Tereza Bottman

Teresa Bottman (Dzeno Association): Teresa immigrated to the US from the Czech Republic in her early teens. She then dedicated herself to understanding immigrants and marginalized youth and worked for Slavic American Youth Zane, an online magazine of writing and art by Russian-speaking American youth; Community Art Share, a showcase of artists from underrepresented group; and Czechs in America, a bilingual pod cast highlighting the experiences of Czech immigrants in the US. Teresa holds a Master’s of Education degree from Portland State University. At the time of her fellowship she was teaching high school Language Arts, English-as-a-Second-Language and Drama in Portland, Oregon. After her fellowship Teresa wrote: “I fell in love with human rights journalism. The fellowship was an incredible experience. I learned a lot, became more confident about my ability to interview people and present issues in an in-depth and informed way."



Honoring Pain and Loss, Urging Vigilance and Change on International Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day

04 Aug

On August 2nd, representatives and friends of the Romani and Sinti communities from Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic gathered at Auschwitz to commemorate the International Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The ceremony took place at the site of the so-called Zigeunerlager, or “Gypsy” Camp, where more than 23,000 Roma were imprisoned. The date marked the 66th anniversary of the liquidation of the “Gypsy Family Camp” at Auschwitz II-Birkenau on the night of August 2, 1944 when the Nazis killed 2,897 men, women, and children in the gas chambers. International Roma Holocaust (or, in Romani, Porajamos) Remembrance Day has been observed since 1994.


[Family at the International Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration at Auschwitz, photo by Tereza Bottman]

“I was a child when I visited this place for the first time,” recalled Roman Kwiatkowski, Chairman of the Association of the Roma in Poland in his speech to the audience, which, aside from activists and Romani as well as majority community members, included religious figures and government officials.

“I came here with my mother,” continued Kwiatkowski, “and I can still remember two things: the crumbling monument and my mother sobbing uncontrollably. I understood very little back then, I could not comprehend the symbolism of this place and the magnitude of the tragedy and suffering connected with it. However, I subconsciously felt how important it was, and concluding from its condition, how forgotten it must have been. A sense of mission was born in me then. From the beginning of my activity as a grown-up man and an activist for the Romani community, my aim has been to refill this place with proper meaning and importance.”

The Monument of Roma and Sinti at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was built in 1973 and renovated in 1994. The plaque on the granite obelisk reads:

“Memorial place of Roma of the concentration camp in Auschwitz – Birkenau. Thousands of men, women and children imprisoned, tortured victims of German Fascism, died in this concentration camp in Birkenau – cruelly tormented, murdered and gassed. Funded by the Roma Association in Germany 1973 Rose O. Bamberger”


[Monument of Roma and Sinti at Auschwitz-Birkenau, photo credit Czech Radio]

The exact number of Roma who perished in the Holocaust is unknown, but historians estimate it to be between half- and 1.5 million people. More than 90% of Czech Roma died at the hand of the Nazis. Over 62% of Romani prisoners at Auschwitz came from Germany and Austria, 22% were brought from the Czech Republic, and the rest came from Poland.

To this day, Romani activists have been struggling to attain recognition and redress for the crimes committed by the Nazis against their community during WWII.

“Unfortunately our organization has come to understand that the Roma are not honored equally to other victims of the Nazi era in compensation efforts,” said Čeněk Růžička, Chairman of the Committee for Compensation of Romani Holocaust in the Czech Republic. “It seems unbelievable that up to the present moment, compensations have not been completed, and, in contrast to the redress process regarding the property claims of Jews, compensations for Romani properties have not yet been started.”

Růžička’s organization is committed to continuing to advocate for Romani Holocaust victims. He says: “We will continue to ask for compensation of Romani assets and for the Roma to be present as equal partners in the dealings. The victims who remain alive have selected us to represent their rightful interests, and we want nothing more than to right this injustice.”

The community representatives and Polish government officials who spoke at the event urged everyone present to remain vigilant and to continue to support the plight of the Roma who, as Gejza Adam of the Slovak Roma Coalition Party said, “have been striving to become equal members” of societies across Europe.

“Despite the fact that sixty years have passed since the tragedy,” Adam said, “Romani communities in Europe have been suffering from the same negligence as always.”


[Auschwitz Gate, photo by Tereza Bottman]

Poverty, alarming environmental and social conditions, as well as low social status are just some of the issues the Roma face, Adam said, taking a moment to criticize the current situation: “Financial aid distributed by the European resources that is aimed at helping the Roma improve their social status hardly ever gets to its addressees, meaning the Romani people themselves.”

Drawing parallels between the importance of remembering the victims and the relevance of those memories today was a theme throughout the ceremony.

“Sixty-five years ago the Nazi ideology was conquered,” said Růžička. “But, unfortunately, not its ideas. They appear again and again. So let us be watchful and uncompromising so that we do not lose control over them.”

“It is our duty not only to inform and to spread the knowledge of these places and about the unimaginable crime committed on the Romani nation, a nation that was so categorically sentenced to death because of its race and ethnicity,” said Kwiatkowski. “It would be tragic to belittle and forget the fact that Roma and Sinti were exterminated. We cannot allow such a situation to arise, because it is only one step from the consent for the repetition of the brutal practices that marked the history of Europe and the whole world in such a painful manner.”


[“Haunted” — Auschwitz-Birkenau, photo by Tereza Bottman]

Adam concluded his speech with these powerful words:

“I am truly sorry to dare raise your awareness (about the problems today) at this particular place, but I hope the ashes and unmarked graves of the Holocaust victims can become the sacred ground from which human hope, tolerance and moral courage will rise in order to help us–Romani people–become valid members of societies that value human rights and equality above all.”


[flowers to honor the victims, photo by Tereza Bottman]

***

A slide show of the August 2, 2010 ceremony can be seen here.

Those who understand Romani or Slovak can watch a short documentary by the Romani Press Agency about the Romani Holocaust here.


[Romani boys at the commemoration, photo by Tereza Bottman]

More photos from the ceremony:

Posted By Tereza Bottman

Posted Aug 4th, 2010

4 Comments

  • Alisa

    August 4, 2010

     

    Tereza,
    This is a very powerful story, which I hope brings the attention to the loss of the Roma people. I and did not have an awareness of this issue prior to reading your articles. I appreciate the difficult work you are doing, and your dedication to bring awareness and prevention of this kind of cruelty in the world. Thank you!

  • Tereza Bottman

    August 4, 2010

     

    So sad, so hard to hear about….thank you for your efforts to balance and redress these brutalities.

    My wish is for everyone to be more inclusive and for all boundaries and borders to be dissolved in love.

    (I tried to post on your blog but i think the reply link was inactive, sorry)

    – Alice

  • chad evans wyatt

    August 4, 2010

     

    A vivid account, Tereza. Thanks making it possible for the rest of us to be there.

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