My Story

Nov 18, 2012 by

The more this blog is shared, the more I get asked “who’s are you?” … and “where are you from?”

So, I thought I’d share a little of my story here.

My name is Qristina Zavačková Cummings I am Bergitka and Servika. My father’s family were Petikova and Zavačková, from near Bardejov in Eastern Slovakia. My mother’s family were Mirga, (Mangotāja), and Siwak and were, (I only recently found out) Bergitka, from Southern Poland. However, they also spent time in Lithuania and Latvia (I originally guessed they were Lotfitka, but they had not wanted to tell me they were Bergitka – often thought to be the poorest and lowest class Roma).

 

My Grandmother Babka and her sister Lemija were more commonly known as Doll and Leah. They had several brothers and sisters – Dinah, Elias, Zorana, Džordže (George), and Anelja (Annie). My grandfather is harder to trace – most of his family don’t have birth certificates and all have the same surname (his mother had the same name as his father before they got married. Except that my family changed theirs, so I discount claims of close-relatives marrying).

Some time before I was born they settled in the North of England in a small town. There were many other Romani/Romany/Romanichal/Pavee families already there (Weatheritt, Burnett, Buckland, Lovell, Faa, Smith, and Boswells to name a few). The council didn’t really welcome “Gypsies” and forced families to settle. A lot of the town consisted of “council housing” where our families lived.

My mother’s parents weren’t so open with their heritage, though they’re Bergitka Romani who came by way of Scotland. My grandfather, Robert had several brothers and sisters – Lindis, Cicely, Ina, and Marja – and my grandmother was one of seven children – Willim, Vanessa, Elenor, Christia, Annya, and Matthew. They didn’t really talk about their heritage though. Just what they did – for example, my grandmother was scrubbing floors for a “rich” family by age 9 and my grandfather fought in the army in WWII. They were longer settled than my father’s family for sure.

Neither side of my family were highly educated. My father’s side were largely illiterate, even my father and his brothers didn’t finish beyond about age 10 or 11. Both my grandfathers fought in WWII and learned some things then. It was hard for them, because a lot of our European relatives were sent to camps and many died. They never really talked about it at all, especially my grandmother who lost many family members.

Our family was quite large and mostly lived in the same town. A couple of relatives still travelled, but mostly we were settled. In the summer we’d go visit those relatives in different places, or we’d go travelling fruit and crop picking. Generally, we picked peas and strawberries (sometimes also oranges, apples, lemons and other tree fruit) for commercial farmers, and then we picked wild mushrooms, raspberries, blackberries, elderflower/berries, beans, rosehips, and sloes for ourselves. When I was 10 years old, we made a pilgrimage to Saintes Maries de la Mer in the south of France. It is definitely something that I will never forget. I remember big parties and dancing all the time.

There were some other, not so happy things about my childhood. The times my grandparents or other relatives were evicted; the time my uncle was killed because he was a “Gypsy”; the alcoholism that ran in our family; the times I was beaten up because of it or asked to leave a shop or accused of stealing.

I don’t like to think about those things though. I like to remember the happy times and all the stories and songs and togetherness.

So, this is the first installment of my story. I’ll write more next time~ Let me know if there’s anything you’re particularly interested in!!

 

3 Comments

  1. Ronald Lee responded to your recent post. I have little doubt that you understand that honor, but just in case http://www.kopachi.com/

    Ron is a giant. He writes to me occasionally, each time new cause for celebration. He and Ian moved the posts magnificently in years past (I will send you two essays Hancock sent me). Now our elders, one can hope only that they live each to see an exit to this dolorous time. Ron’s comment carries subtext that he rightly considers you worthy inheritor of the flame. Your work is no longer hidden under a leaf. For my part, I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you.

    Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, that flame also remains alive …

    czatko

    • Qristina

      I was more than honoured that he responded to my post. I felt a bit… confused by it. I never know how to react, I suppose. I’ve been plugging away with my words for so long and now people are reading them I feel… I don’t really know what I feel to be honest. Surprised? For sure. Scared? A little. Scared that my words aren’t good enough; or that they’re wrong; or that I’ll be judged and rejected on their basis. But, I’m honest – deeply honest – and I feel that’s all I can be.

      I am also deeply honoured by your support. Thank you, it means a great deal to me.

  2. From Ian Hancock:

    Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Romanies
    and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council

    IAN HANCOCK

    E Aušvicate meras bokhatar, phanden amen ande baraki bare. And’o Aušvic bengesko si o kapo. Kathende šaj rakhas manrro. O dživipen si kade dur, o meripen paše … (In Auschwitz we are dying from hunger, they imprison us in huge barracks; in Auschwitz the kapo is cruel, and nowhere can we find bread. Life seems so far away and death so near . . .)
    Romani prison song.

    The Other is not my enemy.
    Elie Wiesel.

    Jews and Roma have stood as perpetual outsiders for as long as they have been a presence in the West. Both populations came into Europe from Asia, for centuries neither inhabited a homeland or possessed a national government, economy or militia, both maintained social and religious barriers that kept the outside world at a distance, both were shunned by Christendom and both employed an “alien” language for what were considered suspicious and dangerous purposes. And both have been the prime targets of scapegoating and horrific efforts to eradicate them. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Europeans perceived a close connection between the two, some even suggesting that Roma were in fact Jews, who had finally emerged from hiding in the forests where they had taken refuge following the medieval pogroms1.
    The actual relationship between our two peoples is a close and complicated one, a complication that has been greatly exacerbated by the post-1945 approaches to placing the Holocaust into the historical record.
    In my own writings I have consistently interpreted capital-H-Holocaust to mean the implementation of the directive of the “Final Solution,” viz. genocidal action intended to eradicate “contaminants” from the Nordic gene pool in the creation of an intended master race. There were only two such directives: The Final Solution of the Jewish Question and The Final Solution of the Gypsy Question2. Not one other group targeted in the Third Reich was slated for extermination, nor was the focus of a genocidal “final solution.” This was recognized over fifty years ago by Joseph Tenenbaum, who defined the Final Solution as the “physical extermination of Jews and Gypsies in the great death camps” (1956:373) and called the German persecution of Romanies “one of the major mysteries of Nazi racialism” (1956: 399).
    While almost all of what we know about the fate of the Romani victims of the Holocaust (called the Porrajmos “the devouring” in the Romani language) is the result of Jewish scholarship, the way in which it has been interpreted has differed widely. Some researchers, such as the late Sybil Milton, have argued forcefully for its inclusion in the definition (1995); others such as Gunther Lewy have gone so far as to maintain that not only were Romanies not a part of the Holocaust, but that their treatment by the Nazis did not even qualify as genocide (2000). Nowhere has this polarization become more publicly apparent than with the creation of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
    The Romani people lost perhaps its greatest champion with the passing of Simon Wiesenthal in 2005. Keenly aware of the fate of the Romanies in Hitler’s Third Reich, he was the driving force in getting the first Romani representative appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. For that he must be remembered. That fate was simply yet eloquently described by Roman Herzog, Federal President of Germany in a public address on March 16, 1997:

