Who are the Roma (also known as Romani) people? And why is this question important? During this 4-week course, distinguished scholar, journalist and activist Konstanty Gebert analyses the experience of the Roma people of Europe starting from the Porajmos - the Roma Holocaust (also known as Pharrajimos, or Porrajmos). Often called a forgotten chapter in European history, the Porajmos is important to not only the Roma but also European history and identity at large, because the Roma are fundamentally European people.
Konstanty Gebert is a Jewish activist and one of the most notable war correspondents of various Polish daily newspapers. He is an associate fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations and a special advisor on international affairs with the educational organisation Humanity in Action.
The Roma during the Porajmos
In this unit, Konstanty Gebert lays out important facts about the genocide of the Roma during World War II, and belated acts of to remember and commemorate the genocide many decades after the war had ended. In the syllabus, there are materials to supplement the video lecture for your reference. Information contained in some sources may contradict others. This is because Roma and Sinti history is still being researched, and much remains to be discovered. ● You can read more about the importance of learning about the Roma in “Time to cure amnesia about the history of Roma in Europe”. ● A quick summary of the origin of the Roma people in Europe by leading Roma scholar Ian Hancock can be found in “The History of the Sinti and Roma people”. ● There are also several videos and interactive resources about the Roma during World War II from the Open Society Foundation, and the virtual exhibition at romasinti.eu. ● Finally, an overview of the Porajmos can be found in at least two different sources: the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Holocaust Teacher Resource Center.
The Roma after the Porajmos
As tension rose between the powers in the Eastern Bloc led by the Soviet Union, and Western Bloc led by The United States in the years after World War II, the different political climates of Eastern and Western Europe had distinctive impact on the Roma. Konstanty Gebert argues that in Eastern Europe, the communist system to some extent had the effect of including the Roma into larger society. ● In the syllabus, you can find resources on the Roma experience of living under communist regime in “PERSECUTION AND POLITICIZATION: ROMA (GYPSIES) OF EASTERN EUROPE” and “Chapter VI. The gypsies during the communist regime. a few points of reference”. Meanwhile in Western Europe, efforts by Roma activists to gain recognition for the suffering of the Roma during World War II emerged but were largely unsuccessful. ● These efforts still continue today, and you can find analysis of them in “The Forgotten Holocaust: the genocide of the Romani community during the Second World War” and The genocide of the Roma – and how commemoration of this ‘forgotten Holocaust’ is shifting.
Exclusion of and racism against the Roma in Europe
In this unit, Konstanty Gebert discusses issues of racism and discrimination that have characterized relation between Roma and non-Roma. The Roma have an inbuilt mistrust of the institutions of the European states. To make the problem worse, the Roma are an internally very diverse community, and there is growing internal mistrust of middle-class Roma who are seen as disloyal and unreliable. ● In the syllabus, you can find a first-hand personal account of the Roma experience in “Growing Up Roma”. ● There are numerous reports, news articles, and photo essays exploring the situation of the Roma in different European countries, namely “The Roma People in Europe”, “Roma – the unwanted Europeans”, “Photo Report: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe”, “In pictures: Roma slums in Romania and Slovakia”, “Roma in Sweden: A nation questions itself” and “Case study 6: Images of Roma – continuities of discrimination”. ● Lastly, there are resources that deep dive into the concepts at the core of the treatment of Roma in Europe, namely structural racism in "Smashing Structural Racism" and diversity in “Understanding Diversity: Where Are You From?”.
A shared identity based on the Porajmos?
In this unit, Konstanty Gebert analyzes the mixed Jewish experience of building an identity largely around the Shoah in Israel and the diaspora. The negative effects that can be seen from the Jewish experience have direct implications for any effort to construct a Roma identity around the Porajmos. This raises the questions of how to commemorate the Porajmos, and where this event should stand vis-a-vis Roma identity. ● In the syllabus, you can find materials that discuss this topic from multiple perspectives: from human right in “Right to Remember A Handbook for Education with Young People on the Roma Genocide Second edition, 2017”, to empowerment in “THE HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE OF AUGUST 2, ROMA HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY”, to youths perspective in “Education for the remembrance of the Roma genocide”. ● You can also find examples of ongoing efforts to commemorate the Porajmos as well as advance Roma’s rights such as “DIKH HE NA BISTER”, 'United For Dignity' - Young Roma And The Fight Against Multiple Discrimination and ternYpe International Roma Youth Network. ● Lastly, there are fact sheets on Roma people with information about Roma culture and literature.