STOCKHOLM—On Aug. 2–3, 1944, about 3,000 Roma were sent to their death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in what became known as “zigeunernacht,” or “night of the Gypsies.”
A total of some 20,000 Roma were interred at Auschwitz-Birkenau—a less-remembered fact about the horrors of the Nazi death camp.
The Roma are the biggest minority group in Europe, and has been subjected to discrimination and persecution throughout history.
The night of the Gypsies was a part of the Nazi program to exterminate the Roma people, whom they considered an inferior race. At least half a million Roma were murdered by the Nazis.
The Roma killed during the night of the Gypsies were the last inhabitants of the “Gypsy family camp” in Auschwitz. In May 1944, SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered the liquidation of the camp. The Roma armed themselves with metal pipes, and the elimination was postponed, according to the Living History Forum.
On the night of Aug. 2, all of the remaining 2,897 Roma in the camp were taken to the gas chambers. Their bodies were subsequently burned in huge pits.
Aug. 2 is now an official Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, which was marked on Thursday with a ceremony in Stockholm.
Domino Kai, who works for the Swedish Equality Ombudsman, told Swedish TV channel TV4 that the situation for the Roma in Europe today is “regrettably, pretty awful.”
“In Hungary, it is said openly on prime time national TV, that Roma and Jews should be thrown out of the country. In Italy, the echoes of Berlusconi’s words that the Roma are an ‘army of evil’ still lingers, and there is ethnic profiling through fingerprints. In many eastern European nations, Roma are subject to inflammatory rhetoric and persecution,” he said.
Sweden is home to about 50,000 Roma. Many of them can tell stories of discrimination in the workplace, in the housing market, and in school.
“There is more discrimination of Roma than we think. People don’t really believe that Roma are denied apartments, and get fired for no other reason than being Roma. This is the actual situation. It is what many Roma face every day,” Kai says.
Former Swedish Social Democrat leader, Mona Sahlin, who gave a speech at the memorial event, thinks that the situation for the Roma is better in Sweden than in Europe in general.
“It’s worse in the rest of Europe. We are talking about beatings, killings, and forced relocations, and forced sterilizations in recent times,” she said.
However, Sweden also carried out arbitrary forced sterilizations of Roma and other groups until 1975. Forced sterilization was a part of the social engineering efforts of postwar Sweden. In practice, mostly women from vulnerable groups were sterilized. Many of them were Roma, or were considered to belong to that group.
Between 1914 and 1953, Roma were not allowed to immigrate to Sweden, and this includes the Nazi persecution years during World War II.
Fred Taikon, president of the Roma association E Romani Glinda told The Epoch Times how, after the end of the war, two young Roma girls, who were cousins, arrived in Sweden with one of the “white buses,” that brought freed prisoners of war and former camp inmates to Sweden.
“They wound up in a camp in Sweden. My grandfather heard of it, sought them out, and took care of them. Later, one of them married my uncle, and became my aunt-in-law Sofia,” Taikon said.
The girls entered the country as refugees. Taikon said that it is unlikely that they were the only two Roma who were in need of help at that time. He suspects the girls got on the bus by mistake. Not Sweden, Denmark, or Norway brought any other Roma on the white buses, so the refugees must have been selected before departure, he said.
Author Gunilla Lundgren wrote the book “Sofia Z-4515” about Fred Taikon’s aunt. The number refers to the Auschwitz inmate number tattooed on her arm.
It was not an easy book to write. It has been incredibly difficult for survivors to speak of their experiences, Taikon says. This is a general phenomenon for victims of war, and not limited to Roma.
“They don’t want to relive those traumatic experiences. There is also a certain sense of shame in being a victim of abuse. It makes it difficult to talk about it,” he says.
It took Sofia three years to tell Lindgren of her experiences, says Taikon, who was living with his aunt in Stockholm at the time.
“She told us too, in bits and pieces, about what happened. I could tell how difficult it was for her. She had traumatic episodes and long periods of depression. Sometimes, she would just sit in a corner and pull at her hair. It was always present in her life. She would tell briefly about different episodes. We all knew about it,” Taikon said.
Sixty-seven years after the war, there are not many concentration camp survivors left. There are a few people in their late ’70s in Europe who were children in the camps. Their children and grandchildren remain, however.
A few years ago, Taikon took a bus trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau with about 30 Roma youths.
“It was a very heavy trip. But one of the thoughts in my mind was that this happened long ago, and it is in danger of being forgotten,” he said.
The youths came from different countries and different Roma groups. They came from Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Poland, and former Yugoslavia. They were somewhat prepared for what they would experience in the camps, but actually being there, at the place where it all happened, shook them.
On the second day, they went to Birkenau, where most of the Roma prisoners were killed. They visited the barracks where the inmates lived, and saw the railroad tracks that had transported them into the camp, and took a tour of the part of the camp that had been exclusively designated for Roma.
There is nothing but ruins left. The Nazis burned it all to the ground. There are nothing but brick chimneys left. On the place where they killed the Roma, there is a special memorial site.
In September, Taikon will make a similar trip to Poland with a different group, and visit various concentration camps, including the big camp at Lodz, where many Roma were held. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, they will meet a Roma organization that focuses on holocaust-related issues.
Read the original article in Swedish
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