    The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial mania, with the same premeditation, with the same wish for the systematic and total extermination as the genocide of the Jews. Complete families from the very young to the very old were systematically murdered within the entire sphere of influence of the National Socialists,

    and as Miriam Novitch of the Ghetto Fighters’ House in Israel put it, “the motives invoked to justify the death of the Gypsies were the same as those ordering the murder of the Jews, and the methods employed for the one were identical with those employed for the other.” Despite these facts of history, it took seven years after its creation for the sixty-five member Holocaust Council to appoint even one Romani representative.

    In the late 1970s, the advisory board responsible for detailing the mission of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum stated that “This museum belongs at the center of American life because America, as a democratic civilization, is the enemy of racism and its ultimate expression, genocide.” Raphael Lemkin (1944:249-251), who originally coined the term, had referred to the genocide of the “gypsies” even before the Second World War was over, though the incongruity of this has not resonated with Washington. We still have no place on the Council.
    The Council was established in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, and to raise funds to build the Museum in our nation’s capital; Elie Wiesel was appointed to chair it. At that time no Romani representation was considered for inclusion, although as a federal institution supported in part by the American taxpayers, the new Council’s policy of selectivity was unconstitutional.
    Wiesel has steadfastly maintained an exclusivist position regarding the definition of the word Holocaust, interpreting it as referring to the fate of the Jewish victims alone; the word has never once been used in the Council’s or the Museum’s documentation in connection with Roma, not even in the program for the Romani Day of Remembrance, which took place on 16 September 1986. The U.S. Government Printing Office lists the booklet produced following that event In Memory of the Gypsy Victims of Nazi Genocide under the Library of Congress subject heading “Holocaust: Jewish,” and the Council’s circular announcing its national writing contest on the Holocaust refers to “The six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and the millions of others.” It was only following Elie Wiesel’s resignation as its chairman that Romani representation became a reality, and that happened because of Simon Wiesenthal’s intervention.
    At the beginning of January, 2007, an article appeared in the New York Observer by Philip Weiss entitled “Forgiving Elie Wiesel, somewhat, on his opposition to Gypsies in Holocaust Museum.” Weiss was moved to write this after reading a passage in Elie Wiesel’s book Night; it was quickly followed by a number of responses most, though not all, of which were generally critical of Wiesel, and one of which queried Mr. Weiss’ presumption as a non-Romani in taking it upon himself to “forgive” Wiesel on behalf of the Romani people.
    There is reason to believe that Professor Wiesel did have a particular and very personal motive for not promoting the representation of the Romani victims during his own term of office on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, stemming from the painful experience of seeing his own father knocked to the ground in an encounter with a Romani kapo at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the animosity towards Romanies it engendered in him. The passage in Night that Philip Weiss refers to, describes that exchange in some detail:

    A gypsy deportee was in charge of us.
    My father was suddenly taken with colic. He got up and went towards the gypsy, asking politely in German “Excuse me, can you tell me where the lavatories are?”
    The gypsy looked him up and down slowly, from head to foot. As if he wanted to convince himself that this man was really a creature of flesh and bone, a living being with a body and a belly. Then, as if he had suddenly woken up from a heavy doze, he dealt my father such a clout that he fell to the ground, crawling back to his place on all fours . . . Yesterday, I should have sunk my nails into the criminal’s flesh. Had I changed so much then? So quickly! I thought only, I shall never forgive them for that.

    Whether it involved “such a clout” and “beating up,” or—as he said in recounting the same incident later—“simply a slap,” them here refers to Gypsies and not to the Germans, as he made clear thirty years later in an interview with Bill Moyers entitled “Facing Hate,” which was televised over PBS in December 1991. In response to Moyers’ question “Did you feel hated when you arrived at Auschwitz? Did you think ‘they hate me – why do they hate me’?” he replied

    “Not from the Germans so much. The Germans didn’t even hate us, because you hate human beings. We weren’t human, in their eyes. I felt hated by the anti-Semites in the camp.”
    “Other prisoners?”
    “I think I write about it; the night we arrived I have seen a prisoner beating up my father, the first time it happened. And later on, I was beaten mainly by prisoners, not by Germans. Germans arranged the killing, the murder, and so I hate, because there were anti-Semites even there.”
    “Your father was beaten because he was Jewish?”
    “Naturally.”
    “Just . . . ”
    “Just because he was Jewish.”
    “And what did you . . . can you remember what you were thinking as you saw your father being . . . “
    “It plagues me to this day. I remember, I felt like running to that man, to that kapo who beat him up. I should have done that, but it was two hours after our arrival and I remember, I write about it in Night, was a kapo, so he went to the kapo, saying ‘can I go to the toilet?’ and all of us, there were hundreds and hundreds of people there, lined up, and the kapo measured him up with his look, and gave him simply a slap in the face, only one, and my father fell to the ground. It lasted a second; my father got up and came back.”

