At the beginning of August a group of Jewish students had the opportunity to join Roma youth from around the world to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Roma genocide in the Holocaust. While there, they participated in a seminar led by experts tackling issues to do with genocide education and prevention, grass-roots organisation and the task of combating racism and xenophobia in modern Europe.
The 2nd of August 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the Roma Genocide. On this date in 1944, 2,897 elderly men and women, as well as children were murdered in the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. To commemorate this event, TernYpe – [the] International Roma Youth Network and its partners organised the international conference and youth event which now gathers annually, 1000 people from 25 countries; all dedicated to the remembrance of the Roma Genocide.
Participants joined workshops, debates, public lectures, and action-orientated educational activities, in order to deepen their knowledge of the subject area as a tribute to those who died during the Roma Genocide. They acquired tools to challenge racism and to form an independent and healthy society.
EUJS (the European Union of Jewish Students) has now become an official partner in the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative and organised the Jewish student delegation to attend the event. Jewish students from France, Germany Hungary and Israel,contributed to the conference by participating in andholding workshops and panel discussions about how we can share the Jewish experience of commemoration and education and our knowledgein combating racism; developing the means to build a more inclusive society. We were fortunate to meet survivors of the Roma-Genocide, including Rita Prigmore, József Forgács and listen to their testimonies on how they lived before the war in Hungary and Germany and how they survived the Holocaust in concentration camps whilst most of their families died.
It was our privilege to participate in this unique event and meet inspiring activists from across the world. We were honored to organise a Kabbalat Shabbat for the participants where we lit the candles and sang Hebrew songs together and explained the traditions of Shabbat.
On the 2nd of August we attended the commemoration events organised in Birkenau at the “Zigeunerlager”. Although the commemoration was organised by Roma and Sinti Organisations (The Association of Roma in Poland and the Documentation and Culture Centre of German Sinti and Roma) unfortunately the ceremony was mainly directed at politicians and media. The survivors and the young people who arrived to the commemoration had no place in the shade and so had to stand under the sun for two hours with no translation of the ceremony available for them. WUJS was disappointed to hear politicians speaking about the importance of youth and about taking care of the survivors, whilst the very people they were speaking about were not given the respect to have their speeches translated and somewhere for shade on a burning summer’s day.
Thankfully after the ceremony the youth organised their own special and meaningful commemoration where the crematorium used to stand, we sang the Roma national anthem, Delem Delem; Nethanel Cohen-Solal, UEJF International Affairs Officer said Kaddish for the victims and Andi Gergely, Chairperson of WUJS, as the lead representative of the Jewish students joined in the recitation of an Interfaith Prayer.
Andi Gergely said “The five day conference felt both very short and incredibly long in the same time. Long, because so much happened, I learnt so much and met so many amazing people; and short because although the subject matter was heavy we all had an amazing time and there were so many more conversations that could have lasted until the following morning.
It was the second year that I took part in the event, this time also accompanied with a delegation. I hope that we will create a tradition and every year more and more Jewish students will join this initiative, learn about the history of Roma in Europe, their current challenges and we will join together to build a more inclusive society for us and for the next generation.”
We would like to thank the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies for providing educational material for the workshops and Ternype for inviting us to their to conference.
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