By DAMIAN LE BAS
Above: Romani people in Belzec extermination camp, Poland. The total number of Romani victims of the camp was unknown: almost 500,000 Jews were murdered there, with only one or two survivors
HOLOCAUST Memorial Day services have been taking place around the world, with many now mentioning the victims of O Porrajmos- Romani for The Devouring- the Romani genocide often referred to as "the forgotten Holocaust".
Yesterday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon spoke of the day he visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, where thousands of Romanies were imprisoned following Heinrich Himmler's "Auschwitz Decree" in December, 1942.
"I saw the barracks where Jews, Roma, Sinti, homosexuals, dissidents, prisoners of war and persons with disabilities spent their final days in the most brutal conditions," he said.
On a single night, 2nd August, 1944, 2,897 Romanies were murdered in Auschwitz. The night has become known as "Zigeunernacht", the Night of the Gypsies.
Elsewhere, in a move certain to cause controversy in his country, Hungary's UN ambassador, Csaba Korosi, told a press conference marking the 70th Anniversary of the Jewish and Roma Holocaust that "We owe an apology to the victims because the Hungarian state was guilty for the Holocaust."
The news was well received in Jewish newspapers: however, Hungary's far-right Jobbik party provoked outrage last year by unveiling a statue of former president and close ally of Hitler, Mikloz Horthy. Over half a million Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust.
29th February will also mark the first anniversary of the death of one of the most famous Roma survivors of the death camps. Ceija Stojka- pronounced "Chaya Stoyka"- was born in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, and remembered eating scraps of leather to survive the war years.
Ceija Stojka, a renowned painter and singer, came from a very large Romani family- her extended family numbered over 200 people. But only five survived the Holocaust.
Above: Ceija Stojka was one of only five Holocaust survivors from an extended Romani family of over 200
"I will remember Auschwitz every moment of my waking life," she once said.
Official estimates of the Romani death toll vary from 200,000 to 1.5 million.
SS records and other official documents did not always refer to "Zigeuner"- a German term for Gypsies- and often listed Romani people as "remainder to be liquidated".
This and other factors have made it difficult for researchers to agree on a total number of Romanies murdered in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.
The German government admitted that there had been a genocide of Sinti and Roma people in 1982, almost four decades after the liberation of the Nazi death camps by allied forces.
A memorial to the Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust was finally unveiled in Berlin in October, 2012- 67 years after the end of hostilities in Western Europe.
Whereas 'Roma' generally refers to Romani people from Eastern Europe, many Romani people in Western continental Europe call themselves 'Sinti', as well as 'Manouches' or 'Manush' in France.
It is likely that the Romany Gypsies of Great Britain are descendants of the Sinti, due to similarities in the way they speak the Romani language.