    Elie Wiesel’s reaction was quite understandable at a human level, but totally unsupportable and unacceptable in his policy-making capacity. It hasn’t been edited out of the most recent (2003) edition of his book, a book that is required reading in very many of our high schools.
    Having by now learnt that there was to be no reaching out to the Romani community with any offer of recognition on the part of the Council—which nevertheless had both African American and Armenian representation among its members for, as Michael Berenbaum has said, “The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [ . . . is] not a Jewish institution, but a government institution” (2009:1)—a concerted effort was made by some Romani leaders to initiate a dialogue with the Council’s administrators. Their general attitude was either mocking—its chairman Seymour Siegel told The Washington Post that Romani efforts to obtain representation were “cockamamie,” and also told a reporter from the Dallas Times Herald that Romani spokespersons were “cranks” and “eccentrics”—or else patronizing: acting executive director Micah Naftalin told The Washington Post “the problem with Gypsies is that they’re not well schooled. They’re quite naïve and, to some extent, distrustful.” All of these statements are reproduced in the relevant newspaper articles (Leslie Doolittle who wrote the Dallas Times Herald piece told me she was warned by a Council staff member to be careful when talking to me, because I was a “wild man”).
    In 1984 a group of Romani Americans staged a demonstration in Washington, wearing concentration-camp uniforms and carrying placards claiming racism; this protest was covered—with a photograph—by The Washington Post3. It took this protest, and a threatened discrimination suit, finally to get media attention. It was in this same year that Wiesenthal wrote a letter to the Council (dated December 14th) criticizing the omission of Romanies from its program, in which he stated “The Gypsies had been murdered in a proportion similar to the Jews, about 80% of them in the area of the countries which were occupied by the Nazis.”
    On September 16th, 1986, five years before the Moyers interview, we were allowed an official Romani Holocaust remembrance ceremony in Washington. Elie Wiesel made a very brief appearance at that event, where he told us “I couldn’t be here today, and yet I couldn’t not be here . . . we have not done enough to listen to your voice of anguish. We have not done enough to make other people listen to your voice of sadness. I can promise you we shall do whatever we can from now on to listen better” (“I had to go, I had to stay, in Rio . . . ”). Despite this assurance, Romani efforts to have even just one permanent representative appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council continued to be frustrated. Instead, I was given a window-dressing position as “special advisor on Romani issues to the chairman,” though my advice was never sought nor did we ever meet.
    Apart from one brief public encounter, we never in fact spoke at all. That happened in July, 1988, when I was invited to present a paper entitled “Uniqueness of the victims” at the Remembering for the Future: Responses to the Holocaust conference at Oxford University. I was accompanied by a gentleman named Leland Robison who recently reminded me of a startling confrontation I had with Professor Wiesel at that event—though I’d scarcely forgotten it; it remains very clear in my mind to this day. Professor Wiesel, surrounded by cameras and journalists, was being interviewed on the university grounds. During a break between questioning, I approached him and said “Professor Wiesel, please don’t forget the Gypsies!” He turned aggressively towards me, glared, and barked “Mister Hancock! I have read what you have written! And I don’t like it! I don’t like it at all!!” and turned away. He never did mention the Gypsies. He was presumably referring to my piece on “uniqueness” in Shmate: A Journal of Progressive Jewish Thought, the only article on the Holocaust I had in print at that time, and the one in which my correspondence with him was reproduced.
    Nineteen eighty-six was also the year that Romani activist groups stepped up their effort to gain recognition. Simon Wiesenthal drew attention to this in an article published at that time entitled “Tragedy of the Gypsies.” Wiesel’s response was that “it’s not my prerogative; it’s the White House’s prerogative,” although it is well known that to a large extent the Office of Presidential Appointments takes its recommendations directly from the various agencies it serves. The Washington Post article also reported that

    The most likely Gypsy candidate now would appear to be Dr. Ian Hancock, an English professor at The University of Texas. “He is the only Gypsy I know of with an academic background,” Wiesel said, “although there must be more.”

    I was not a U.S. citizen at that time, however, and was therefore ineligible for the position.
    The situation changed in 1987 when, thanks to our efforts together with California congressman the late Tom Lantos, William A. Duna became the first Romani representative to be appointed to the Council, later to be replaced by myself once I had acquired American citizenship.
    The possibility that during his term as its president Professor Elie Wiesel himself may have been actively blocking attempts to gain representation comes to light in the pages of Simon Wiesenthal’s book Justice Not Vengeance, where he expresses his dismay at the Council’s attitude towards Romanies:

    On this council sat voting representatives not only of the Jews but of Poles, Russians and Ukrainians—but not Gypsies. Efforts in that connection by the International Romani Union were in vain. To help them, I wrote a lengthy letter to Elie Wiesel the president of the Council. A few months later I received an answer from his secretary that the appointment of members depended on President Reagan. The International Romani Union and The Society for Threatened Peoples thereupon wrote long letters to President Reagan—which ended up with Elie Wiesel. In the end, I turned to Wiesel again, this time with the suggestion that one of the more than thirty Jewish members of the Memorial Council might be replaced by a Gypsy. To this letter I received no answer at all.
    When I subsequently published this ‘correspondence’ in our annual report, because I felt the attitude of the Holocaust Memorial Council to be unjust, I received a number of copies of other letters in which all kinds of people had approached Wiesel with the request that he should support the claims of the Gypsies. But the only thing that the Holocaust Memorial Council ever did for the Gypsies was a kind of memorial hour in September, 1986. Only after Elie Wiesel had given up his presidency were we informed that the newly-formed board had invited a Gypsy representative . . . onto the Council.

    One of the documents forwarded to Simon Wiesenthal was a copy of a four page letter from myself to Elie Wiesel, which I wrote in my capacity as Representative for the Romani people on the UN Social and Economic Council and in the Department of Public Information and to UNICEF, a position I held until 2009. It was reproduced in Shmate, mentioned above, and was dated 25 November 1987. The three-line reply from Professor Wiesel, dated the following 10 January 1988 is included in the same magazine, and read in its entirety

    Please forgive the delay. I have been overwhelmed with work. Thank you for your letter. I hope you know how much your words mean to me.

    During the period in which I served the Council, Elie Wiesel was not a member. He returned during the last year of my four-year term, at which time I was not reappointed. In 2011 we still have no representation on the Council.
    Many writers on the death camps have described the atrocities committed by the kapos. In her book Return to Auschwitz Kitty Hart describes the kapos in the concentration camps:

    The vast majority of prisoners were under supervision at all times, but not always by the people you expected. Everywhere, all the time, prisoners were to be found aping our oppressors . . . every work party had its Kapo (from the Italian capo, or head), quite possibly a fellow Pole or Jew, who showed admiration for German discipline by whipping and kicking you. Anybody might attack you and beat you up, and indeed it was expected of the prisoner officials.

