Vigil for forgotten victims of Nazis

Click to follow
THE CHAPTER of the Second World War known as the forgotten Holocaust was commemorated at a memorial vigil in Budapest for the hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people - as Gypsies are known - exterminated by the Nazis.

The vigil, organised by the Foundation for Romany Civil Rights, took place in front of the Hungarian Parliament.

It commemorated the night of 2 to 3 August 1942, when the Nazis killed 4,500 Gypsies at Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, to make space for the arrival of the latest consignment of Jews. The night is known as the "Poraymous", or devouring in the Gypsy language.

"In the name of the Hungarian government, I bow before the memory of the Roma victims of the Holocaust," said Csaba Hende, an official at the Justice Ministry.

Speakers read out the names of Gypsy Holocaust victims, while singer Erika Mate sang a lament: "Dear God, let the day come when all the slaves are freed. Punish the Germans, oh God, for they have killed the people."

Roma activists said that while the world knows about the extermination of six million Jews, the mass killings organised by the Nazis of Gypsies, as well as the handicapped, homosexuals and Communist, often remain unknown, and unacknowledged. For many, the killing of Gypsies, is the "forgotten Holocaust".

Holocaust historians are unclear how many Gypsies were killed by the Nazis, although most believe the figure is somewhere between 200,000 and 600,000. Between 50,000 and 60,000 Hungarian Gypsies were deported by the Nazis during the last two years of the war.

Whatever the true figure, the Nazis soon targeted Gypsies and rapidly amended the Nuremberg Racial laws that governed the life of Jews to include Gypsies.

In May 1936, Berlin police used the Olympic games as a pretext for rounding up hundreds of Gypsies and incarcerated them behind barbed wire on waste ground in the suburb of Marzahn.

As the Holocaust began to devour eastern Europe's Jews, Gypsies were soon caught up in the Nazi death machine. Like Jews, Gypsies were singled out for bestial medical experiments, as Nazi scientists were intrigued by their racial make-up. Until August 1944 the Nazis ran a special Gypsy family camp at Auschwitz.

At the same time as Budapest Gypsy leaders held their Holocaust memorial vigil, Israeli officials have demanded that Polish authorities remove 50 crosses placed outside Auschwitz by Catholic activists.

The placing of the crosses is the latest escalation in a long-running dispute between Jews and Christians over the management of the Auschwitz site.

Jewish leaders have accused Catholic activists of insensitivity for their persistent attempts to erect crosses around the Auschwitz site. About 90 per cent of those killed at Auschwitz - at least 2.5 million people according to camp commandant Rudolf Hoess - were Jews, the remainder mainly Poles, Gypsies and Soviet POWs.

"We want the entire escarpment to teem with crosses," said Catholic activist Kazimierz Switon, who held a 42-day hunger strike to prevent the removal of a 22-foot cross set up to mark the visit by Pope John Paul II.