July 30 – ceremonial unveiling of the monument commemorating the Roma and Sinti murdered in Treblinka

On July 30, 2014, on the initiative of the Polish Roma Association, the ceremonial unveiling of the monument commemorating the Roma and Sinti murdered in Treblinka took place. The shape and color of the monument refer to the existing monument designed by Franciszek Strynkiewicz – professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The construction of the monument, which is made of red sandstone, was carried out by Sławomir Jackowski from the Kamieniarska Company in Kiełczew after prior approval of the project by the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites and the Conservator of Monuments.

Since August 2, 1997 the International Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti has been celebrated (Sinti is an ethnic group from the Indian Peninsula, related to the Roma; their dialect shows great lexical and grammatical influences of the German language).

On August 2, 1944, in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the so-called “Gypsy camp” (Zigeunerlager) was liquidated. 2,897 Roma were murdered in the gas chambers at that time.

The Roma were persecuted as an the “inferior race” from the beginning of the Third Reich existence. They were subjected to compulsory sterilization, and were deprived of their voting rights under the Nuremberg Laws. In 1942, Roma and Sinti were incarcerated in the ghettos in Warsaw and Łódź and many others. From the ghettos, they were sent to Kulmhof extermination camp, Treblinka and Flossenbürg (KL), while Roma women were sent to Ravensbrück (KL). In terms of numbers, they constituted – excluding Jews and Poles – the largest group of deportees to KL Auschwitz.

The available accounts show that about 2-3 thousand people of Roma origin died in the Treblinka I Penal Labor Camp and the Treblinka II Extermination Camp. Due to the lack of camp documentation, the only evidence are the accounts of the witnesses of the crime.

In the book “Escape from Treblinka” written by Mieczysław Chodźko, the author describes how the Roma were led to the forest near the Treblinka I Penal Labor Camp: They were promised that they would live in a specially prepared camp in the forest. They were allowed to light fires and prepare food. After a few hours, the SS men separated the women and children from the men. The whole hoax worked because the women thought the men had gone to build a camp for everyone. After short period of time, shooting stared and panic spread through the crowd. Babies were taken from their mothers and killed by hitting their heads against trees. This only infuriated the mothers, who calmed down only after a series of machine guns.

The Roma were brought to the camp in rail transports, and accordingly to Brener Enoch’s account also by cars. In his account, Edward Sypko mentions the transport of Roma to the camp in open trucks and their subsequent execution in a forest clearing. According to the testimony of Stanisław B. the Roma were also escorted to the extermination camp on foot.

Barbara Zalewska, a one of prisoner of the Treblinka I Penal Labor Camp, testified that in June 1943 about 200 people of Roma nationality were brought to the camp. They were placed under armed guard for two days, without food or drink. She learned from Polish prisoners – who buried victims’ bodies – that they had been executed in a nearby forest.

Most of the people of Roma nationality were murdered directly after arrival. However, there were cases of sending them to work both inside the camp (for instant in the kitchen) and outside (for example in the gravel mine)

Kazimiera Z. recalled her co-prisoner Helena Wysocka – a Roma who lived in Połczyn. At the camp, she worked in the kitchen where she peeled potatoes.

Not even the approximate number of victims of the extermination of the Roma is known. The reason was that most of them neither had citizenship, documents nor registration. The total number of people killed during World War II is estimated at 500,000–600,000.

The photos come from the ceremonial unveiling of the monument commemorating the Roma and Sinti murdered in Treblinka, 30 July 2014 [photo W. Bobryk]

Translation: P.M.

30 July 2020