    There were no doubt the Romani kapos Wiesel describes, who brutalized Jews, Romanies, homosexuals and everybody else indiscriminately. There were likewise Jewish and Polish kapos who inflicted the same terrible cruelties upon those in their charge, including their fellow Jews and Poles and Romanies. But we know too of Jewish inmates who were physicians, and who as a result were forced to participate in deadly medical experiments upon prisoners. These were people caught in the jaws of hell, whose own lives and the lives of their families would have been forfeited had they refused. As Kitty Hart said, among the inmates “nobody was to be trusted; anyone could be a thief, a traitor, a spy.” The controversial nationalist party president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman (1989)4 writes of the “participation of Jews in the liquidation of Gypsies” in Uštica in 1942, a containment camp for Romani, Serb and Jewish prisoners south-east of Jasenovac in Yugoslavia. Should Romanies, then, “never forgive”? The histories of both our peoples and the situations each has had to confront and deal with are too tightly intertwined to separate. Simon Wiesenthal has himself written on the theme of forgiveness (1997), and a humbling lesson may be learnt from Eva Mozes-Kor, who wrote that she “forgives Mengele and all the other doctors that conducted appalling experiments on me and my twin sister Miriam” in Auschwitz. “I forgive those who killed my parents,” she said, “[the ones] who stole my family from me, who took away my childhood and turned my life into hell. I exonerate those who did the things that have been with me, night after night, for the past 60 years.” The French say that to understand is to forgive, and understanding—and accepting—the true details of the fate of Romanies in the Holocaust yet remains to be achieved.
    Resistance to this dates from the time of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, when not one Romani was called to testify in his own behalf. The United Nations too did nothing then to assist Romanies nor, sadly, were Romanies mentioned anywhere in the documentation of the U.S. War Refugee Board. This is all the more puzzling since the situation was known to the War Crimes Tribunal in Washington as early as 1946, the files of which contain the text of the meeting between Justice Minister Otto Thierack and Josef Goebbels on 14 September 1942, which stated plainly that

    With regard to the destruction of asocial life, Dr. Goebbels is of the opinion that the following groups should be exterminated: Jews and Gypsies unconditionally, Poles who have served 3 to 4 years of penal servitude, and Czechs and Germans who are sentenced to death . . . The idea of exterminating them by labor is best (USGPO, 1946: 496. Emphasis added).

    The Tribunal’s then Chief Prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz, founder of Pace University’s Peace Center in New York, did not recommend that the U.S. War Refugee Board include Romanies in their compensation payments to survivors, which amounted to several hundred million dollars. “Gypsies” are not mentioned anywhere in their documentation. Mr. Ferencz never replied to several requests for clarification, and together with Elie Wiesel, whose Foundation for Humanity offers the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics, and it is too late now to call upon him to explain his motives regarding Romanies.
    During my four years as a Council member, I was invisible. William Duna would call me after each of his own visits to Washington, always shaken and hurt. “I thought I was a decent person” he told me once; “but I come back from these meetings feeling completely degraded.” On one occasion, at a January 1991 meeting of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council’s Annual Days of Remembrance planning committee, when asked by Bill Duna when Romanies would ever be included as well, chairman Benjamin Meed replied “ask me again in about twenty years.” Romani leader John Megel, who lived in Washington DC and who would frequently visit the Council offices to try to speak with the staff there told me three weeks before he died of a heart attack “those people are killing me.”
    My own experience matched Duna’s—members were for the most part distant; some were even openly hostile. During the coffee breaks I stood alone. A couple of fellow members would tell me privately that it was shameful the way I was being treated, but they would never speak up publicly in my behalf. I was put onto two committees, Holocaust Education and Acquisitions, but was never invited to a single meeting of the latter, and was not once consulted at the former. When I spoke up about school curricula, I was completely ignored. Instead, a non-Romani historian, David Crowe of Elon College, was their go-to person for matters concerning Romanies. A film of the Council’s Days of Remembrance ceremony held annually in the Capitol Rotunda and distributed commercially had the section deleted which showed a young Romani girl lighting a commemorative candle on a menorah for the Romanies who perished in the Holocaust. Our own privately-filmed version provides evidence of the deletion.
    Eleven Clinton appointees were replaced by the Bush administration, but no new Romanies were selected to fill any seats. We have a rightful place in Holocaust history, but are being excluded. While new administrations routinely replace government personnel with members from their own party, the prevailing policy is to appoint anyone, regardless of political affiliation, if a party member cannot be found and a need remains. During the entire Bush administration, no effort was made to appoint a Romani American to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. After protesting this for the n-th time, I received an e-mail from Chairman Fred Zeidman (dated April 5th, 2007) telling me that they were relying on me to find them someone, though I myself was not invited back. The Council and Museum are not even clear about what to call us, referring on occasion to “Sinti and Romani”.5
    In my capacity as a former Council appointee I wrote to President Obama urging an appointment, but received a form-letter reply dated 20 May 2010 thanking me for “contacting me and providing your thoughtful suggestions.” A letter to the Director of The Office of Presidential Appointments sent in March, 2011, received no reply at all.
    In 1993 I was invited to be a member of the Roma Advisory Council of the Princeton-based Project on Ethnic Relations, a position I gladly accepted. In this capacity I went to Europe a number of times, including attendance and presentation at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights meetings in Warsaw. I wrote a report on Roma and the Media at the request of the Project, which was published in 1996. I asked Livia Plaks, who is Director of the Project on Ethnic Relations, to intervene with her uncle Elie Wiesel to try to resolve our differences. Whether because of this or not, I was dropped as a member of the PER board very shortly afterwards.
    On 27 January 2009 the United Nations held its annual observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust in the General Assembly Hall in New York. No Romani representation was sought or included. Requests asking why from a number of Romani agencies, including the Union Romani and the IRU to both Ms. Mona Gillet of the Department of Public Information (with which it is affiliated) and to Ms. Kimberly Mann, manager of the United Nations Holocaust Outreach Programme, remained unanswered. The one response that was received was a reminder that the UN had underwritten an exhibit on Roma at the Hungarian Mission, and had hosted the reception of a Romani delegation earlier in the year. The theme of that memorial ceremony was “An Authentic Basis for Hope: Holocaust Remembrance and Education” and the keynote speaker was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council; Elie Wiesel was among the noted participants. At the same event one year later, a Romani man from Europe, Andrzej Mirga, was flown in to say a few words; no American Roma were approached. The same has been true in 2010 and 2011.
    In September 2001, the BBC broadcast a report on the worsening social and economic condition of Romanies. It repeated the Council of Europe’s “blistering condemnation of Europe’s treatment of the Roma Gypsy community, saying they are subject to racism, discrimination and violence,” and included the United Nations’ statement that Romanies “pose Europe’s most serious human rights problem.” The concern shown by the United Nations in 2001, however, seems to have fizzled out by January, 2009, when it held its “Changing Face of Race” symposium in New York just five days before its Holocaust commemoration. Its promotional literature read “Racial discrimination and ethnic violence has, in many places, grown in magnitude as well as complexity. But in others, hopeful signs begin to emerge that the dangers of discrimination and intolerance are beginning to be better understood and more assertively challenged.” No Roma were invited to participate or even attend that event.
    Attitudes such as these are very disturbing and hurtful, and the literature is replete with them. Edward Alexander said that recognizing Romanies as victims of the Holocaust was both “ignorance and arrogance” (1990:13); William Safire called it a “mistaken notion” (1983:12), Assemblyman Dov Hikind told the press that “The Holocaust is a uniquely Jewish event . . . [the other victims] are not in the same category as Jewish people with regards to the Holocaust . . . it is so vastly different” (Egbert, 2009:1), while Yehuda Bauer has said that “the whole Gypsy ‘problem’ was for Himmler and most other Nazis only a minor irritant” (1994:446), and “the whole Gypsy problem was of marginal importance to the Nazis” (2001: 62). In his book The World Must Know, Michael Berenbaum wrote “[a]t the center of the tragedy of the Holocaust is the murder of European Jews. Near that center is the murder of the Romanies” (1993:2). It is probably because our own fate comes so uncomfortably close to that of the Jews that we are denied the representation given to Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Armenians and others who have received Council appointments. Wiesel’s distancing of our experience from that of his own people emerged again in an article entitled “Eli Wiesel: Gypsies’ deportation from France unlike Jewish WWII case” that appeared in the Israel News on 29 August 2010:

