Educational practices developed through the workshops mentioned above are set against a wider framework of international developments. HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 38 • In April 2015, the OSCE/ODIHR Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues (CPRSI) presented a report on Teaching about and Commemorating the Roma and Sinti Genocide – Practices within the OSCE Area. 1 • In the same month, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a European day dedicated to commemorating the victims of the genocide of the Roma during the Second World War II. • The work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Committee on the Genocide of the Roma also forms an important background to many of the exchanges described here. 2 August 2 nd 1944 During Holocaust Education Week in Toronto in early November 2012, in a small room filled to capacity, a documentary titled A People Uncounted 3 was shown to a mixed-age audience of Roma and non-Roma. The film focuses on the culturally rich lives of people from eleven countries, but it also shows the difficulties faced by Roma across Europe, and demonstrates how their present circumstances have been shaped by the tragedies of the past. Holocaust survivors, historians, activists and musicians give insight into Romani life through poetry, music and personal accounts. As ethnic intolerance grows across Europe, the legacy of racism and genocide is highlighted. I was invited to take part in a round table discussion about the film with its Canadian film director, Aaron Yeger, and Gina Robah-Csanyi, the then-director of the Roma Community Centre of Toronto, which hosted the event. 1 The report will be published late 2015 at http://www.osce.org/odihr/223681 2 The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an intergovernmental body with 31 member countries. When some of the work described in this article started it was knows as the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Research and Remembrance (ITF). The name was changed in 2013. Throughout this article I will refer to the IHRA. The Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, initiated in 2007, is chaired by the author. See: www.holocaustremembrance.com 3 A People Uncounted, 2011, Canada, director Aaron Yeger and producers Marc Swenker and Tom Rasky.
As the film ended Judy Weissenberg Cohen stood up and said simply, “I was there”, referring to Auschwitz- Birkenau on August 2 nd 1944 when the so-called Gypsy camp was liquidated, and 2,879 Roma and Sinti women, men and children were taken to the gas chambers. It was the most memorable moment of an intense week of lectures, workshop and debates. I had often discussed the events of August 1944 with historians and colleagues in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. There are no Roma survivors who were in Auschwitz-Birkenau at that time. So it is only the memories of “bystanders”, other prisoners near the barracks where the Roma were held, that can testify to the events of that night. I was hearing one of these bystanders speak. 4 Judy arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau early July 1944 with part of her family from Debrecen in Hungary. She told the meeting and expanded to me later: “After the usual selections and separation from our parents and other relatives, my three sisters and I were settled down in the camp called B/III or, as the inmates called it Mexico. As we learned eventually, our parents and their first grandchild with his mother were murdered immediately in the gas chambers. Through rumours we became aware that the camp next to ours was the Zigeunerfamilienlager or Gypsy Family Camp. On August 2nd, we, in camp B/III, became aware of very loud noises emanating from the Zigeunerlager. Yelling and desperate screaming of adults and terrified children’s howling, and SS soldiers threateningly barking orders. This continued for hours into the night. The mixture of noises indicated that the Roma were resisting vigorously their upcoming evacuation from the camp and their suspected, subsequent murder by gassing. We just listened in silent fear, impotent to do anything helpful, terribly sorry for what was happening next door and terrified that our camp would be next to be emptied. I know I will never forget that heart-rending death cry of thousands of Roma as they resisted. They were all murdered, as we learned later. This was one of my unforgettable episodes in Birkenau.” 39 HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE Judy and her sister Eva survived. Their sisters, Klára and Elizabeth, starved to death in the Stutthof concentration camp. Judy and Eva emigrated to Canada in 1948. It took decades before Judy began talking about her experiences in Nazi captivity. “My public presentations always include testifying of my audio-witnessing the murder of thousands of Romani people in Birkenau.” 5 4 I visited Judy Cohen the following year during the Canadian IHRA chairmanship in 2013. The following recollections were sent by email to the author, August 2015. 5 Judy Cohen supports and sponsors events on the genocide of the Roma such as this programme during Holocaust Education Week, in memory of her parents, siblings and relatives, victims of the Holocaust, from Debrecen, Hungary.