On May 16, 1944, the SS decided the extermination of the Roma in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau’s Zigeunerlager. The guards’ attempt to move the Roma to the gas chamber was met with vigorous resistance. Approximately 6,000 Roma stood against the Nazis’ extermination plans, barricaded themselves in the Zigeunerlager buildings, and fought back against the German SS. The guards stepped back in the face of this uprising.
This became the symbol of Romani resistance and of their desire to live even in the most undesirable conditions. To live no matter what.
The narrative of May 16 is now cherished and revived in the collective memory, and it fuels the fight against current forms of Anti Roma discrimination. Remembering such instances of resistance strengthens our quest for collective justice. It keeps our hope alive that we can jointly safeguard collective resistance within societies that embody justice, anti-discrimination, and respect for our shared humanity.
At the height of spring, May comes with strength and empowerment for Roma communities the world over. Even though for Roma resistance is a daily fact of life, May 16 remains a token of resilience and endurance, conducive to the recognition and self-preservation of Romani culture and Romaniness. The Roma learnt endurance and manifested it in in the most hopeless moments of their tormented history.
These narratives of resistance are absent from the history of Roma persecution — not only from history books, but also from Roma’s self-consciousness and from the Romani movement’s own account of essential events. But the recollection of historical facts in their true genuine shape matter greatly for establishing a memory of the past and for generating an enduring account of oppression and antigypsyism today.
On May 16, perhaps more than on any other day, we pay tribute to our resistance and hold up the truth about our persecution during the Holocaust. The Roma’s century-long endurance manifested itself even in the most hopeless moments in our history.
DIKH HE NA BISTER stands for the power of Roma youth to write their own history. In the last few years, remembrance and recognition of the Roma genocide have become key to the Romani youth movement. Remembering our past, replete with persecutions and resistance, is meant to restore our dignity that we were robbed of, and to strengthen the identity-building of a new generation of Roma youth.