Art, memory, and expression: International Holocaust Remembrance Day 1/27/2016

holocaustremembranceJanuary 27th, 2016 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We spread red flowers to honor those who lived and died in what Roma call, The Hungry Smoke. The Holocaust was an ugly genocide of those from the Jewish faith as well as those who were ethnically “Gypsies,” the racial slur used to describe Romani and Sinti people. The Sinti are a clan (or tribe, as some prefer that word while others argue that ours is not a tribal society) within the Roma, and the word Roma refers to the many different cultures and subcultures that exist within Romani society, all of which are distinct with their own dialects, customs, and beliefs. Many Sinti prefer to be called Sinti and not to be included under the Romani umbrella, but I am comfortable being referred to as Romani, both because my heritage is very ethnically mixed anyway and because I like the inclusiveness that the word “Roma” suggests. My grandmother and many of her family members survived O Porrajmos, or the Great Devouring, by hiding their ethnicity, something that many were not able to do, and others among her friends and family were not so fortunate. The Roma and Sinti are often forgotten alongside the other groups targeted, such as LGBTQ* people, people living with disabilities, Catholics, Communists, and many others. Even though half of the Romani population was obliterated during WWII, because of systemic racism, few organizations or countries recognize our loss for what it was: genocide. This is slowly changing, however. This year the UN is hosting Sinto survivor, Mr. Zoni Weisz, to speak at their event for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, so if you are in NYC or can make the trip, I hope you attend. It’s important for all of us to band together for everyone touched the the dark maw.

I’m re-sharing Drunken Boat‘s Romani Folio, an issue completely dedicated to Romani writing and art, in honor of this day. Much of Romani

Romani Folio Cover

Drunken Boat, Romani Folio cover

literature and art is shaped by The Hungry Smoke, as well as the antigypsyist legislation, sentiment, and violence that still dogs the Roma all over the world. My short story, “Why the Pyres are Unlit,” though fictional, was heavily inspired by my grandmother’s survival, the stories she’s shared, and the mark that violence has left on my family.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about inherited and perpetuated trauma (by lately, I mean since I was a child), and I believe that the only way to change cycles of violence and fear internalized passed down through generations is to acknowledge, feel, discuss, and then release them. Silence, forced or self-imposed, is what breeds violence. Art, writing, expression, discourse, and remembrance– all of this frees us. I will spread flowers, but I will also imbibe Romani and Sinti literature and art, such as the paintings of Ceija Stojka and the words of Rajko Djuric. Pick up a good anthology (I love this one, Roads of the Roma) or browse the web for new discoveries. You can start with Romani writer Qristina Zavačková Cummings and her list of Romani authors, or my list of “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading” for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. May we remember, may we create, and may we journey toward healing and liberation together.

 

Advertisements

May 16th: Romani Resistance Day

“The Forgotten History of Romani Resistance,” Open Society Foundations, by Pierre Chopinaud

“On the evening of May 16, 1944, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, SS guards armed with machine guns surrounded the area of the camp designated for Roma and Sinti prisoners. Their intent was to round up the nearly 6,000 prisoners there and send them to the gas chambers. But when the guards approached the area, they were met with armed resistance from the inmates.

The prisoners had learned of the planned ‘liquidation’ and fashioned weapons from sheet metal, wood, pipes, rocks, and any other scraps of material they could get their hands on. According to the memories of survivors and witnesses to the incident, the inmates forced the guards into retreat, and though some prisoners were shot that night, the act of resistance allowed the Roma and Sinti prisoners to put off execution for several more months.

How can such an epic episode have been lost to history? Who knows about the Sonderkommandos revolt of August 1944? Who knows about Witold Pilecki, who infiltrated Auschwitz to organize its resistance network? Keeping alive the memories of these events could help prevent such crimes from happening again in the future.”

Read the rest of this fascinating article here. If you want to help spread awareness on social media, use these hashtags #RomaniResistanceDay #RomaniResistance #may16. I like to throw in #Gypsy too because that hashtag is (mis)used so much to perpetuate absurd Gypsy stereotypes that it’s helpful when something real comes up under that umbrella.

Image courtesy of ternYpe, the International Roma Youth Network

Image courtesy of ternYpe, the International Roma Youth Network