In August 1944, Paris was liberated after the German commander Dietrich von Choltitz surrendered the French capital and farther east, the Soviet offensive was underway in Eastern Europe.
But on Wednesday, August 2, 1944 something altogether more brutal and sinister took place in Eastern Europe.
The remaining Roma of the so-called “Zigeunerlager” (Gypsy camp), almost 3,000 men, women and children were rounded up and murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The Roma Holocaust was an attempt by the Nazi regime and its supporters to exterminate the Romani people of Europe and it would be decades before anyone recognized the horrors committed against the group.
On the 76th anniversary of the deaths, the Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić said an increasing number of European countries now formally recognize the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day
“A better future can only be built on a solid understanding of the past”, she said in an online video statement to mark the date.
There are no exact figures, but historians estimate half a million Roma people were murdered during World War II. On August 2, figures are available. A total of 2,897 Roma were exterminated.
The first state recognition of the Roma and Sinti Holocaust came in 1982. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany acknowledged that the Nazi regime had persecuted and committed genocide against the Roma and Sinti people on the basis of their race.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum opened a permanent exhibition on the Roma and Sinti in 2001, and August 2 was commemorated as an unofficial day of remembrance there until 2015, when it finally gained official recognition
Prejudice against the Roma or Gypsies remains in Europe. The European Union says the group is more likely to suffer poverty and social exclusion than their fellow citizens from other ethnic groups.
“My thoughts today are with those who lost their lives, those who survived and the Roma and Traveler communities who continue to contribute to the rich and diverse cultural life of our continent,” the Secretary General said.
She said the commemoration remains a “key activity” for the Council of Europe, and stressed the importance of teaching remembrance as well as honoring Roma victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
She praised a recent recommendation adopted by the Committee of Ministers for the 47 Council of Europe member states to teach Roma and Traveler history in schools.
For the past few years, the Council of Europe has held ceremonies to mark 2 August in front of the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg.
However, the Covid-19 crisis and its various related risks and restrictions led to a decision to replace the physical meeting with an online video statement by the Secretary General.