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The Forgotten Holocaust: A brief history of the Roma

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By Annesha Das Gupta

The question is asked: “Have you heard of the holocaust?” The answer comes: “Yes, sure. The atrocities that were performed against the Jews. Tell who hasn’t!” “But what about the Romani Holocaust?”

“Romani Holocaust? What is that?”

Yes, in each and every part of the world, across all the educational institutions, this is what has gone amiss. People are made to forget a race of human beings who suffered but whose sufferings were never made to surface in our textbooks.

Let us look at the historical amnesia. It is time to redeem it.

The Romani Holocaust – Mainstreaming

  • Before the Nazis – A short introduction

 

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Image Courtesy: Bob Dawson

According to the eminent Romani scholar, Ian Hancock, the Romanies were unfortunately victimized much before the arrival of the era of the Nazis, and that its reasons are complex but can be explained in four main points: a) The first Roma who arrived in Europe were there because of the Ottoman Turkish, who conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire and so the Roma people were also perceived as possible threats. b) The Roma, a group, who were neither whites nor Christians and therefore, were considered to be aliens. c)  They also never claimed to any geographical territory or have an economy, militia or a government. d) The culture, as Hancock says, was the final nail in the coffin, which segregated and build up a strict social boundary against the Roma and the non-Roma world.

Further, Hancock explains in his essay, Romanies and the Holocaust: A Reevaluation and an Overview, that sometime in the early 1920s a psychiatrist called Karl Binding and a magistrate, Alfred Hoche, jointly authored and published a book named, The Eradication of Lives Undeserving of Life. It was mentioned referring to the Roma people that were “unworthy of life” and the “incurably mentally ill”.

After the coming of the Nazis, they followed up the practices in the US such as euthanasia and sterilization and implemented them on the Roma.

A law incorporating the phrase “unworthy of life” was put into effect just four months after Hitler became the chancellor of the Third Reich.

  • Arrival of the Nazis

Image Courtesy: The Telegraph

 

Thus, when the Nazis, first arrived in 1933, German laws were already into effect against the Roman for over 100 years.

But the conquest of the Balkan, southern and Eastern Europe began when Hitler ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia, a former ally, in the spring of 1941 after they refused to allow the German troops to cross its territories.

The Romani Holocaust – was planned and executed by the Nazi Germany and its allies. Bob Dawson, a Roma and ‘gypsy’ heritage collector explains: “Nazi racial theory met a stumbling block with the Roma and Sinti as they were more ‘Aryan’ than the Germans and yet the Nazis realized they were not Aryan in the same way as the Nordic ideal”. Further, he goes on to say, that, Nazi racial theorists, such as Hans Gunther, had to find an explanation to explain “alleged racial flaws” and they were ‘asocial’ and distinct from Germanic Aryans because of their mingling with “inferior races”.

In September 1935, Roma became subjected to the restrictions of the Nuremberg laws just like the Jew masses. Whereas, two years later the Nation Citizenship Law relegated the Romanies and the Jews, as second-class citizens. In the same year, Heinrich Himmler decreed the “Struggle against Gypsy”, where the Roma people were stated as “mixed blood” and involved in “criminal activities” so their each and every move must be reported to the regional police departments of Reich Central Office.

Again, between June 13-18,1938, was declared as “Gypsy Clean-Up Week” (or Zigeunerauf in the documents) throughout Germany which was in reality, the horrendous preparations for the complete extermination of the Roma and Sinti people.

In 1939, Johannes Behrendt of the office of Racial Hygiene Institute issued a brief statement where it was said that “all the ‘gypsies’ should be treated as hereditarily sick and the only solution is their elimination with any destination”.

In January of 1940, it is found that about 250 children from Brno were murdered in Buchenwald, where many were used as test subjects to examine the efficacy of the Zyklon-B cyanide gas Crystals and later in the gas chambers. It is worth mentioning that a distinctive attribute of the Holocaust was the extensive use of human subjects in medical experiments. The most notorious of the physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

His nefarious experiments used to include the placing of subjects in pressure chambers, testing of drugs on them, freezing them and even injecting of chemicals into children’s eyes which was apparently an attempt to change the color of their eyes. Though, unfortunately, most of his documents including a 3,300 paged  have allegedly been destroyed by a Dr. Otmar Von Chuer of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.

On 16 December 1941, Himmler issued that the Romanies of the West Germany were to be deported at Auschwitz-Birkenau. And three years later, on 4 August, about 2,400 Romanies were gassed and cremated there and the event is remembered as Zigeunernacht.

According to Mrs. De Wick,an eyewitness, Anne Frank, a notable Jewish Holocaust victim, had witnessed the prelude to the murder of Romani children at Auschwitz. In her words: “I can still see her standing at the door and looking down at the camp street as a herd of naked gypsy girls were driven by to the crematory, and Anne watched them going and cried”.

