Book of Memory dedicated to WWII Roma experiences about to be published

The 60th anniversary of victory over fascism has just been celebrated. May 9 is a special day for the Romani people. This people, proclaimed “racially inferior” by Hitler’s pseudo-scientists, was destined for annihilation. Among the Nazis’ victims were half a million Roma who were shot, buried alive, and tortured in concentration camps.

Piercing are the war stories that elderly Roma still recall today!

Nina Klementevna Kozlova (from Pushkinskie Gory) tells us: “The Germans arrived in our village. They took us in stages – they went in cars, we on horses. It was just us Roma – father, mother-in-law, six children. Father wanted us all to throw ourselves into the lake – with the horse and cart and everything. He wanted to drown himself and all of us. He said, “They’re going to shoot us anyway.” But the neighbor, a Russian, noticed and said: “What are you doing? You’ll execute your family and yourself. Don’t interfere with God’s plan.” And so we managed to get by the lake – that man saved our lives. Then they loaded us onto a train and took us to Latvia. The Latvians started to divide us up: some they took for workers, some to dig trenches. They took me and my sisters and father to the trenches. So we dug and dug, and we were just tiny little things, we were hungry and wanted to eat, we didn’t have any energy. Papa looked at us and cried: “Children, dig, or else they’ll shoot us.” — “Dad, we can’t.” – “Dear, they’ll shoot us, just dig a little.” And we were crying, and father looked at us and cried. He was so upset, but he couldn’t do anything.”

The “Book of Memory,” which will tell about the part Roma played in World War II and about the sufferings they endured, will soon be published. Nikolai Bessonov, author of the extensive work, searched out archival documents and collected the invaluable accounts of those who remember the war. The remembrances of people from our region – Northwest Russia – will also be included in the book. The Grokhovskij family, for instance, provided photographs of one of their family members, Georgij Aleksandrovich Grokhovskij (1925 – 1999), who fought in the war and was a veteran of labor. He lived in Leningrad and went to the front as a volunteer during the Blockade. He fought on the Leningrad front as a telegraphist. He attacked the enemy and was wounded. For his services he was awarded honors and medals, including the Order of the Patriotic War, first class. After the war, G.A. Grokhovskij worked in the Kozitskij Factory as a radio technician and mentored young people.

Now it is of utmost importance to preserve eyewitness accounts of the war and to record the memories of the older generation. We would be happy to publish letters or memoirs of those who remember the war years, as well as photographs, in our Bulletin. We would ask all our readers to send in stories about friends and relatives, family histories, and other related materials. This information is of particular importance now – it will help us to learn more about our history.

Millions of our countrymen were victims of fascism. How painful it is to see neo-nazi movements gaining strength in a country that fought for victory over fascism! Nearly every day we hear about skinheads attacking Roma, Asians, and Africans. Again there are calls to divide people into those of “full human value” and those who are “substandard,” once again “outsiders” are being blamed for our problems. There have also been efforts to reinterpret history: some assert that the Holocaust was made up by the Jews and that the number of victims of fascism has been exaggerated. It has become absurd: In Latvia veterans of the SS hold holiday celebrations. It appears that in the course of trying to “forgive and forget,” we have been cast 60 years into the past and forgotten at what cost fascism was defeated.

We often hear older Roma say, “Everyone hates us, they want to destroy us – just like Hitler did.” Those who were able to survive the terrible war years now, 60 years later, fight for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. As we remember the dead and wish good health for our veterans on Victory Day, we should take time to recall that, today, there is no place for the racial or national hatred that led mankind to the tragedy that was World War II.

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