The first discriminating laws against Roma* are passed in Germany, in 1926. With the rise of fascism, Roma people become one of the 'radically inferior' groups and are excluded, sterilized and finally imprisoned in camps. In February 1940, Zyklon B is tested by the Nazis on 250 Roma children. Specific camps are set up by 1942. All over Europe, Roma are discriminated, deported and exterminated. By the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Roma people are killed.
The tragedy does not end in 1945. Not before 1946 does France opens the gates of camps and the traditional nomad way of life is forbidden. Roma, Tsigans, Sinti... are still seen as the 'enemy' in every European country. While being the biggest minority of the European Union, they suffer from a lack of recognition and are deprived from their fundamental rights: housing, education, citizenship...
Several steps are made: Germany is the first country to recognise the Roma genocide in 1982. Hungary opens a museum in 1998 and commemorates the Roma genocide every year. However, in France, the anthropometric pad is withdrawn in 1969 only to be replaced by a circulation permit. The French scandal of the summer 2010, the expulsions of Roma towards Kosovo and other countries disrespectful of human rights, the lack of investment for their integration in our societies despite the fact that travellers were the first Europeans a long time before the European Union was set up, partly results from the non-recognition of their History.
On February, 2nd, the European Parliament commemorated for the first time the Roma genocide following the initiative of the French Green Member of European Parliament Catherine Grèze. The night before, she had invited Tony Gatlif, a famous film-maker, to project his movie 'Liberté' which relates the story of a Roma family in France during WWII.
"This official commemoration of the Roma genocide during WWII is a historical moment for millions of Europeans: Ienishs, Roma, Sintis, Ashkadis, travellers, all 'asocials'. As the first european minority, their History is also ours"
During the commemoration, Catherine Grèze insists on the necessity for the minority to be given the opportunity to regain confidence in the European institutions: "We can not accept this double sentence: to the horror of the war was added silence, oblivion.... The recognition of the Roma genocide must be together an act of memory but also open the path for another future. Roma and travellers must be recognized as the real European citizens they are".
Together with Kinga Göncz, a socialist from Hungary, Cornelia Ernst, a German communist, Renate Weber, a Romanian centrist and Livia Jàròka, an Hungarian conservative, Catherine Grèze from the Greens is now calling for every country in Europe to face their responsibility.
* The term “Roma” is used as an umbrella word including also all other groups of people who share more or less similar cultural characteristics and a history of persistent marginalisation in European societies, such as the Sinti, Manouch, Travellers, Ashkali etc. They represent 10 million people in Europe.