The aim of the material provided here is to discuss how and why Roma and Sinti were and are continuously excluded from European societies. It suggests using the contrast between self images and public images as a starting point and finally addressing the question how adequate commemoration of the Roma victims of genocide can be ensured.
Images of Roma and Sinti are still dominated by external stereotypes and clichés of what is now the largest minority group in Europe. It is a matter of fact that they have limited access to education, work and other basic requirements in their countries.
The transformation/linking with ambivalent images stretches right back into history, however. While romanticised depictions of "gypsies" and their apparent "wildness" transformed them into allegories of an idealised freedom, they were simultaneously criminalised as "riffraff" and excluded. Equivalents to the often malicious, crude and merciless images of "gypsies" in the literature and journalism of the time can be found in numerous artistic representations.
It was only a small step from social exclusion to judicial stigmatisation of the "gypsies" as "a pack of thieves". Until today the view from the outside leads from stigmatizing images of their poverty to images of "strangers". Roma and Sinti are very often discussed in the context of crime and social conflict. They are presented as a collective on the basis of ethnicity and appear in the mediation by the media as a problem for public policy.
European societies go beyond treating Roma and Sinti as a homogenous group with little connection with real European citizens (we were able to study the consequences of this when France tried to carry out collective expulsions – in breach of EU law). They do so through projecting images of 'the other' onto them – often full of hate, sometimes highly romanticised.
The EU Charter seeks to guarantee equality and solidarity, as explicated in various of its articles. Roma and Sinti have had less access to these rights hitherto, and need solidarity in a variety of ways. To them, equality means they want to be seen as European citizens, within their multiple cultural identities. And they are very sensitive to one part of their identity being played off against another – this has a lot to do with their history, when there was absolutely no solidarity from the majority.
Regardless of the effects of the genocide on the Sinti and Roma - genocide, forced labour, persecution, medical experiments, eugenic measures and the destruction of large swathes of their culture - discrimination and exclusion continued after the end of the war on an institutional, legal, policing and social level.
No acknowledgement, refused compensation and an ongoing stigma of criminalisation has left deep wounds in people’s lives and continues to influence the behaviour of the mistreated to this day. No wonder there is a very vivid and deep mistrust of bureaucracy and administration in Roma and Sinti communities.
An outstanding example of the deficits that still exist in Europe concerning the commemoration of the victims of the Roma genocide is the pig farm in southern Bohemia: it was established on the site of a former Nazi concentration camp where members of the Czech Romany minority were incarcerated. Although NGOs protested and even the EU intervened, there is no solution in sight ensuring that the victims of the "Lety Gypsy Camp" will be appropriately honoured.
The aim of the material available here is to remember the persecution of the "gypsies", which culminated in genocide during the Second World War, and to use the example of specific cases to shed light on the scandalous way the authorities and courts dealt with the victims of Nazi crimes against Roma and Sinti in post-war Germany. It is also designed to prompt reflection on the role of a proper remembrance of the victims of genocide in effectively protecting minority groups.