The Holocaust and the Porrajmos
William Mengebier: This is the first post for a new research trip to Romania that starts tomorrow. The reports may be interspersed with continuing posts by Gen Blouin reporting on her trip with a research team to Ukraine over the past week.
In Romania, Yahad will be continuing its research into the forced deportation of the Roma to the Transnistria region, following an initial trip last November. We will again be guided by members of the local Roma community who will seek to connect us with survivors of the deportation willing to share their memories.
Roma and Jews
One of the recurring themes from the November interviews was the regular encounters between the deported Roma with Jews, whether in camps or on the road.
In preparing for this trip, I came across a just-published article “Roma in the Holocaust” by the leading Jewish magazine, Moment, which begins: “What Jews call the Holocaust, the Roma (also known as gypsies) call Porrajmos, their “devouring.”
An accompanying article, “Invisible Roma” includes the lyrics to the Roma hymn, Gelem, Gelem, performed in the video below by the Ghandi School Choir of Pecs, Hungary.
I went, I went on long roads
I met happy Roma
O Roma where do you come from,
With tents on happy roads?
O Roma, O brothers
I once had a great family,
The Black Legions murdered them
Come with me Roma from all the world
For the Roma roads have opened
Now is the time, rise up Roma now,
We will rise high if we act
O Roma, O brothers
A door to the past re-opened
Today’s journey began in the village of Kovalivka. Here, the Ukraininan neighbors and Roma survivors corroborate the same recollections about what went on in the Ukrainian village, a hamlet where the deported Roma were forced to live, and the “bazaar” where wares would be bartered for food and the clay quarry where the dead bodies of the Roma were burned. Mitsa Serban, a now elderly Roma we have interviewed in the past, lost an uncle and cousins, and saw so many perish of famine and typhoid here. As a child deported to live there, she rarely left her house for the Roma women were often raped. She remembered a horrible episode when German officers in uniforms came into the house where she lived to rape a girl, her mother protested and protected her and they shot them both dead in front of them.
For one of today’s interviews, a Ukrainian woman who was born in that very village, recalled how her family and her were forced to suddenly leave their home and move to a neighboring village to make room for the Roma. When she would occasionally go to visit her old house with her siblings, her sister would bring the starving Roma “mamalega”, while she would cry because there would be at least 50 people in her old house and dead bodies outside.
We soon after met up with a Babushka from the village we had met the day before who guided us to a house that was built on the land where the corpses of the Roma were transported to be burned. The woman who lived in this house showed us where in her garden the incineration would have taken place.
We visited the train station where the Roma arrived from Romania by way of Odessa. The Roma who were able to flee and return home to Romania, like Mitsa, did so by hiding on trains from station to station.
We ended the day at the home of a Roma who, to avoid being shot dead by the Germans, had torn-up his passport and put aside his traditional nomad Roma heritage to become sedentary. He had to lie and say he was Moldovan to be let into the Kolkhoz to work as a mason. It’s incredible how many bodies were buried and burned on land where one would simply never know all these horrors occurred here except for what survives in the memories of the village’s few remaining elderly witnesses. Our days appear to be getting longer as we are traveling farther out into the countryside to do interviews. We would have every right to be a cranky bunch at times due to fatigue and rudimentary conditions when doing field work, yet everyone’s mood is good as a great deal of satisfaction comes from unearthing these testimonies.