1 year ago



Diversity and Dialogue

Diversity and Dialogue HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 42 My introduction to the issue of Roma genocide came during an expert meeting on the initiative of the IHRA Education Working Group in the Museum of Romani Culture in 2007. The participants represented a range of educational pursuits. Some brought expertise on the genocide of the Roma, knowledge of Roma history and culture or more generally knowledge of teaching about the Holocaust, while others had experience working with Roma students and communities, focusing on contemporary issues both in education and in response to discrimination. This diversity of backgrounds at this first meeting was essential for the work that followed. Disagreements arising from different experiences, knowledge bases and sensitivities were out in the open in a relatively safe space. This sort of dialogue, still rare in most parts of Europe, is necessary both in understanding history and reflecting on its relevance for today. The ‘Others’ The Anne Frank House has a long-standing cooperation with the history department at the HAN University of Applied Sciences in Nijmegen the Netherlands. Future teachers in pre-service training colleges are an important target group for introducing new fields of knowledge and methods of teaching. In June 2013 I had been invited to give a two-hour workshop on the genocide of the Roma within a course on teaching about the Holocaust. The students had been given homework to prepare beforehand. They had been asked to research one of the six life stories from the digital exhibition The Forgotten Genocide (, and to study the online teaching materials. 13 One student had been particularly diligent, but after sharing his enthusiasm in the workshop he sighed and said he wished Roma and Sinti were not such “complicated” people. He wished they were more like Jews, “all the same”. I was taken aback. He explained: “It would be a lot easier to understand if all Roma had the same religion, just as Jews did (sic), and if there were not so many different groups.” He was not familiar with Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and in general had no real knowledge about Jews or Roma. More importantly, he seemed to take for granted a view of the world in which “the others” should fit a simple pattern and be easy to label. 13 Karen Polak (2013): Teaching about the genocide of the Roma and Sinti during the Holocaust: chances and challenges in Europe today, Intercultural Education, 24: 1-2, 79-92. This article describes the content of two websites, and and other international projects on the genocide of the Roma.

He didn’t seem at all aware of the controversial or offensive nature of his statement. Other students pointed out that such a view is hurtful to all minorities and questioned him quite severely. However, only one student, whose family came from the Balkans, had had personal contact with Roma. On reflection, the rest of the class was surprised that they had never met a Roma or Sinti or been taught anything about them. Six months later, I co-moderated a similar workshop with a comparable Dutch audience at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg on a day dedicated to the Roma genocide as part of Holocaust Memorial Week. My co-moderator was Lalla Weiss, a Roma activist and spokesperson, and the daughter of a survivor. One of the early questions was “who are Roma and who are Sinti?” and the fact that Lalla Weiss was there to answer immediately set the stage for dialogue on all the subsequent questions. The Dutch term for Gypsy, Zigeuner, is still commonly used, although it is considered offensive by most Roma. 14 These terms and the use of the word Gypsy were debated. Tilburg has a popular annual International Gipsy Festival, which had co-organised this particular day of workshops and presentations, and Lalla is one of their presenters. The complexity of the use of language, the diversity of backgrounds and identities of Roma and the (lack of) sensitivity toward the points of view of a minority group were all addressed during the workshop discussions. Although the aims and the materials used were the same as for the workshop in Nijmegen, the setting was different, largely because it was part of a whole commemorative day involving more than 100 people, including Roma and Sinti in many roles. 43 HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 14 Per language, the use of terms is very different. Some organisations in the UK (and elsewhere) adhere to the term “gypsy,” but mostly internationally, the term “Roma” is used. In German, “Sinti and Roma” are used as a pair. In the rest of Europe, “Roma” is the most generally used term to describe the different groups that all speak Romani languages and have a common history of migration to Europe some 2000 years ago. Huub van Baar (2013) p. 34. Van Baar writes that “despite Romani and pro-Roma attempts to ban the use of this label in German and Dutch-speaking societies, these endeavours have never been fully successful. Indeed, we are now faced with the opposite trend, in which scholars such as Dina Sigel present ‘zigeuner’, usually written with a lower case ‘z’, as a legitimate alternative marker for ‘Roma’.” Dina Sigel, a professor in criminology at University of Utrecht got a lot of media attention for her research undertaken with the department Police and Science of the Police Academy, when she claimed the need to break down the ‘zigeuner taboo’.”

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