Metro views: They killed Gypsies, too

It does no honor to Jewish victims to deny others also targeted by Nazis.

Nazis 298.88 (photo credit: )
Nazis 298.88
(photo credit: )
In the Czech Republic, it began with pigs. In Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, it began with a Holocaust memorial that some thought was incomplete. "It" is the way that Nazi victims - and which victims - are memorialized. In Lety, a town in the Bohemian part of the Czech Republic, there was a camp where Roma (Gypsies) were detained and died during the Nazi era. The camp site has been a pig farm for more than 30 years. Cenek Ruzicka's mother was imprisoned there; other family members died there. Ruzicka helped form an organization in 1998 to prod the Czech government to move the pigs from what is, for them, a sacred site. The hogs are still there. Across the ocean, in Sheepshead Bay, the Holocaust Memorial Mall was dedicated in 1997. On a half-acre in a New York City public park, the memorial has dozens of markers: some historical, some symbolic and some on which to inscribe the names of the dead. It's a very Jewish memorial, although an inscription at the site mentions other victims of Nazi persecution - the Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, political opponents and homosexuals. Richard Landman, the son of Holocaust survivors, for 13 years has been leading a campaign to have other groups fully recognized in the park. The city has finally agreed. Stone markers will be inscribed with a short history of each group's persecution under the Nazis and with names of victims. "We are not comparing or equating the treatment, but merely giving the whole history so people can understand the entirety of the Holocaust," said Landman, who founded an international association of gay and lesbian children of Holocaust survivors. "As I grew up and learned about those members of my family that 'didn't get out,' I wondered what would have happened to me, being both gay and Jewish." Another son of survivors, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, has protested these additions to the memorial. "These people are not in the same category as Jewish people with regards to the Holocaust. It is so vastly different. You cannot compare political prisoners with Jewish victims," he was quoted as saying. But, said the Jewish mayor, Michael Bloomberg: "It wasn't only the Jews that were massacred." "There's no doubt that most of the atrocities at the Holocaust were done upon Jewish people. But it goes against history and their memory to not commemorate all groups that were persecuted by the Nazis," the openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, Christine Quinn, was quoted as saying. LAST MONTH, diplomats from 46 nations, meeting in Prague, concluded an international conference on Holocaust-era assets with a declaration they announced at a ceremony in Terezin, a concentration camp an hour's drive away. "What Terezin means to the Czech Jews, so-called Gypsy camps in Lety and Hodonin symbolize for our Roma and Sinti people," Ruzicka, now the president of the Czech Committee for Compensation of the Roma Holocaust, told the conference. It was deeply offensive, he said, that pigs were feeding in Lety, on the site where the Roma had died. He reminded the conference that the fate of his family was akin to that of the Jews. "The Gypsy camp in Auschwitz adjoined the so-called Jewish family camp," he said. "Our wagons, jewelry, domestic animals also were confiscated and sold, and the money was used to finance our destruction." This fate was acknowledged by Israelis at the conference. "The Roma and Sinti are the brethren of the Jewish people in suffering," said Reuven Merhav, a member of the Israeli delegation. Yet the conference's final declaration, like the Sheepshead Bay memorial, is very Jewish. Its many references to the Holocaust are linked to the word "Shoah." In its recommendations regarding the restitution of Nazi-era assets, social welfare, education and commemoration, the declaration refers to "Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution" - who remain unidentified. Apparently, according to some European diplomats, it was quite an advance simply to add "and other victims" because there were many voices crying foul at the mention of the 5 million non-Jewish victims. The Terezin declaration encourages all nations to support annual remembrance and commemoration ceremonies, and to preserve memorials and other sites of memory and martyrdom. Further, in its most diplomatic language, it says, "We consider it important to include all individuals and all nations who were victims of the Nazi regime in a worthy commemoration of their respective fates." The Czech Republic takes good care of Terezin, but its shame, its hypocrisy is to revel as host of the conference while failing to protect Lety for the Roma. As for Sheepshead Bay, it proves again that we cannot talk about the Holocaust without arguing about who were the victims. This must stop. As we will not tolerate Holocaust denial, nor should we ignore or disavow the tragic fate of others, saying it does not measure up to Jewish suffering. It does no honor to Jewish victims to deny that others also were targets of Nazi persecution. And it does not dishonor or diminish their memory to acknowledge the suffering and losses of others.