Roma – the forgotten Holocaust

aout2011.1Next week, I will be traveling with Father Desbois and a Yahad team in Romania, recording the testimony of Roma/Gypsies who were deported by train during the war to the Transnistria region of Ukraine.  During the war, the region was under the control of the Romanians, allies of the Nazis, starting in June 1941.  Many of the Jews and Roma deported there died from cold, hunger and brutal treatment, either in transit or after arriving in the primitive camps.

Our base will be the city of Timisoara, Romania’s third-largest city and the site, as I now find out via the web, of continental Europe’s first electric streetlighting and the birthplace of Johnny Weismuller.

The story of Nazi persecution and killing of the Roma is one of the lesser known and documented stories of the Holocaust.  According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, historians estimate that 25% of the Roma in Europe were killed by the Germans and their allies, or 220,000 people, although estimates range as high as 500,000.  (A Wikipedia article says as high as 1,500,000.)   USHMM web site

The trip is part of Yahad’s ongoing research into the fate of the Roma.  To date, Yahad teams have identified 48 killing sites of Roma populations in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.  Cooperative research efforts are underway with Sweden’s Sodertorn University and Roma advocacy group, E Romani Glindi as reported in the September and October issues of Yahad’s newsletter.


Roma woman entering camp (Caen Memorial)

It’s hard to know what to expect from this trip.  A friend told me yesterday that the Roma are not inclined to look back to the past but rather to live in the present.   In addition, unlike other Yahad research trips, the stories will not, for the most part, begin and end in one village.  Rather, they may start there, or possibly even with a migration from elsewhere, before leading to railroad tracks that stretch off into the east.  So, we shall see.  In any event, I’ll be posting on the trip throughout the week.