about whether there are likely to be any difficulties. In such cases, you could provide a list of categories and ask participants to identify themselves with one, for instance as a supporter of a particular football team, as a French speaker, as someone studying Spanish or as someone who has a passion for Hip Hop, playing tennis or swimming. You could also ask participants simply to pair up as "males" and "females".

The purpose of asking participants to select an identity which is important for them is to try to get them to "feel" what it might be like to be targeted. Nevertheless, they may still find it difficult to identify with the Roma's problems because of strong prejudices about Roma. You should certainly address this, and if this is the case, leave plenty of time at Part 1.3 for participants to discuss their concerns. Tell them that it is estimated that between 75% and 80% of the Roma population in Europe was killed during the Holocaust, and in some countries this figure was as high as 90%. You could ask them to imagine what it would be like for them to lose 90% of their people, or 90% of the people in this group: in a group of 20 only 2 people would remain.

It is strongly advised that, if at all possible, at the stage of planning and before the actual action, you try to involve members of the Roma community. At the very least, you should check with members of the community that the action your group is planning will be received well. Alternatively, contact a group locally that works with, or supports, Roma people.

If you are short of time, or if participants are finding it difficult to think through the planning process, you could use the example flowchart in Chapter 3.

VariationsGoto top

You might choose the timeline of persecutions for Jewish people or for other groups who were perpetrated during the Holocaust or, chose a different genocide or event altogether. You can also choose two timelines of persecutions and compare which rights were violated, in each order they were violated and what was the effect on the evolution of the event. If you chose to do this, it is important to avoid any comparisons of suffering. Suffering is something very personal and it cannot and should not be quantified.
Another alternative is to look at a people, group or community, whose plight is systematically ignored.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

If participants would like to explore their neighbourhood through the eyes of a person who is disadvantaged or living at the margins of society, then run the activity "Change your glasses".
Alternatively, if the group enjoy role play and are interested in exploring the reasons why people engage in violent acts, then have a look at the activity "Throwing stones".
The participants could be further engaged in the activity “Denial and distortion”, which explores how certain historical events are not fully recognised, are instrumentalised or their importance is minimised.

Further informationGoto top

"Dosta", a Romani word meaning "enough", is the name of an awareness-raising campaign which aims at bringing non-Roma closer to Roma citizens. You can find information about the Dosta! campaign at It may be helpful if you have access to the Internet, so that participants can spend some time looking at the site. There are other sites which contain information about the Roma Genocide, such as: or Roma history: 

The European Roma Information Office provides regular information about issues affecting Roma in Europe.

The European Roma Rights Centre is public interest law organisation working to combat anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma

Relevant resources for Holocaust education can be found on the website of organisations such as IHRA – International Holocaust Remembrance Association,, Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (German acronym EVZ), and many other.

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF

A very brief history of the persecution of the Roma people

1890 Conference organised in Germany on the “Gypsy scum”. Military empowered to regulate movements of Roma.
1909 A policy conference on “The Gypsy Question” is held. It is recommended that all Roma be branded with easy identification.
1920 Two academics introduce the notion of “lives unworthy of life,” suggesting that Roma should be sterilized and eliminated as a people.
1922 (And throughout the 1920s): All Roma in German territories are photographed and fingerprinted.
1926 A law is passed in Germany to control the “Gypsy plague.” (This treatment is in direct violation of the terms of the Weimar Constitution of Germany.)
1927 In Bavaria, Germany, special camps are built to imprison Roma. Eight thousand Roma are put into these camps.
1928 All Roma placed under permanent police surveillance. More camps are built to contain Roma.
1934 Roma taken for sterilisation by injection and castration, and sent to camps at Dachau, Frankfurt, Sachsenhausen and elsewhere. Two laws issued in this year forbid Germans from marrying people of other races.
1938 Between June 12 and June 18, hundreds of Roma throughout Germany and Austria are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned.
Roma are the first targeted population to be forbidden to attend school.
1939 The Office of Racial Hygiene issues a statement saying “All Gypsys should be treated as hereditarily sick; the only solution is elimination. (The aim should therefore be the elimination without hesitation of this defective element in the population).”
1940 The first mass genocidal action of the Holocaust: 250 Roma children are used as guinea pigs to test the cyanide gas crystal, at the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Employment of any kind is forbidden to Roma in this same year
1941 In July the Nazi Final Solution to “kill all Jews, Gypsys and mental patients put into operation”.
800 Roma are murdered in one action on the night of December 24 in the Crimea.
1944 August 2, 4,000 Roma are gassed and incinerated at Auschwitz-Birkenau in one mass action.
1945 By the end of the war, 70-80% of the RomaX population had been annihilated by Nazis. No Roma were called to testify at the Nuremberg Trials, no-one testified on their behalf and they were excluded from retributions and compensations.
1950 The first of many statements over the years to follow, by the German government, declaring that they owe nothing to the Roma people by way of war crime reparations.
1992 Germany “sells” Roma asylum seekers back to Romania for $21 million, and begins shipping them in handcuffs on November 1. Some Roma commit suicide rather than go. The German press agency asks western journalists not to use the word “deportation” because that word has “uncomfortable historical associations.”
1992 French president links Roma to crime calling their camps sources of prostitution and child exploitation. French authorities dismantle over 100 camps and deport more than 1,000 Roma, mainly to Romania.