    Jewish author and Nobel Prize laureate Eli Wiesel said that the deportation of gypsies [sic] from France cannot be compared to the transportation of Jews to Nazi death camps during WWII.
    Wiesel called on French President Nicolas Sarkozy to reverse his decision but stressed that any comparison with the Jewish case was not in place (AFP).

    In August, 2010 The Jewish Chronicle reported that

    Elie Wiesel has condemned the French government’s decision to expel Roma immigrants but cautioned that a comparison with the Nazi round-ups was not appropriate.
    The Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor described the repatriation of Roma people from France to Romania and Bulgaria as unacceptable.
    As a former refugee, Mr Wiesel expressed his solidarity with the Roma and called on French president Nicolas Sarkozy to stop the crackdown.
    But he also said: “It is necessary to be careful with the language. These Roma are sent to Romania, to Hungary, not to Auschwitz. He added: “One doesn’t have the right to trivialise events, memories and souvenirs.”
    Robert Le Gall, Archbishop of Toulouse, had likened the situation to the expulsion of Jews from occupied France during the Holocaust.

    This exclusionist position is evidently more American than European. In April, 2010, JTA, the The Global News Service of the Jewish People, released the following bulletin from Brno, in the Czech Republic:

    BRNO TO ERECT HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
    (JTA) — A commission has been set up to erect a memorial to Jewish and Roma Holocaust victims from the city of Brno, in the Czech Republic. Some 12,000 Jews and Roma, or Gypsies, from the city were killed in Nazi-run concentration camps during World War II. The commission is currently being established by representatives of the Jewish and Roma communities, according to the Czech Press Agency. There is currently no memorial to victims of the Holocaust in Brno.

    But in the same month, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum announced only

    WHY WE REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST
    From April 11 through April 18, the Museum is leading the national annual Days of Remembrance commemorating the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust as well as the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution.

    Given the indifference that has overwhelmingly typified attitudes towards the genocide of the Romani people at the hands of the Nazis, Simon Wiesenthal’s effort becomes all the more significant to us. Had he not brought attention to the exclusion of Romanies from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, we would not have won the representation in that organization that we enjoyed for the years between 1987 and 2000. We have very many Jewish friends and supporters, but his name stands highest among them.

    Addendum on Numbers6

    Michael Berenbaum, in a better position than most to know the details of the Romani Holocaust, wrote that

    Gypsies shared much, but not all of the horrors assigned to Jews. Gypsies were killed in some countries but not others . . . Even though the Gypsies were subject to gassing and other forms of extermination, the number of Gypsies was not as vast . . . . In contrast, all Jews lived under an imminent death sentence of death (Roth & Berenbaum, p. 33).

    Jews were killed in some countries but not others too, and the number of Romanies was “not as vast” because (according to the Nazis’ own census conducted by Behrendt in 1939) there were nine times as many Jews as Romanies to start with at the outbreak of The Second World War, so obviously the numbers were greater. Steinmetz’ argument that “numbers decide” (1966:19) would only be valid if the number of Jews and the number of Romanies had been equal to begin with. But when we discuss genocide we must do so in the context of the destruction of entire peoples, and in terms of overall percentage, the losses of the Romanies was equally “vast.” If there had been seventeen point four million Romanies in 1939 (the government’s estimate of the number of Jews in that year), the Nazis would surely have murdered six million too; if there were only two Wisians on the planet and just one were murdered, that would be half of the Wisian population.
    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s own definition of the Holocaust seems to agree with Steinmetz in regarding numbers as the main criterion:

    The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims—six million were murdered.

    The question of the numbers of Romanies who were killed in the Holocaust is a vexed one. Given the nature of their mode of life, no reliable estimate of the pre-war European Romani population exists. Similarly, the circumstances of their dispatch at the hands of the Nazis make this a question which can never be fully answered. I dealt with this in some detail in Hancock (1988b), but rely on König’s statement that

    The count of half a million Sinti and Roma murdered between 1939 and 1945 is too low to be tenable; for example in the Soviet Union many of the Romani dead were listed under non-specific labels such as Liquidierungsübrigen [remainder to be liquidated], ‘hangers-on’ and ‘partisans’. . .The final number of the dead Sinti and Roma may never be determined. We do not know precisely how many were brought into the concentration camps; not every concentration camp produced statistical material; moreover, Sinti and Roma are often listed under the heading of “remainder to be liquidated,” and do not appear in the statistics for Gypsies (König, 1989:87-89).
    An article entitled “Dutch World War II deaths higher than recorded” (Dutch News nl for Tuesday 9 October 2007) reported that

    [t]he number of Dutch people who died in World War II is considerably higher than the accepted figure to date according to researchers at Utrecht University, reports ANP news service on Monday. The researchers say not 210,000 but 280,000 Dutch people died in the war. The discrepancy comes from the statistics of those who were deported. These are recorded as ‘emigrants’ while in reality they were Jews and Gypsies who were transported to the gas chambers in German concentration camps.