Do not forget them – Victims and survivors of the Roma Holocaust

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Image Courtesy: The Journal

 In different regions of the world, the Romani Genocide or the Romani Holocaust is known by different terms. The term Porjamos which literally translates to “devouring” in the dialects of the Romani language was first coined by Ian Hancock in the early 1990s. Hancock also used the world Kalderash Rom, which mostly popular among the activists but remains unknown to many Romanies as well as to the descendants of the Holocaust victims and survivors.

Whereas the people involved with the Romani Civil Rights movement in Hungary has the preference for Pharrajimos (cutting up) which is Marhine, meaning untouchable and since the letter ‘p’ is not is use there, it is unpronounceable among the community.

The total number of the Romani people who were killed in the Holocaust accounts more than one and a half million people and whereas in Nazi occupied France it was, between 16,000 to 18,000 of them.

According to Francoise Sagan, “Being a Jew under Hitler made you first a guilty party and then a parcel which the Yellow Star, itself now become a label, dispatched to those unknown camps – a process which took a more or less brief period of time, but a period of time all the same. Being a ‘Gypsy’, however, made you an instant target, since the relatively small number of persons of the race facilitated in their execution”.

In 1950, the Wurttemberg Ministry of the Interior issued a statement to the judges of the hearing a war crime restitution, claiming that the ‘Gypsies’ were persecuted under the Nationalist Socialist Regime not for any social reason but for their criminal and anti-social tags.

Twenty-one years later, in 1971, Bonn Convention, according to Hancock, taking advantage of this, cited that they were not paying the Roma people as the reasons for their victimization during the Nazi period because of their security only.

Whereas in the February of 1987, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum held a conference named ‘Other Victims’ with a panel on Romanies but unfortunately no member of the Roma community is part of the organization or the presenters since 2002.

It was as late as in 1982 when West Germany finally decided to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. The Polish government commemorated the genocide on August 2nd, 2011.

The first memorial commemoration of the Holocaust victims was erected on May 8, 1956 in the Polish Village of Szczurowacom. Other incident is of the Gypsy Caravan Memorial, which traveling since 1996, along Poland, from Tarnow via Auschwitz sites and Borzecin Dolny, where the well-wishers and people of the Roma community gather for the remembrance.

Lastly, on 24 October 2012, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism was unveiled in Berlin.

Many people who belong to the community are afraid to reveal their presence openly in the society. Primarily,because of the unfair stigma attached to their identity and the various unsympathetic laws against them. the gap needs to be abridged so that Roma community can proudly claim their place in the society and move up the social ladder.

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All You Need To Know About India’s Strategic Chabahar Port

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border.

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Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • The Chabahar Port is of great strategic importance for India
  • It is in Iran and is being built and operated by India
  • This port will increase India’s trade with Central Asia and Europe

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border. Chabahar is the trans-shipment and logistics hub for the Makran Coast and Baluchistan province of Iran.

Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons

The tension between India and Pakistan is nothing new. There are several instances where both the countries have tried to obstruct each other’s political or economic agendas. This obstruction, along with other strategic reasons, resulted in the India and Iran’s deal on the Chabahar Port, which is crucial because of several reasons.

Here are few things about it you may not have known before :

  • Under the Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement of 2016, the Chabahar port is the gateway to the Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan, which allows multi-modal goods’ and passengers’ transport.

Also Read: India and Iran sign agreement to develop Chabahar Port

  • The agreement also states that India will develop and operate two berths in the first phase of the port. The contract is for 10 years and extendable. This time period excludes the first two years as they will be used for construction.
Chabahar Port will make India's trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will make India’s trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port’s first phase, which was developed by India, and inaugurated by Iran on 4th December 2017, is of great strategic importance as it makes it easier for India to conduct trade with Central Asia and Europe.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port is also important for India’s trade because of Pakistan’s reluctance in allowing India to send goods to Iran and Afghanistan through its land territory.

Also Read: Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant 

  • The development of Chabahar Port will increase the momentum of the International North-South Transport Corridor whose signatories include India, Afghanistan and Russia. Iran is the key gateway in this project. It will improve India’s trade with Central Asia as well as Europe.
    The Chabahar Port has also reduced Afghanistan’s dependence on the transit road, which went through Karachi. Now, trade can be conducted via Chabahar Port too. Islamabad has accused India of trying to use this development as a means to destabilise Pakistan.

    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port also acts as a counter to the barely 100 km away, Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is developed by China. However, Iran has defended that Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar and Pakistan is invited to join in its development.
  • In October 2017, India sent its first shipment of wheat to through Chabahar to Afghanistan, in order to test the viability of the route.
  • India will also construct a 900-km Chabahar-Zahedan-hajigak railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar to Hajigak in Afghanistan. It will also connect Mashad in the north, providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan.This project is worth $1.6 billion.

    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehrain. Wikimedia Commons
    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehran. Wikimedia Commons
  • It is being said that India will supply $400 million of steel rails to Tehran. There are also possibilities of setting up a fertilizer plant through a joint venture with the Iranian government.