Ignoring atrocities is another crime
2019-03-01 00:00:00 -

Mohammed Samaana


Perhaps one of the most forgotten atrocities of the Second World War was the genocide committed by the Nazis against the Roma and Sinti people. The 26th of February marked the 76th anniversary when they started to arrive in Auschwitz. Between a quarter of and half a million Roma and Sinti people were either killed or died at the hands of the Nazis.

Their persecution in Germany started soon after the Nazis came to power in 1933. The new regime resorted to pseudo-science in order to identify them based on the ludicrous notion that criminal behaviour could be determined by genes.

Before the Olympic Games took place in Berlin in 1936, the Roma — an ethnic group that originated in the region that’s now India — were rounded up and relocated between a sewage dump and a cemetery. The Roma were subjected to the Nuremberg race laws, including compulsory sterilisation and forced labour.

Many Romani who lived in Germany were sent to the concentration camps. Prisoners had to wear markings that put them into different categories. Roma had to wear inverted black triangular patches which identified them as ‘habitual criminals’, or green ones which identified them as ‘professional criminals’.

Not all Roma were killed in Auschwitz, however. Some of them were murdered by mobile gassing trucks. They were also killed in countries that were invaded by the Nazis, like Serbia and the Soviet Union, sometimes with help from locals who hated the Roma. By the end of the war, it is estimated that about half of all of Europe’s Roma population were exterminated.

February also marked another genocide, committed by the Soviets against the people of Chechnya. Russia’s persecution of the Chechens, who simply want to be left alone, dates back to the 18th century.

Perhaps Leo Tolstoy was the most famous Russian who was sympathetic towards the Chechen people but unfortunately he was a writer, not a political leader like Stalin, Yeltsin and Putin — none of whom seemed to bother themselves to read Tolstoy’s work on Chechnya, such as Hadji Murad, to understand how the Chechens felt when Russian soldiers burnt their homes to the ground.

As if wiping out 40 per cent of Chechnya’s population in 1877 wasn’t enough, in 1937 Stalin’s secret police killed some 14,000 more — but the worst was still to come.

In 1944, and despite Chechen soldiers’ bravery in fighting against the Nazis, Stalin ordered the deportation of the entire population of Chechnya, alongside Muslims of other nations such as the Tatar and the Ingush, to concentration camps in Siberia — or simply left to die on icy fields.

Many of them didn’t even make the journey and died in vehicles normally used to transport animals, while their homes were given to ethnic Russians. In total, 2.5 million Muslims died, including half of the entire population of Chechnya.

Add these atrocities to the mass murder of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by US nuclear bombs, victims rarely commemorated outside of Japan — or the deaths of tens of thousands of Algerians as a result of French nuclear experiments in the Algerian desert. Surely ignoring these atrocities is just another crime.

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.

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