    In the eastern territories, in Russia especially, Romani deaths were sometimes counted into the records under the heading of Jewish deaths. The Memorial Book for the Romanies who perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau also discusses the means of killing Romanies:

    Unlike the Jews, the overwhelming majority of whom were murdered in the gas chambers at Birkenau, Belzec, Treblinka and all the other mass extermination camps, the Gypsies outside the Reich were massacred at many places, sometimes only a few at a time, and sometimes by the hundreds. In the General-gouvernement [the eastern territories] alone, 150 sites of Gypsy massacres are known. Research on the Jewish Holocaust can rely on comparison of pre- and post-war census data to help determine the numbers of victims in the countries concerned. However, this is not possible for the Gypsies, as it was only rarely that they were included in national census data. Therefore it is an impossible task to find the actual number of Gypsy victims in Poland, Yugoslavia, White Ruthenia and the Ukraine, the lands that probably had the greatest numbers of victims (State Museum: 1993:2 [emphasis added]).

    This means that statements such as “somewhere between 20 and 50 percent of the entire population of European Romanies was killed by the Nazis” (Berenbaum, 1993:129), and the low figure of 250,000 Romani deaths displayed at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum must be considered underestimations. It would mean that, given their highest estimate, there were only 500,000 Roma in all of Europe before 1933. Several published estimates (referenced in Hancock, 1988c) put the figure in excess of one million deaths, and even thirty years ago Pauwels & Bergier listed it at 750,000 (1960:430). That perhaps an even higher number of Romanies were murdered in the fields and forests where they lived than were murdered in the camps, has been recognized for some time. A reference to this appeared in the (London) Financial Times in an article by Tyler, who noted that “between 500,000 and 750,000 were killed in the German death camps during the war, and another million may have been shot outside” (1994:3). New information is reaching us all the time which is pushing the death toll upwards. Dr. Paul Polansky of the Iowa-based Czech Historical Research Center recently published a report on his discovery of a hitherto unrecorded concentration camp at Lety in the Czech Republic, which was used for the disposal of Romanies. Now used as a pig farm, Lety and a chain of other camps processed mainly Roma, killing them on the spot or sending them on to Auschwitz. Numbers from here, like those from the Romani camps in northern Italy, have not yet been figured into the estimate (Strandberg, 1994:1; Pape, 1997). We should nevertheless rejoice in the numbers of those who lived, and not glorify those of the dead in some horrible body-count; but if we are obliged to argue with numbers and quantity in this peculiarly American way, then let us look at the situation from the other side, and count the Romani survivors of the Holocaust, only five thousand of whom are listed in the official register of the Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma in Heidelberg, and only four of whom have been located in the United States, where over eighty thousand Jewish survivors live today out of 350,000 still living world-wide. My respected colleague Donald Kenrick, co-author of The Destiny of Europe’s Romanies, the first full-length treatment of the Porrajmos, has claimed with some gladness that his own research points to the lowest figures for Romani deaths by 1945; in his new Romanies Under the Swastika (Kenrick, 1995), he estimates that they did not exceed 250,000, and in an article which appeared in The Jewish Quarterly he places it even lower, at 200,000 (Kenrick, 1994-5:47). In his 1995 book The Holocaust for Beginners, Stuart Justman places us at the end of his list and puts it even lower:

    In addition to the Jews, the Nazis murdered prisoners of war, innumerable Russian civilians, political prisoners, common criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, vagrants and some 100,000 gypsies, among others (1995:11).

    If such estimates can be demonstrated as fact, then surely this is the dialogue we should be striving for, not a competition over whose losses were greater. Probably the most reliable statement regarding numbers was made at the first U.S. Conference on Romanies in the Holocaust which took place at Drew University in November, 1995, when Sybil Milton, senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Research Institute in Washington, stated that “[w]e believe that something between half a million and a million and a half Romanies were murdered in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe between 1939 and 1945.” Significantly, the same figure appeared again in a November 2001 report issued by the International Organization for Migration (the IOM), a body designated to locate and compensate surviving Romani Holocaust victims. The brief states that “[r]ecent research indicates that up to 1.5 million Roma perished during the Nazi era.” It is certainly a fact that interviews in the past four years by trained Romani personnel who have obtained testimonials at first-hand from claimants throughout central and eastern Europe have already shed startling new light on this issue: in Greece, fifty Romanies were murdered for each German casualty. In Croatia between 80,000 and 100,000 Romanies are estimated to have perished at the hands of the Ustaša, mostly at the Jasenovac camp. The number of Romani survivors is far in excess of anything previously estimated. By extrapolation, and from the same eyewitness accounts documented in recent years, the numbers of Romanies who perished at the hands of the Nazis has also been grossly underestimated. Eventually, these revised figures will find their way into the public record.

    Notes

    1This is still believed to be true by some; see Sándor, 2004.

    2The earliest Nazi document referring to “the introduction of the total solution to the Gypsy problem on either a national or an international level” was drafted under the direction of State Secretary Hans Pfundtner of the Reichs Ministry of the Interior in March, 1936, and the first specific reference to “the final solution of the Gypsy question” was made by Adolf Würth of the Racial Hygiene Research Unit in September, 1937. The first official Party statement to refer to the endgültige Lösung der Zigeunerfrage was issued in March, 1938, signed by Himmler.

    3Reproduced in Hancock, 2002, p. 50.

    4Tudjman attended the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington at the very surprising invitation of its directors.

    5The Romani people are divided into many subgroups—the Roma, the Sinti, the Romungre, the Manush, the Romanichals and so on. All are Romanies. The use of “Sinti and Roma” as an overarching label originates with the Sinti Romanies who wish to emphasize their distinctiveness from other groups. If the word Gypsy is used, it should be written with a proper noun’s capital initial G.

    6Adapted from Hancock, in Karanth (2010), pp. 226-263.

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    Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Romanies
    and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council

    IAN HANCOCK

    E Aušvicate meras bokhatar, phanden amen ande baraki bare. And’o Aušvic bengesko si o kapo. Kathende šaj rakhas manrro. O dživipen si kade dur, o meripen paše … (In Auschwitz we are dying from hunger, they imprison us in huge barracks; in Auschwitz the kapo is cruel, and nowhere can we find bread. Life seems so far away and death so near . . .)
    Romani prison song.

    The Other is not my enemy.
    Elie Wiesel.

