Learn lessons from Nazi Roma killings: Council of Europe

The Council of Europe expressed concern Tuesday about discrimination against Roma, urging its member states to draw lessons from the Nazi massacre of gypsies during World War II.

Europeans should honour the memory of the victims by taking measures to counter discrimination and promote better integration of Roma into society, the council’s secretary general Thorbjorn Jagland said.

“The sad truth is that Roma in Europe still suffer widespread rejection, discrimination and even racist violence and hatred,” he said on the anniversary of the Nazi gassing of nearly 3,000 Roma women, children and elderly people at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp overnight August  2-3, 1944.

“A day of commemoration gives us a time to reflect on how we are living up to the pledge of ‘never again’,” said the boss of the Strasbourg-based rights and democracy body.

Historians say between 220,000 and 500,000 Romas were killed by the Nazis in Europe during World War II. About a third of the inmates of Auschwitz, in Poland, were Roma.

As Europe’s biggest ethnic minority, Roma, also known as gypsies, number 10 to 12 million and live in all 27 EU member states, but it has long been an uneasy relationship.

Romania’s Roma community is the biggest in Europe, officially put at 530,000 though local NGOs put it closer to two million, saying many hide their origins to try to escape prejudice.

Since August last year, France has expelled hundreds of eastern European Roma migrants on security grounds.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


How France will mark VE day on May 8th

Saturday's commemoration of the date that marks the end of World War II in Europe will be happening under strict Covid-19 health rules, but there will be events in France.

How France will mark VE day on May 8th
French President Emmanuel Macron and some military will be attending this year's commemoration in Paris, as they did here, in 2019. Photo: Martin BUREAU / various sources / AFP

Why do we mark May 8th?

First a brief history. May 8th marks the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces in 1945.

Popularly known as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), it marks the date when World War II ended in Europe.

Some fighting continued around the world, however. The United States dropped its atomic bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki months later, in August, and all hostilities officially ceased on September 2nd 1945.

But in Europe, May 8th brought the end of the Nazi threat and a promise of brighter times ahead.

How is May 8th commemorated in France?

France is one of the few European countries that have made May 8th a public holiday and most people get the day off work when it falls on a weekday (this year it will be on a Saturday, so unfortunately no extra day off).

READ ALSO The French holiday calendar for 2021

In normal times, without Covid-19, May 8th is majestically marked with a large ceremony in Paris and smaller celebrations in towns and cities across the country.

Last year’s event, although it marked the 75-year-anniversary, was a small-scale one compared to other years, as France was still under its first nationwide, strict lockdown. 

President Emmanuel Macron did go ahead with the wreath-laying ceremony at the Champs-Elysées, keeping with the tradition for French heads of state. 

What’s on this year?

The 2021 commemorations will also be less grand than other years as several Covid-19 restrictions remain in place in France.

IN DETAIL: France’s new calendar for reopening after Covid restrictions

As last year, Macron will lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, which stands at the top of the Champs Elysées, in the presence of “a restricted number of public officials and military,” the French Defence Ministry said a press statement.

The ceremony will be closed to the public, though it will be possible to watch it live on television.

Regional authorities – the préfets – have permission to organise ceremonies in their areas, though “in a restricted format and while strictly respecting social distancing measures,” the statement read. These ceremonies will also be closed to the public.

Mayors can also lay wreath at war memorials in their communes, in ceremonies that, again, have to be in line with health rules and be closed to the public.