AUBG student Elvira Sashova, who is of Roma origin, talks about the significance of the Romani Resistance Day, which we mark every May 16.
What happened on May 16, 1944?
On May 15 more than 6000 Roma prisoners of the so-called Zigeunerlager at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp heard of the coming mass liquidation of the camp the next day. Around 600 Roma did not show up for their shift on May 16. They barricaded themselves in their barracks and stood up against the Nazi guards armed only with hammers, pickaxes, and shovels. As a result of their defiance, no Roma died in the gas chambers on that day. The Roma revolt against the Nazis is the only recorded uprising in Auschwitz and is now widely commemorated as the Romani Resistance Day.
What is the significance of the Romani Resistance Day?
The historic Roma endurance has manifested itself even in the most hopeless moments in history. The courage you must have to stand up to the killing machines in the faces of Nazi soldiers, armed only with hand-held materials, is chilling. It is our duty to preserve these moments in our collective memory and to make sure that we do not allow the return of such evil ideologies to conquer the minds and hearts of our societies. This day presents their intransigence before death because this day is the only opposition against the Nazis in these death camps.
In what way do the Roma people mark the day every year?
Europe needs to leave behind it’s dark history of oppression, racism and genocide. Nazism and Fascism are often seen as being aberrations in European history. But in times of crisis, when populists and far-right advocates rise to power, history often repeats itself. In recent elections across Europe hate-speech, violence against Roma and the use of symbols of hate rose dangerously. Today, under a common theme of “standing up against the far right”, we ask the current leadership of our country and the leadership of the European Union to take all the steps necessary to ensure that the over 12 million Romani people that live in Europe are protected. We call on Roma to unite and demonstrate the historic Romani resilience in the face of any threat to Romani communities, values and culture.
Inspired by the courage of our ancestors who stood up against the Nazis in the most horrendous and hopeless conditions, Romani communities across Europe are organizing the Transnational Romani Resistance Week from the 9th to the 16th of May, in a series of online and offline activities and events. The commemorative activities will reach its peak on Sunday May 16th at 17.00 EET with local Romani Resistance Marches organized in the hearts of Romani communities around Europe. The March is organized under a common theme to fan the flames of resistance against hate, growing nationalism and populism. To oppose the increasing far-right nationalist parties and movements across Europe. As a symbol that we are determined to keep the flame of Romani Resistance alive.
We will gather to remember Romani Resistance fighters by symbolically lighting fires to prove that fire can also heal, inspire, unify and purify. In doing so we will have actively reclaimed the elemental force of fire from the hatred of the Auschwitz crematorium and ignited a new resolve to work for the equality of our communities.
What parallels can we make between the past and the present?
The Roma community has been fighting for equality for a long period of time. In the past, racism was more acceptable worldwide and was seen in many people of power. Today the legislative authority made the manifestation of open racism and hate speech defendant. However, drastic actions of racism are still happening and many turn a blind eye to this. Acts of violence, psychological abuse, normalization of derogative and stereotypical terms – all of this have been put in the shadow while the people and the mass media focuses on the negative representation of our community. Also, the ones having the authority, for example, some politicians in Bulgaria, are usually right-oriented and add more fuel to the fire. Thus, today as in the past, racism still has power over our people.
What are the fights of the Roma people today?
As I said, our people are still facing racist actions and the perceptions of the mass. These are barriers that stop us from living free in this democratic society. Our everyday life is affected by massive misconceptions. Necessary things as being accepted in a good school and university, getting a job, and having access to basic human needs as electricity and tap water. We are trying to reduce this hate and stereotyping and provide a better future for our future generation.