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Commemoration ceremony to mark the International Remembrance Day of the Roma Holocaust (Pharrajimos)

Strasbourg , 

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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here today together with representatives of the Estonian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), and of the City of Strasbourg, to pay homage to the victims of the Roma Holocaust (Pharrajimos) – to the Roma men, women and children murdered in the extermination camp of Auschwitz on 2 August 1944 – but also to the hundreds of thousands of Roma who perished all over Europe during the Second World War, through the hands of henchmen of the Nazi and other regimes and their allies.

We are gathered here today on 2 August at 12 o’clock noon, at the same time as the main ceremony takes place in Ausschwitz, and many related events all over Europe.

In the night from the 2nd to the 3rd of August 1944, several thousand Sinti and Roma were massacred at the so-called Zigeunerlager (the “Gypsy camp”) in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, mainly women, children and the elderly.  The crematorium burnt all night.

The horrors of the Roma Holocaust are an undeniable part of our history. However, for a long time, Europe has turned a blind eye on to what had happened.

We are here to keep the memory alive.

It is crucial to end the silence that has lasted for decades. Europe has a duty to face up to its legacy and to learn from past mistakes so that there will be no repetition.

But remembrance does not only focus on the past, it also builds bridges between the past and the present, and it points the way for the future.

We had hoped that the remembrance of the Holocaust of millions of Jews and Roma would prevent the return of dangerous ideologies. Were we too optimistic?

Anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism are on the increase again in several European democracies. 

Extremist’s movements and extreme right-wing parties are mushrooming in many Council of Europe member States.

Roma are not welcome in their home countries, let alone in countries receiving them.

Many in Europe not only forgot past sufferings, but continued the century-old practices of discrimination, ghettoization and segregation of Roma.

Today, Roma are under threat in several Council of Europe member States.

Physical aggression against them is frequent.

Anti-Roma hate speech is widespread on the Internet, and can even be found in the mainstream political discourse.

What can we do to change the way how Roma are seen and treated?

The Council of Europe, the European Human Rights watchdog and defender, has taken up this challenge and has made the fight for the social inclusion of Roma a political priority.

We have worked with well-known and respected scholars to elaborate materials for the teaching of the Roma Holocaust. Innovative projects and tools are promoted to foster knowledge of the common history of Roma and non-Roma. The objective is to encourage the recognition of the Roma Holocaust, and to acknowledge the positive contribution by Roma to Europe’s historical and cultural heritage and diversity.

We are running the Dosta! campaign throughout many member States, to address the negative stereotypes about Roma.

We are running projects to assist municipalities and regions to strengthen Roma inclusion, and to improve the mediation between Roma communities and public authorities.

We are working with the OSCE and the European Union, with ministries, schools, and civil society organisations.

However, as European citizens, every one of us, we have the responsibility not to close our eyes. We must know, inform, educate, and empower. And stand up for non-discrimination and the protection of human rights and democracy.

This ceremony helps to keep the memory of the Roma Holocaust alive. And the key message is: “Never again!”

May the remembrance also help to create a better future for all Sinti and Roma in Europe.

Thank you.