On October 24, 2012, a memorial to the Sinti and Roma murdered under the National Socialist regime is officially opened in Berlin, more than 67 years after the end of the Second World War. It is the result of a decades-long struggle to gain recognition of these Nazi crimes as acts of genocide.
As many as half a million Sinti and Roma throughout Europe fell victim to the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. Now a newly erected memorial in the political heart of Berlin commemorates this genocide, which the Roma refer to as Porajmos, or the great “devouring”. [see: The situation of Sinti and Roma during the period of the National Socialist regime] The Israeli artist Dani Karavan is responsible for the memorial’s design. In the center of its circular reflecting pool sits a stone pedestal, which can be lowered beneath ground level and on which a fresh flower is placed daily. Around the pool’s edge, the poem “Auschwitz” by Santino Spinelli is inscribed in German and English.
Sinti and Roma civil and human rights movements have been fighting since the 1970s for the establishment of an official memorial dedicated to the Sinti and Roma murdered by the National Socialist regime, as well as for the official recognition of these murders as constituting genocide, a recognition which was long withheld in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). [see: Sinti and Roma civil rights movements 1979] In 1959 the German Federal Supreme Court rejected a suit for official compensation brought by a Sinto, arguing that, up to the year 1943, Sinti and Roma had not been persecuted and murdered by the state on the basis of their ethnic identity, but rather because of social characteristics such as “antisociality”, “criminality” and “rootlessness”. [see: BGH decision: No compensation to Roma and Sinti for their persecution under National Socialism] By the time this decision was reversed in 1963 and inscribed into law two years later, many of those Sinti and Roma affected had already died or resigned themselves to defeat in their legal struggles. The deadline to apply for compensation expired in 1969.
The statement made in 1982 by West Germany’s then Federal Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, represented a major political step towards official recognition: “The Nazi dictatorship inflicted a grave injustice on the Sinti and Roma. They were persecuted for reasons of race. These crimes constituted an act of genocide.”
Since 1985, the Central Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany has fought for fundamental changes to the discriminatory compensation practices applied to the surviving victims by state agencies. In 3,200 individual cases the responsible agencies have been compelled to revise their decisions on compensation.