Roma Holocaust survivors and community leaders paid tribute at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp Tuesday to its Roma and Sinti victims who, like the Jews, were condemned to destruction under Nazi Germany's murderous ideology.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum said that hundreds took part, with Roma participants joined by Polish government officials, members of the Jewish community, diplomats and others.
In total some 23,000 Roma and Sinti died in the so-called "Zigeunerfamilienlager" ("Gypsy family camp") at Auschwitz-Birkenau or in the gas chambers. In total, hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti were killed in the Holocaust.
The leader of Poland's Roma community, Roman Kwiatkowski, spoke of the need for solidarity — citing Pope Francis, who recently said the world is in a state of war.
"We need solidarity all the more. Especially us Roma, who have never started any war but are the victims of each of them," he said in a speech to those gathered, according to details provided by the Auschwitz museum. "With all my heart I thank all of those who are not Roma for choosing to be here with us today, to honor the memory of our murdered brothers. They were also your brothers."
A letter from Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo was read out in which she spoke of the duty to remember what "hatred and the rejection of humanity" can lead to.
The head of Poland's Jewish community, Leszek Piszewski, said his community joins the Roma in their suffering and expressed concern that the world is forgetting about the lessons of World War II.
Commemorations are held every year on Aug. 2, marking the day in 1944 when the last group of nearly 2,900 Roma and the closely related Sinti at the Nazi camp in occupied Poland were killed in the gas chambers.
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