August 2 is not a day I like to remember, but I am duty-bound to do so, and thus am glad to do it. It is also a day we celebrate the survival of the Romani people.
Roma and Sinti Holocaust Remembrance Day
It is Roma and Sinti Holocaust Remembrance Day, a commemoration of the day that the Nazis imposed their final solution on the Romani camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Almost 3000 women, children, and men were slaughtered that night at Auschwitz. The Nazis had declared that all Roma, like the Jews, should be annihilated, the only two groups marked for genocide. They were only a few thousand of the nearly half million Roma and Sinti killed by the Nazis.
I dread this day because I understand from my own family story that knowledge of this genocide, leaking out from barely-acknowledged news reports, must have been the reason that my grandparents told their children very little about their Romani heritage. Up until that point, the family lived mostly in a mixed race enclave of people like themselves, a hodgepodge of Romanichals, Welsh Kale, and Manouche families, many with Cherokee and Catawba heritage as well, on the border of North and South Carolina. They kept to themselves, mostly married within that enclave, and told few outsiders about their history and how they came to be there. But my father’s generation knew very little about their history and did not speak the language. When I asked questions, they sent me to my Uncle George, who had been through one year of seminary and thus understood a little about the Romani Dispora and was able to say only that our family came originally from the East.
And that is exactly why the Nazis chose to annihilate our people. Our roots were in India, and thus we were Indo-Aryan, anciently. Our people were driven by wars, famine, and plagues, in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, into Europe, where prejudice against us built and became the false scholarship that led to the final solution.
Prejudice against Roma and Sinti exists to this day––in Europe, where our people are driven into ghettoes, forbidden school and employment opportunities, and often murdered outright by neighbors and police, and elsewhere. Look up Stanislaw Tomas. In Brazil, police hunt Roma and kill them with impunity. Yes, look it up.
In the United States, we are mostly invisible, but the fear that leads many of us to identify ourselves publicly as Native, as LatinX, or even to pass as white, if we can, is ending. Younger generations are proud that we have survived, are learning our language, are keeping our Romanipen, our music and arts, alive.
And to that we say, well done!
But there’s still work to be done, to make sure that no one forgets the 2,897 Roma killed that night in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the 500,000 more murdered throughout the Nazi regime.
If this story moves you, if the photo below of my grandmother haunts you as it does me, please join me in an action.
Ophelia Landreth Bailey
Dr. Ethel Brooks is a Romani scholar who served on the U.S. Holocaust Museum Board during the Obama administration. Please use the notes below to write a letter to your political representatives, asking that they see that she is reappointed. Only one other Romani person has served on the Museum Board, in the 1990s. We need a continuous presence to be sure that not one of the Roma and Sinti murdered by the Nazis is forgotten.
The Roma Advisory Council asks that we do three things:
Please share a statement about Roma and Sinti Holocaust Day on your social media. Feel free to use anything in this post as a template. Listen to testimonies of the Roma and Sinti survivors athttps://www.romarchive.eu/en/voices-of-the-victims/. And, please, write the letter from the template below to have Dr. Brooks reappointed to the U.S. Holocaust Museum board. Thank you.
Date: xx/xx/2021 [Your Name] [Home information]
Dear Representative/Senator/Congresswoman/Congressman [INSERT Name],
I am writing to support the efforts of Dr. Ethel Brooks to secure re-appointment to the United
States Holocaust Memorial Council.
As you are aware, Roma were a target of the Nazi-led genocide efforts in Europe during the period 1933-1945. There are an estimated 1,000,000 Roma in the United States today, people with personal family histories linked to these events, as well as cultural ties linking them to the wider fate and treatment of Roma worldwide.
Dr. Ethel Brooks was appointed to the Council by President Obama in 2015, serving a five-year term on the Council which ended in 2020. While on the Council, Dr. Brooks provided important perspective and representation for Roma and Sinti in the US and worldwide, for survivors, their families, and communities. Dr. Brooks has promoted recognition and remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti murdered at the hands of the Nazis, their allies, and other racist states during the Holocaust through her work on the Council and its Academic Committee, as well as through her presence on the US Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and its Committee on the Roma Genocide. During her term on the Council, Dr. Brooks was the only Romani American represented on the Council. Today, as a result of the Trump administration’s decision not to renew her term, there are no Roma on the Council.
Dr. Brooks is recognized as a highly respected member of the Romani American community. She is a professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Sociology at Rutgers University, where she is currently Chair and Graduate Director. She has served as a member of the United States Delegation to the Human Dimension Implementation meetings of the OSCE and was a speaker at the General Assembly for the United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony. Dr. Brooks has also represented the United States as the US-UK Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the University of the Arts London. Since 2015, Dr. Brooks has been the Chair of the Board of the European Roma Rights Centre, the world’s foremost human rights organization representing Roma. As part of the Council and beyond, Dr. Brooks has contributed to the work of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to keep Holocaust memory alive, to honor the victims and survivors, and to confront genocide, antisemitism, and antigypsyism. She also co-organized a Romani-American donation drive for the museum. Annexed here please find a short biography of Dr. Brooks.
Re-appointing Dr. Brooks to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council can help inspire Roma in the United States and around the world. It also will also send an important human rights signal to countries still working to dedicate proper remembrance to the Nazi-led genocide of Roma in Europe, as well as a signal of the United States’s renewed and continuingcommitment to diversity, and to ending discrimination in all its forms.
I hope you will encourage the Biden administration to make this important appointment in the public interest.
Sincerely, Your Name
UPDATE: My friend Jane made a wonderful suggestion to help you write those letters. Here’s some biographical information on Dr. Brooks:
Ethel Brooks is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology at Rutgers University. She has conducted research on a host of sites around the world including in London, Istanbul, Fall River, San Salvador, Dhaka and York City. Brooks is the author of Unraveling the Garment Industry: Transnational Organizing and Women’s Work (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) which received the award for Outstanding Book for 2010 from the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and the co-editor of the special issue of WSQ on “Activisms.” She has contributed articles to a number of academic journals, including Nevi Sara Kali and International Working Class History, as well as book chapters in Sweatshop USA: The American Sweatshop in Historical and Global Perspective, Eds. Daniel A Bender and Richard Greenwald, (Routledge, 2003) and Sociology Confronts the Holocaust: Memories and Identities in Jewish Diasporas, Eds. Judith Gerson and Diane L. Wolf (Duke University Press, 2007).
Professor Brooks is currently working on two book projects: Disrupting the Nation: Land Tenure, Productivity and the Possibilities of a Romani Post-Coloniality, and (Mis)Recognitions and (Un)Acknowledgements: Visualities, Productivities and the Contours of Romani Feminism, both of which focus on political economy and cultural production and the increasing violence against Romani (Gypsy) citizens worldwide. Her op-eds on the expulsion of Romani people in various European countries have recently appeared on “The Guardian”. She is also writing an article on “Missing Pakistanis: Gender, Citizenship and the Muslim Everyday,” on the limits and possibilities of writing about Pakistanis in the wake of the war on terror.
In 2011 Prof. Brooks was awarded a prestigious Fulbright-University of the Arts London Distinguished Chair Award and she spent the academic year 2011/2012 at TrAIN, the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation. Part of the award supported Prof. Brooks’ delivery of a lecture series in conjunction with the Tate Gallery, London.
Thank you, again. #WeRemember #2August #Stand4HumanRights