Voices of the victims

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‘Voices of the Victims’

Karola Fings

From the Perspective of the Victims

‘Voices of the Victims’ is a pilot project. For the first time, the story of the genocide committed against the Romani minority is told exclusively from the perspective of the victims. The project focuses on sources from the time of the persecution or shortly afterwards. Here, too, ‘Voices of the Victims’ is venturing into uncharted territory. These early sources are very rare, but due to their proximity in time to the experienced persecution, they possess a particularly vivid and intense quality that conveys an impression of the suffering endured in a way still poignant today. The voices of the victims are a powerful testimony to self-assertion in the face of extermination.

The European Dimension of the Genocide

‘Voices of the Victims’ shows the European dimension of the genocide by drawing on the example of twenty countries: Austria | Belarus | Belgium | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Croatia | Czech Republic | Estonia | France | Germany | Hungary | Italy | Latvia | Netherlands | Poland | Romania | Russia | Switzerland | Serbia | Slovak Republic | Ukraine. Fourteen European researchers have taken part in the project, providing background information on the respective countries and compiling sources from the perspective of the victims. This European dimension is important for two reasons: first, in many countries only a small number of people are aware to this day that Roma were the victims of a systematic genocide; and second, the manner and scale of the persecution in the respective countries varied greatly that the full extent of the crimes of violence and murder unleashed against Roma can be adequately represented only in a European perspective.

Continued Racism and Unpunished Crimes

After 1945, the survivors were scarred in many respects. They not only had to live with their own traumatic experiences of persecution and overcome their grief over lost relatives; finding a meaningful perspective on life and building a new livelihood were made even more difficult by the fact that the majority society continued to be hostile towards them while the culprits themselves systematically hindered any recognition of their status as victims and hence blocked financial reparations. This refusal to confer recognition and the continued discrimination were closely connected: both served to cover up guilt and prevent criminal prosecution. As a result, most crimes remained unpunished.

The Trauma of Persecution

The National Socialist genocide of Roma in Europe marks a profound rupture in the history of the minority. With the persecution and murder of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, the lives and prospects of the survivors and their children were ruined and destroyed too. This experience is firmly anchored in the consciousness of Roma. To this day, it builds the foundation for political activism against discrimination and also finds diverse expression in works of art.

Editorial Note

The ‘Voices of the Victims’ are drawn from letters, witness statements and accounts from the perspective of Roma. The documents are shown in the original as digital copies. Transcriptions of these documents are provided. Many transcriptions have been carefully amended to enhance their readability. These interventions in the original text are marked by [square brackets]. These amended versions form the basis for the translations. Each document is accompanied by a commentary that puts the document into the broader context of persecution and offers additional information that is necessary for comprehension.

In some of the documents presented here in the various languages, the term ‘Gypsy’ is used by members of the minority themselves. Given the change in self-perception and positioning of Sinti and Roma in recent decades, it is conceivable that the persons concerned would no longer use this term today. Moreover, today’s readers and listeners approach the texts against the background of contemporary knowledge. Because ‘Gypsy’ is a term of stigmatisation, it was decided to make an editorial intervention. The term is retained in the transcriptions. In the translations (into German, English and Romani), the G-word – depending on the country, group and speaker – is replaced by Roma*, Sinti* or Roma and Sinti*, respectively Sinti and Roma*. For the audio version of the document, ‘Gypsy’ is only then spoken when the word is used from the perspective of the persecutors.

An introductory text to each country allows the individual stories represented by the documents to be put into the respective context. These texts describe the main features of persecution and provide further reading recommendations. The country texts take their starting point from the states existing today, whereby it always needs to be kept in mind that the political map of Europe was different during the period 1933–45.

Within the framework of the project, it was not possible to deal with each country in which Sinti and Roma were persecuted during the Second World War. Just how arduous the search for early testimony of the persecution turned out to be is reflected in the failure to find at least three documents, as had been hoped, for every country covered here. This has been compensated by some countries being represented with additional documents, so that ‘Voices of the Victims’ can start with a body of at least 60 source documents. It is to be hoped that the result will persuade many people to devote more attention to such testimonies than they did previously and to gradually enlarge the collection presented here.

Romani translation

In the archive section ‘Voices of the Victims’, all introductory texts, documents, commentaries and country texts have been translated from English into Romani by Sarita Jašarova or Sejdo Jašarov. Ruždija Russo Sejdović edited that translation using a moderately standardised form of Romani. Since this form does not correspond to speaking habits, Perjan Wirges and Nedjo Osman have produced their own spoken texts for the audio recordings of the documents on the basis of the translations by Sarita Jašarova and Sejdo Jašarov.