"Everybody here knows that Jewish and Polish were killed in the war, but nobody ever says anything about the Roma who were murdered" says 65 year old Krystyna, a Polish Roma (Gypsy). She survived a massacre, several years in hiding and the Plaszow concentration camp in Krakow. Despite all her suffering, Krystyna only received compensation 2 years ago. She is not complaining, she is happy she finally got something - but it annoys her that's she doesn't have the same status as the other survivors. "In Plaszow there is a plaque remembering the Jews and Polish people who died there - but it doesn't mention the Roma!"
Most survivors are not angry like Krystyna. They live in villages and didn't even know that they were special as survivors or they could get compensation. When the people from IOM turned up to see their documents they were reluctant to show them. For some after a life of hardship they didn't believe anyone would really give them anything. For others it brought back memories of when the Nazis arrived.
For most of the 8 survivors I met the war was buried deep inside and rarely talked about. 73-year old Mirga was ten years old when war broke out, and as he started to tell his story his family gathered to listen as well. Mirga and his parents were send to a camp, he doesn't remember which, and he was the only to come back after the war. It took him 30 years to find his father's name on a list of people send to Auschwitz. The rest of the family is unaccounted for. He remembers flashes of the horror in the camp "I saw so many people be killed and murdered in that camp - I saw the dogs eating the bodies" he shakes his head. "So many of us children died there".
In the beginning of August 2004, on the 2nd it was the 60th anniversary of 'Zigeuner nacht" - the night the Nazis liquidated the Roma camp in Auschwitz. For the commemorations not many survivors turned up, most are too old, too poor and too far removed from the reality of this kind of event. But Krystyna was there with probably the largest candle of them all, and so was Hugo, a German survivor who as a child passed through many camps including Auschwitz. Among the many Politicians and Roma leaders who spoke that day, Hugo's shaking voice reading about his childhood stood out.
In the camp flowers were laid, at the crematorium candles were lit and through the whole ceremony a group of young Roma read out the names of the 23.000 Roma who are registered to have died in Auschwitz.
During the Second World War the Roma were deemed unwanted by Hitler. 250.00 - 500.00 ended up in concentration camps or were killed by roaming murder squads. After the war they were denied that status of victims that Jews received, it was said that they were killed not for their ethnicity but because they were common criminals. This perception has only been rectified in the last years, throught protest and activism of Roma. The Roma are finally being awarded compensation in the last 2 years through a program administered by IOM.
I have interviews and photos from 8 survivors and from the memorial.