A woman with short dark hear wearing a white top leans out of a window, smiling
Margarete Kraus, a Czech Roma who was sent to Auschwitz.

Sharika Alam is an Assistant Producer at Big Ideas. She visited The Wiener Holocaust Library and has written the following blog about the Library’s current exhibition ‘Forgotten Victims: The Nazi Genocide of the Roma and Sinti‘. These views are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wiener Holocaust Library.

Our house is Auschwitz,
So big and black. So black and big. 
This is where our tears flow, 
Destroying our sight. 
This is where they crushed our pleas 
For no one to hear. 
This is where they turned us to ashes 
For the winds to scatter.

Rajko Djurić, ‘The terror years’, translated by Julie Ebin. 

The Samudaripen, meaning ‘the mass killing’, is a Romani term for the genocide carried out against Europe’s Roma and Sinti communities by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War. However, there is very little public awareness of the horrific crimes committed against the Roma and Sinti, which is why the Romani genocide is often referred to as ‘the Forgotten Holocaust’. 

A new exhibition at The Wiener Holocaust Library, Forgotten Victims: The Nazi Genocide of the Roma and Sinti, seeks to address this gap in public knowledge. The exhibition consists of individual stories, eye-witness accounts, testimonies and photographs, which document the experiences of the Roma and Sinti prior to, during and after the Second World War. 

Hermine Horvath, an Austrian Roma woman, provides a particularly harrowing account. Horvath was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943: ‘It was especially terrible for us that we had the SS men staring at us in our undressed state all the time. One SS squad leader in Block 8 took women whenever and wherever it suited him’. 

While it is difficult to know the exact figures, it is estimated that as many as 500,000 Roma and Sinti people were murdered by the Nazis. Big Ideas had the privilege to hear Daniela Abraham from the Sinti and Roma Holocaust Memorial Trust speak at the launch of the exhibition on 30 October 2019. Abraham pointed out that for the Nazis, Roma and Sinti lives mattered so little that they did not bother to record their deaths. 

Roma communities continue to face racism and discrimination in Britain and in Europe. For instance, earlier this year, Krasimir Karakachanov, the leader of the Bulgarian National Movement and the Minister of Defence, declared: ‘The truth is that we need to undertake a complete programme for a solution to the Gypsy problem’. Such rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of the Nazi era. In these turbulent times, we must learn from the past so we do not repeat our crimes. 

Big Ideas has partnered with the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to run the Foundations Stones project. We are inviting members of the public to paint a small stone in remembrance of the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust and for all other victims of Nazi persecution – this includes the Roma and Sinti as well as people with mental and physical disabilities and members of the LGBT+ community. These stones will be placed in the foundations of the new UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre planned for Westminster. The memorial will include an underground learning centre, which will educate future generations about the vital need for fighting prejudice and persecution in all its forms. The learning centre will focus on the Holocaust and will include exhibitions on all its victims, including on the Roma and Sinti. It will also raise awareness of subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

To find out more about Foundation Stones and about how to get involved, email us at [email protected]

Big Ideas works with communities to explore challenging and relevant ideas with inspiring and innovative projects in which everyone can make their own. Big Ideas specialises in initiatives that celebrate diverse histories and facilitate creative commemoration. Big Ideas is proud to work with the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation.

Copies of the exhibition catalogue, Forgotten Victims: The Nazi Genocide of the Roma and Sinti by Dr Barbara Warnock, are available to purchase at The Wiener Holocaust Library for £5.

Suggested further reading:

Remembering Porrajmos: Commemorating Absence by Matthew Hacke, The Wiener Holocaust Library Blog April 2017.

The Wiener Holocaust Library holds a number of works regarding the Nazi genocide of the Roma and Sinti communities of Europe. Some of this material is listed below:

For more related sources, try a search for any of the following keywords in our Collections Catalogue: Sinti and Roma; Racial persecution; Concentration camps.