It's been 75 years since Roma and Sinti people in Auschwitz-Birkenau decided to resist an attempt on their lives. But today, Romani people across Europe are still forced to fight for their humanityby Sydnee Wagner / May 17, 2019 / Leave a comment
On May 16th, 1944, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp saw a spark. That spark set a whole continent aflame.
That day, SS Guards surrounded the Zigeunerlager, or “Gypsy Camp,” at Auschwitz II–Birkenau with machine guns, ready to liquidate the camp and murder nearly 7,000 people.
The Roma and Sinti prisoners, however, despite being engulfed by the daily reality of death in the camp, chose life. When the SS commando unit called for Roma and Sinti to leave the residential blocks, they were met with prisoners who refused to come out, barricading the doors and fashioning work tools, handcuffs, knives, and rocks into weapons.
Romani Holocaust survivor Hugo Hollenreiner recalled his father shouting, “We’re not coming out! You come in here! We’re waiting here! If you want something, you have to come inside!” The SS unit called an end to the stand-off and retreated, and the “Gypsy Camp” at Birkenau maintained their survival until August 2nd.
After many of the Roma and Sinti prisoners fit for labour were moved to Auschwitz or other concentration camps, the nearly 3,000 remaining—comprised of mostly the sick, elderly, and children—were slaughtered in the gas chambers. The Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust have been estimated from 220,000-500,000 (with some scholars estimating upwards of 1.5 million). In some countries, like the Czech Republic, 90 per cent of the Romani population perished under the Nazi regime.
This radical act of resistance by the Roma and Sinti prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau became memorialized as Romani Resistance Day. This event, along with many others that have become the pulse of Romani cultural and self-preservation, stands starkly against a continued narrative that Romani people are agentless victims, objects to act violently against, a focus of pity.
As an early modern race studies scholar, I am constantly working to read against the archive for fragments of subjectivity, agency, and resistance, careful not to conflate these individual concepts. I follow scholar Alexander Weheliye’s call in his book Habeas Viscus to “[bracket] questions of agency and resistance” when it comes to people of colour, “since they obfuscate—and not in a productive way—the textures of enfleshment, that is, the modes of being which outlive the dusk of the law and the dawn…