    Jews and Roma have stood as perpetual outsiders for as long as they have been a presence in the West. Both populations came into Europe from Asia, for centuries neither inhabited a homeland or possessed a national government, economy or militia, both maintained social and religious barriers that kept the outside world at a distance, both were shunned by Christendom and both employed an “alien” language for what were considered suspicious and dangerous purposes. And both have been the prime targets of scapegoating and horrific efforts to eradicate them. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Europeans perceived a close connection between the two, some even suggesting that Roma were in fact Jews, who had finally emerged from hiding in the forests where they had taken refuge following the medieval pogroms1.
    The actual relationship between our two peoples is a close and complicated one, a complication that has been greatly exacerbated by the post-1945 approaches to placing the Holocaust into the historical record.
    In my own writings I have consistently interpreted capital-H-Holocaust to mean the implementation of the directive of the “Final Solution,” viz. genocidal action intended to eradicate “contaminants” from the Nordic gene pool in the creation of an intended master race. There were only two such directives: The Final Solution of the Jewish Question and The Final Solution of the Gypsy Question2. Not one other group targeted in the Third Reich was slated for extermination, nor was the focus of a genocidal “final solution.” This was recognized over fifty years ago by Joseph Tenenbaum, who defined the Final Solution as the “physical extermination of Jews and Gypsies in the great death camps” (1956:373) and called the German persecution of Romanies “one of the major mysteries of Nazi racialism” (1956: 399).
    While almost all of what we know about the fate of the Romani victims of the Holocaust (called the Porrajmos “the devouring” in the Romani language) is the result of Jewish scholarship, the way in which it has been interpreted has differed widely. Some researchers, such as the late Sybil Milton, have argued forcefully for its inclusion in the definition (1995); others such as Gunther Lewy have gone so far as to maintain that not only were Romanies not a part of the Holocaust, but that their treatment by the Nazis did not even qualify as genocide (2000). Nowhere has this polarization become more publicly apparent than with the creation of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
    The Romani people lost perhaps its greatest champion with the passing of Simon Wiesenthal in 2005. Keenly aware of the fate of the Romanies in Hitler’s Third Reich, he was the driving force in getting the first Romani representative appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. For that he must be remembered. That fate was simply yet eloquently described by Roman Herzog, Federal President of Germany in a public address on March 16, 1997:

    The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial mania, with the same premeditation, with the same wish for the systematic and total extermination as the genocide of the Jews. Complete families from the very young to the very old were systematically murdered within the entire sphere of influence of the National Socialists,

    and as Miriam Novitch of the Ghetto Fighters’ House in Israel put it, “the motives invoked to justify the death of the Gypsies were the same as those ordering the murder of the Jews, and the methods employed for the one were identical with those employed for the other.” Despite these facts of history, it took seven years after its creation for the sixty-five member Holocaust Council to appoint even one Romani representative.

    In the late 1970s, the advisory board responsible for detailing the mission of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum stated that “This museum belongs at the center of American life because America, as a democratic civilization, is the enemy of racism and its ultimate expression, genocide.” Raphael Lemkin (1944:249-251), who originally coined the term, had referred to the genocide of the “gypsies” even before the Second World War was over, though the incongruity of this has not resonated with Washington. We still have no place on the Council.
    The Council was established in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, and to raise funds to build the Museum in our nation’s capital; Elie Wiesel was appointed to chair it. At that time no Romani representation was considered for inclusion, although as a federal institution supported in part by the American taxpayers, the new Council’s policy of selectivity was unconstitutional.
    Wiesel has steadfastly maintained an exclusivist position regarding the definition of the word Holocaust, interpreting it as referring to the fate of the Jewish victims alone; the word has never once been used in the Council’s or the Museum’s documentation in connection with Roma, not even in the program for the Romani Day of Remembrance, which took place on 16 September 1986. The U.S. Government Printing Office lists the booklet produced following that event In Memory of the Gypsy Victims of Nazi Genocide under the Library of Congress subject heading “Holocaust: Jewish,” and the Council’s circular announcing its national writing contest on the Holocaust refers to “The six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and the millions of others.” It was only following Elie Wiesel’s resignation as its chairman that Romani representation became a reality, and that happened because of Simon Wiesenthal’s intervention.
    At the beginning of January, 2007, an article appeared in the New York Observer by Philip Weiss entitled “Forgiving Elie Wiesel, somewhat, on his opposition to Gypsies in Holocaust Museum.” Weiss was moved to write this after reading a passage in Elie Wiesel’s book Night; it was quickly followed by a number of responses most, though not all, of which were generally critical of Wiesel, and one of which queried Mr. Weiss’ presumption as a non-Romani in taking it upon himself to “forgive” Wiesel on behalf of the Romani people.
    There is reason to believe that Professor Wiesel did have a particular and very personal motive for not promoting the representation of the Romani victims during his own term of office on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, stemming from the painful experience of seeing his own father knocked to the ground in an encounter with a Romani kapo at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the animosity towards Romanies it engendered in him. The passage in Night that Philip Weiss refers to, describes that exchange in some detail:

    A gypsy deportee was in charge of us.
    My father was suddenly taken with colic. He got up and went towards the gypsy, asking politely in German “Excuse me, can you tell me where the lavatories are?”
    The gypsy looked him up and down slowly, from head to foot. As if he wanted to convince himself that this man was really a creature of flesh and bone, a living being with a body and a belly. Then, as if he had suddenly woken up from a heavy doze, he dealt my father such a clout that he fell to the ground, crawling back to his place on all fours . . . Yesterday, I should have sunk my nails into the criminal’s flesh. Had I changed so much then? So quickly! I thought only, I shall never forgive them for that.

    Whether it involved “such a clout” and “beating up,” or—as he said in recounting the same incident later—“simply a slap,” them here refers to Gypsies and not to the Germans, as he made clear thirty years later in an interview with Bill Moyers entitled “Facing Hate,” which was televised over PBS in December 1991. In response to Moyers’ question “Did you feel hated when you arrived at Auschwitz? Did you think ‘they hate me – why do they hate me’?” he replied

    “Not from the Germans so much. The Germans didn’t even hate us, because you hate human beings. We weren’t human, in their eyes. I felt hated by the anti-Semites in the camp.”
    “Other prisoners?”
    “I think I write about it; the night we arrived I have seen a prisoner beating up my father, the first time it happened. And later on, I was beaten mainly by prisoners, not by Germans. Germans arranged the killing, the murder, and so I hate, because there were anti-Semites even there.”
    “Your father was beaten because he was Jewish?”
    “Naturally.”
    “Just . . . ”
    “Just because he was Jewish.”
    “And what did you . . . can you remember what you were thinking as you saw your father being . . . “
    “It plagues me to this day. I remember, I felt like running to that man, to that kapo who beat him up. I should have done that, but it was two hours after our arrival and I remember, I write about it in Night, was a kapo, so he went to the kapo, saying ‘can I go to the toilet?’ and all of us, there were hundreds and hundreds of people there, lined up, and the kapo measured him up with his look, and gave him simply a slap in the face, only one, and my father fell to the ground. It lasted a second; my father got up and came back.”

