Almost a thousand years ago, in the 11th century DC, Northern Indian warrior tribes left their homeland, directed to the almost unknown West. They arrived in Europe, and there they remained for the following centuries. These people were the ancestors of the Roma people, who we sometimes refer to as “gypsies”.
From the moment they set foot in Europe, the Roma people never had an easy life. Their dark skin generated suspicion in the eyes of white, xenophobic and uber-Christian Europeans, making it impossible for them to integrate. Because of their differences, Roma people were discriminated against, mutilated, killed, and had their traditions and lifestyle banned.
They were legal slaves in Romania until the late 19th century and the abuse continued during WW2, when the Nazis murdered an estimated 1.5m Roma people in concentration camps across Eastern Europe.
Roma journalist Orhan Galjus and filmmaker Bob Entrop decided to make a film that collected the scattered memories of the few Roma survivors and raised awareness for the injustices suffered by the Roma people.
The film, titled Broken Silence, was screened last Wednesday at the London headquarters of Amnesty International, in Shoreditch. In Broken Silence, Galjus goes on a deeply emotional journey through his native Kosovo, Germany and Poland, looking for testimonies and signs of the Roma Holocaust and talking to young people.
In Poland, he visits five mass Roma graveyards. There he encounters people and listens to their stories. A Roma old man tells him of when, as teenagers, he and his friend had to quickly dig a hole for the Roma people who had been executed in the wood nearby. He remembers very well of a woman in particular, who was still holding her dead child. He says that they decided to throw them both in the hole, together.
Galjus is critical of what is being done by local authorities to remember the Roma tragedy. He expresses his bitterness towards an unwillingness or fear of remembering that he saw among the Roma. While some make efforts to keep the memory alive and pass it to their children, other Roma seem strangely unaware.
“People must know what happened, they must be informed. Going to a gravesite without really knowing why is not enough,” said Galjus after the screening.
Broken Silence raised a lot of questions about what is arguably a critical situation for most Roma people. The images of Auschwitz, the stories of the survivors, the gravesites, the simple words he exchanged with the people he encountered, his own tears, the snow falling on his childhood home, all contributed to build a memorable atmosphere where the personal and the collective intertwine.
Galjus ultimately calls for a positive change, to which Roma people must take part. “To the word integration, I prefer participation”, he said. For him, Roma people must not be scared of talking about the past, and must never forget their history.
Amnesty is one of the few organisations committed to defending Roma rights across Europe and trying to fill the numerous “gaps” left by the European Institutions.
Ulrike Schmidt, one of the organisers of the screening, told ELL that Roma people are in constant danger: “Stereotyping and dehumanisation are still in use by politicians in Hungary and other Eastern European countries, where Roma people are randomly attacked and sometimes killed”.
In many countries Roma children are often segregated and given sub-standard education, thus denying them equal opportunities. “Although in the UK it is relatively easier than elsewhere for Roma people to integrate, many eastern European Roma are terrified of Brexit’s consequences,” said Schmidt.
August 2 is the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, and today at 5 pm a ceremony in Hyde Park will be held to commemorate it.