Germany finally commemorates Roma victims of Holocaust

Tue Oct 23, 2012 8:50am EDT
 
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By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Punches still fly in the Berlin boxing ring where Johann "Rukeli" Trollmann once trained before the Nazis stripped him of his German light-heavyweight title and excluded him from boxing because of his "gypsy blood".

Recognition for Trollmann, battered to death aged 36 in Neuengamme concentration camp in 1944, has been slow in coming, as it has been in general for the half a million ethnic Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis on racial grounds.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel will finally open a much-delayed memorial to Roma victims of the Nazi regime on Wednesday. Situated by parliament, it is meant to both commemorate the dead and stress the need to protect the living from hate and prejudice.

"We hope politicians, also those visiting from elsewhere, will see this monument and remember the urgent need to take a stand," said Romani Rose, head of the German Council of Sinti and Roma.

The European Commission says many of Europe's 12 million Roma face discrimination and social exclusion, often living in dire poverty. Economic crisis has made this worse in some countries: Hungary's far-right Jobbik party called for zero-tolerance against what it called Roma "crime and parasitism".

A program of events will run in parallel to the opening of the memorial, highlighting Sinti and Roma life in Germany, such as a display by young boxers, among them a new generation of German Sinti, inspired and moved by Trollmann's fate.

Sinti, the name used by ethnic Roma based in Germany for centuries, saw discrimination increase at alarming levels once Adolf Hitler took power in 1933. They were sent to forced labor camps, and from 1934 subjected to forced sterilization as a result of the Nazis' "racial purity" laws.

By the start of World War Two, the Nazis' genocidal intent became clear as Sinti and Roma were deported to death camps, where they wore uniforms bearing a "Z" for "Zigeuner" (gypsy.)   Continued...