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Helsinki Commission Leaders Recall Romani Holocaust Tragedy

Washington – United States Helsinki Commission leaders today remembered the anniversary of the Romani Holocaust observed annually on August 2nd and 3rd.

During the night of August 2-3, 1944, the Romani camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liquidated. Nearly three thousand Romani men, women and children were killed in the gas chambers in a single night. Roma around the globe have come to remember their Holocaust experiences on these days.

“The single most defining experience for Roma in the 20th century was the Holocaust, known in Romani as the Porrajmos, the Devouring,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “During World War II, Roma were targeted for death by the Nazis based on their ethnicity. At least 23,000 Roma were delivered to Auschwitz. Almost all of them perished in the gas chambers or from starvation, exhaustion or disease.”

“The Helsinki Commission held our third hearing on Roma in April of this year,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Testimony at these hearings reflected the magnitude of the discrimination and violence still confronting Roma in many countries. Violent attacks against Roma, including murders, often go unpunished, such as the arson murder of a family of five in Ukraine last October.”

“At the 1999 Istanbul Summit, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating States agreed to adopt anti-discrimination legislation to protect Roma,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “The adoption in 2000 of the European Union’s ‘race directive,’ which requires all EU member states and applicant countries to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, should spur this effort.”

In certain countries, political leaders use Nazi-era rhetoric, describing Roma as “asocial,” or defending repressive measures against Roma as “social hygiene measures,” implying that they are inherently unfit for European society. More than half a century after Roma suffered forced sterilization at the hands of Joseph Mengele and others, some public officials openly speak of limiting Romani birth rates.

Roma were among those targeted for complete annihilation by the Nazis; however, their suffering before and during World War II is not well known. During the 1920s and 1930s, institutionalized racism against Roma took on an increasingly virulent form. Policies similar to those instituted against Germany’s Jews were also implemented against Roma:

race-based denial of the right to vote;

forced sterilization;

loss of citizenship, incarceration in work or concentration camps;

deportation and subsequent annihilation at death camps.

In addition to their systematic destruction at Auschwitz, Roma were killed elsewhere in German-occupied territory by special SS squads, regular army units or police, often shot at the village’s edge and dumped into mass graves.

It is difficult to estimate the size of the pre-war European Romani population and war-time losses. Some scholars, however, suggest the size of the Romani population in Germany and German-occupied territories was around 942,000 and that 500,000 Roma were killed during the Holocaust. Approximately 25,000 Roma from Romania were deported en masse to Transnistria in Romanian-occupied Ukraine in 1942; some 19,000 of them perished there.

After World War II, the post-Nazi German Government strongly resisted redressing past wrongs committed against Roma, seeking to limit its accountability. The first German trial decision to recognize that Roma as well as Jews were genocide victims during the Third Reich was not handed down until 1991.

Public awareness of the nature and extent of Romani losses continues to expand as new archival material becomes available and new generations of researchers examine the Holocaust experiences of Roma.

The Helsinki Commission maintains on its Internet Web site an archive of hearing and briefing publications, Congressional Record Statements, reports, press releases and CSCE Digest articles; each organized by issue and country. Commission materials relating to Roma are located on the Commission’s Roma Web page.

Additional information about the Romani Holocaust experience is available through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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HELSINKI COMMISSION DIGITAL DIGEST JUNE 2022

Jun 30, 2022

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Press Releases

Cardin, Wicker Recognition of Romani Americans Clear...

Jun 10, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) lauded unanimous passage in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday of S. Res.124, the first official acknowledgement by Congress of the genocide of the Romani people by the Nazis. The resolution, first authored by Cardin and Wicker in 2019 and reintroduced […]

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Articles

Fifteen Years of the Recommendations of Policing in ...

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By Nathaniel Haas, Max Kampelman Fellow On November 5, 2021, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities convened a hybrid conference commemorating the 15th anniversary of “Recommendations on Policing in Multi-Ethnic Societies.” The conference focused on continuing challenges and new perspectives related to policing in diverse societies and was attended by more than 200 participants […]

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Helsinki Commission Summer 2021 Digital Digest

Aug 02, 2021

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Statements

Cardin and Wicker Discuss July 2021 Congressional De...

Jul 21, 2021

Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I take this time to talk about the work of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in a recent opportunity we had to participate in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I am joined on the floor by Senator Wicker, who is the Republican chair of the Helsinki Commission. The two of us have worked […]

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Helsinki Commission Delegation Advances Priority Iss...

Jul 15, 2021

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) last week led a U.S. delegation to the 2021 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Annual Session in Vienna, Austria. The assembly was the first major gathering with an in-person component since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The 2021 […]

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Statements

45th Anniversary of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

Jun 21, 2021

I take this time as the Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the Helsinki Commission, as we celebrate our 45th anniversary. The Helsinki Commission is the vehicle for U.S. participation in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), representing 57 states that have come together under […]

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Tribute to Erika Schlager

Jun 21, 2021

I want to acknowledge one individual who recently announced that she is retiring, Erika Schlager, after 34 years of service to the Commission and to the global community. Erika received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where she graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She […]

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Helsinki Commission Commemorates 45 Years of Advanci...

Jun 03, 2021

WASHINGTON—To commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, on June 3, Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “The Helsinki Commission has played a vital role in elevating […]

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Helsinki Commission Digital Digest: April 2021

Apr 30, 2021

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Helsinki Commission Leaders Commemorate Internationa...

Apr 08, 2021

WASHINGTON—Ahead of International Roma Day on April 8, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), commission leaders the late Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) and Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-04) introduced resolutions in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives celebrating Romani American heritage. […]

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Senator Ben Cardin Returns to Lead Helsinki Commission

Mar 24, 2021

WASHINGTON—The Presiding Officer, on behalf of the Vice President, yesterday announced the appointment of Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) as chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, throughout the 117th Congress. “For 45 years, the Helsinki Commission has tirelessly defended human rights and democratic institutions at home […]

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