Dr. Mengele had always been more interested in Tibi. I am not sure why — perhaps because he was the older twin. Mengele made several operations on Tibi. One surgery on his spine left my brother paralyzed. He could not walk anymore. Then they took out his sexual organs. After the fourth operation, I did not see Tibi anymore. I cannot tell you how I felt. It is impossible to put into words how I felt. They had taken away my father, my mother, my two older brothers — and now, my twin …
Sadly we are all too familiar with the inhuman Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz doctor who relished the job of choosing those fit for life or destined for death as they arrived at the gates of the camp. Mengele also performed brutal human medical experiments. The vast majority of Mengele’s victims were Jews. History, however, has been largely silent on the fact that the Roma were second only to Europe’s Jews in suffering during Hitler’s rule.
The quote above is just a small example of that suffering. Tibi was a Roma child selected because he was a twin, upon whom Mengele had a malevolent obsession for performing medical experiments.
Next Tuesday, August 2nd, is the day that the Romani community officially recognizes their genocide which they refer to as the “Porajmos” or in English “The Devouring.”
It is a genocide unrecognized officially with the exception of one country-Germany. The officially sanctioned genocides accepted by the United Nations are;
- The Holocaust (Shoah) in 1939-1945 – the genocide of 6 million Jewish men, women, and children during WWII
- The Rwandan Genocide — the 1994 mass murder of over 1.5 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Rwandan Hutus.
- The genocide that happened in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1995.
- The forced famine perpetrated by Stalin against the Ukrainians in 1932-33, known as the Holodomor.
- The Armenian Genocide, known as Medz Yeghern (the Great Crime), which was the slaughter of the Armenian minority by the rulers of the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey).
It is time we recognize the Roma genocide tragedy as well. Taking this step would not be without complications. Though few legitimate historians doubt the veracity of the Porajmos, unlike other targeted communities that have faced the brutality of mass murder, the Roma societies of Eastern Europe were very poorly organized. The Roma, more conventionally referred to as “Gypsies,” recorded much of the history of the Porajmos orally. As a result, estimates for the death toll range between 250,000 to 1.5 million. One of the world’s most renowned experts on modern Roma history and specifically the Porajmos, Dr. Ian Hancock of the University of Texas, has suggested that there was a tendency to downplay the numbers. He estimates that virtually the entire Roma populations of Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were annihilated.
The Roma, perennial outcasts in Europe to this very day, have simply seen their tragedy as one of just a series of brutalities they have had to endure at the hands of their host nations. Only in recent times are the Roma beginning to understand the need to document and perpetuate the memory of their genocide.
Like the Shoah, beginning in the late 1930s, the Nazis declared the Roma as “unworthy of life.” Eastern European Roma, mostly horse traders, musicians, circus performers and street vendors were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
The three main death camps that became the last stop for Roma families were the three most significant: Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald. There, families were separated, with the women and children, crowded amongst Jewish victims, usually being murdered upon arrival.
One particularly brutal memory of a Roma survivor describes a group-bathing of prisoners in a pond near the camp. The Nazis would not permit the adults to rescue the children who couldn’t swim. The rest who survived were later forced to gather wood and construct rudimentary crematoria to burn the bodies of the Roma children.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who passed away last month, once wrote, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
We must heed Elie Wiesel’s words. The Roma have as much right to memorialize their murdered kin, to honour their culture and safeguard their future as do we all.
Recognizing the Porajmos for what it was – a genocide – would be one important and valuable step in that direction.
On August 2nd 2106, there will be a commemoration of the Porajmos at the Revue theatre in Toronto where the film “A People Uncounted” will be shown. Please show your support with your attendance:
A version of this article was originally published in the National Post by Bernie M. Farber and Gina Csanyi-Robah, co-founder of the Canadian Romani Alliance.
Bernie M. Farber is Executive Director of The Mosaic Institute. He is a native of Ottawa and a graduate of Carleton University. His long-spanning career in the not-for-profit sector includes the role of CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress (2005-2011) where he spearheaded multiple inter-faith initiatives and dialogues among diaspora groups in Canada including Rwandan genocide survivors and support for the Roma community. Most recently, Bernie has served as Senior Vice President of Gemini Power Corporation where he has been working in partnership with First Nations peoples towards economic development and community self-reliance in a way that respects both the environment and First Nations’ traditional values. Bernie is a recipient of the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal, the Zaionz Award for Jewish Communal Service, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the St John Provincial Commendation.
“Bernie’s View” is Bernie’s regular contribution to the Mosaic Institute blog. We hope you are stimulated and challenged; and we look forward to your comments in the Mosaic manner.