    Elie Wiesel’s reaction was quite understandable at a human level, but totally unsupportable and unacceptable in his policy-making capacity. It hasn’t been edited out of the most recent (2003) edition of his book, a book that is required reading in very many of our high schools.
    Having by now learnt that there was to be no reaching out to the Romani community with any offer of recognition on the part of the Council—which nevertheless had both African American and Armenian representation among its members for, as Michael Berenbaum has said, “The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [ . . . is] not a Jewish institution, but a government institution” (2009:1)—a concerted effort was made by some Romani leaders to initiate a dialogue with the Council’s administrators. Their general attitude was either mocking—its chairman Seymour Siegel told The Washington Post that Romani efforts to obtain representation were “cockamamie,” and also told a reporter from the Dallas Times Herald that Romani spokespersons were “cranks” and “eccentrics”—or else patronizing: acting executive director Micah Naftalin told The Washington Post “the problem with Gypsies is that they’re not well schooled. They’re quite naïve and, to some extent, distrustful.” All of these statements are reproduced in the relevant newspaper articles (Leslie Doolittle who wrote the Dallas Times Herald piece told me she was warned by a Council staff member to be careful when talking to me, because I was a “wild man”).
    In 1984 a group of Romani Americans staged a demonstration in Washington, wearing concentration-camp uniforms and carrying placards claiming racism; this protest was covered—with a photograph—by The Washington Post3. It took this protest, and a threatened discrimination suit, finally to get media attention. It was in this same year that Wiesenthal wrote a letter to the Council (dated December 14th) criticizing the omission of Romanies from its program, in which he stated “The Gypsies had been murdered in a proportion similar to the Jews, about 80% of them in the area of the countries which were occupied by the Nazis.”
    On September 16th, 1986, five years before the Moyers interview, we were allowed an official Romani Holocaust remembrance ceremony in Washington. Elie Wiesel made a very brief appearance at that event, where he told us “I couldn’t be here today, and yet I couldn’t not be here . . . we have not done enough to listen to your voice of anguish. We have not done enough to make other people listen to your voice of sadness. I can promise you we shall do whatever we can from now on to listen better” (“I had to go, I had to stay, in Rio . . . ”). Despite this assurance, Romani efforts to have even just one permanent representative appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council continued to be frustrated. Instead, I was given a window-dressing position as “special advisor on Romani issues to the chairman,” though my advice was never sought nor did we ever meet.
    Apart from one brief public encounter, we never in fact spoke at all. That happened in July, 1988, when I was invited to present a paper entitled “Uniqueness of the victims” at the Remembering for the Future: Responses to the Holocaust conference at Oxford University. I was accompanied by a gentleman named Leland Robison who recently reminded me of a startling confrontation I had with Professor Wiesel at that event—though I’d scarcely forgotten it; it remains very clear in my mind to this day. Professor Wiesel, surrounded by cameras and journalists, was being interviewed on the university grounds. During a break between questioning, I approached him and said “Professor Wiesel, please don’t forget the Gypsies!” He turned aggressively towards me, glared, and barked “Mister Hancock! I have read what you have written! And I don’t like it! I don’t like it at all!!” and turned away. He never did mention the Gypsies. He was presumably referring to my piece on “uniqueness” in Shmate: A Journal of Progressive Jewish Thought, the only article on the Holocaust I had in print at that time, and the one in which my correspondence with him was reproduced.
    Nineteen eighty-six was also the year that Romani activist groups stepped up their effort to gain recognition. Simon Wiesenthal drew attention to this in an article published at that time entitled “Tragedy of the Gypsies.” Wiesel’s response was that “it’s not my prerogative; it’s the White House’s prerogative,” although it is well known that to a large extent the Office of Presidential Appointments takes its recommendations directly from the various agencies it serves. The Washington Post article also reported that

    The most likely Gypsy candidate now would appear to be Dr. Ian Hancock, an English professor at The University of Texas. “He is the only Gypsy I know of with an academic background,” Wiesel said, “although there must be more.”

    I was not a U.S. citizen at that time, however, and was therefore ineligible for the position.
    The situation changed in 1987 when, thanks to our efforts together with California congressman the late Tom Lantos, William A. Duna became the first Romani representative to be appointed to the Council, later to be replaced by myself once I had acquired American citizenship.
    The possibility that during his term as its president Professor Elie Wiesel himself may have been actively blocking attempts to gain representation comes to light in the pages of Simon Wiesenthal’s book Justice Not Vengeance, where he expresses his dismay at the Council’s attitude towards Romanies:

    On this council sat voting representatives not only of the Jews but of Poles, Russians and Ukrainians—but not Gypsies. Efforts in that connection by the International Romani Union were in vain. To help them, I wrote a lengthy letter to Elie Wiesel the president of the Council. A few months later I received an answer from his secretary that the appointment of members depended on President Reagan. The International Romani Union and The Society for Threatened Peoples thereupon wrote long letters to President Reagan—which ended up with Elie Wiesel. In the end, I turned to Wiesel again, this time with the suggestion that one of the more than thirty Jewish members of the Memorial Council might be replaced by a Gypsy. To this letter I received no answer at all.
    When I subsequently published this ‘correspondence’ in our annual report, because I felt the attitude of the Holocaust Memorial Council to be unjust, I received a number of copies of other letters in which all kinds of people had approached Wiesel with the request that he should support the claims of the Gypsies. But the only thing that the Holocaust Memorial Council ever did for the Gypsies was a kind of memorial hour in September, 1986. Only after Elie Wiesel had given up his presidency were we informed that the newly-formed board had invited a Gypsy representative . . . onto the Council.

    One of the documents forwarded to Simon Wiesenthal was a copy of a four page letter from myself to Elie Wiesel, which I wrote in my capacity as Representative for the Romani people on the UN Social and Economic Council and in the Department of Public Information and to UNICEF, a position I held until 2009. It was reproduced in Shmate, mentioned above, and was dated 25 November 1987. The three-line reply from Professor Wiesel, dated the following 10 January 1988 is included in the same magazine, and read in its entirety

    Please forgive the delay. I have been overwhelmed with work. Thank you for your letter. I hope you know how much your words mean to me.

    During the period in which I served the Council, Elie Wiesel was not a member. He returned during the last year of my four-year term, at which time I was not reappointed. In 2011 we still have no representation on t

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