Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online

The 1936 Berlin Olympics gave the Nazis the “excuse” they needed. The authorities in the German capital decided that they wanted a “Gypsy free” city during the event. They set up a detention camp for Berlin's Roma population in Marzahn, an eastern Berlin suburb.

Hundreds were herded into the camp for the duration of the games. But that was just the beginning. By the end of 1944, trains full of Europe's Roma families were being dispatched to Auschwitz. An estimated 500,000 were murdered in the "second Holocaust".

It was not until 1982 that the then West German government acknowledged that genocide had been committed against the Sinti and Roma. It took another 10 years to agree that a memorial to their fate was needed. Yesterday, some 20 years on, the memorial was finally unveiled in Berlin's Tiergarten park just a few yards away from the city's Reichstag parliament building. It is a circular pool of water. A triangular plinth graces its centre and a fresh flower is now placed on it every day. "Auschwitz" by the Italian poet Santino Spinelli is engraved on the pond's black stone rim.

The new reunified Germany grants Jews an automatic right of abode in a belated effort to make amends for the crimes of the Nazis. However the Roma are not afforded such privileges. Berlin still turns down Roma asylum seekers from places like Kosovo. Romani Rose, the leader of Germany's Sinti and Roma hopes nevertheless, that the long overdue memorial will remind both politicians and the public that: "anti-Roma sentiment is as unacceptable as anti-Semitism".