Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck inaugurated the memorial at an official ceremony in Berlin’s Tiergarten park. Designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, it features a water-filled basin with a retractable, triangle-shaped column at its center that will be topped by a fresh flower every day. Panels detailing the Nazis’ persecution of the minority surround the memorial, which is located across the road from the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament building, and close to memorials to the Nazis’ Jewish and gay victims that have been inaugurated in recent years. Gypsies were subjected to racial discrimination from the early days of Nazi rule. Before Berlin hosted the 1936 Olympic games, hundreds were rounded up and interned; and in 1938, SS chief Heinrich Himmler set up a central office for the persecution of Gypsies – also known as Sinti and Roma.
This excerpt from the Huffington Post, illustrates several of my HUGE issues with this memorial. Don’t get me wrong, I am … grateful… that Germany finally placed a memorial to the second largest group to fall under Hitler’s hand. But, why did they not choose a different artist to make the piece? Why must it be an Israeli artist? Are there not capable Roma or Sinte artists? The second largest group to be targeted by Nazi Germany, we are one of the last to get any kind of memorial. Why is this? Are we only allowed to be remembered in public spaces when those spaces are not our own? When those spaces are created and defined for us by others?
One of the largest Roma and Sinte camps in the Czech Republic, Lety, currently houses a PIG FARM. Let that sink in for a moment. No memorial, no sacred space or place for silent contemplation…
but a pig farm.
The Czech government have so far refused to move the farm to another location.
I’m also a little… perturbed by the constant use of the word “Gypsy”, especially in relation to the Porrajmos (Holocaust). We had the word tattooed on our arms and were sentenced to die for it, but still it’s thrown around at sites like these. I don’t want to be “also known as”… I want to be Romani (formerly known as). I understand there was a time when no one asked us, when we were an enigma and the language barrier too high to create understanding. But, since that time there has been a lot of progress and official announcements of our preferred moniker have been made.
Still, we’re referred to as “Gypsies”. In a context like this, I find that morally reprehensible. It isn’t even that the word can be considered an ethnic and racial slur. It is the fact that at its very root, the word is inaccurate and misrepresentative. Even if we deny the etymological roots of Gypsy (as coming from the word Egyptian and linked to us because of our dark-skin and alien culture and the way that this difference has been used against us), the way in which it is used as a box in which to collect all nomadic peoples is simply wrong.
Under the term Gypsy lie multiple ethnic groups – some quite distinct and with very different histories – not all of whom suffered in the Holocaust.
For example, Irish Travellers/Pavee were not forced into camps by the Nazis. Yes, undoubtedly they suffered as the rest of the UK did during the war, but they were not specifically targeted by Hitler’s troops. The same with groups such as the Jenische in Switzerland or generally the Dom/Lom in Anatolia and East who were largely unaffected by the Holocaust. To call everyone “Gypsies” implies that we all experienced the same history and that we were all equally affected.
Which simply isn’t the case.
Not only this, but it is a REFECTION POOL…
a pool of stagnant water. If they’d asked any Roma or Sinte person if they’d wanted a pool of unmoving water as their memorial, I am pretty sure that their answer would have been no. For multiple reasons.
So, thank you for allowing us to be present in your space,
but some day we’ll be allowed our OWN spaces created for and by us that accurately reflect (no pun intented) our own desires …