People who work at the Anne Frank House talk about their experiences. Here, Karen Polak tells about the forgotten Roma and Sinit victims of the Holocaust.

Forgotten victims

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‘Why is Anne Frank so famous?’ asks Mustafa during a lesson at the Piramide elementary school in Haarlem, ‘there are so many other Jews too?’ This is one of the questions most asked by pupils who visit the Anne Frank House.

Not fair

Pupils can usually answer the question themselves: because of the diary, because her father was the only survivor of the extermination camps and had the diary published, because of the many translations of the diary, the plays and films based on the diary and of course because of the museum.

The question betrays the knowledge: many more children were murdered weren’t they? It’s also accompanied by slight indignation too: it’s not really fair that only Anne and Margot are famous and not the others is it?

The girl in the deportation train

Two days before Anne was arrested in Amsterdam all the Roma and Sinti, probably including nine year old Settala, were murdered in the gas chambers. Settela Steinbach, do you know her? Maybe her face from film footage? The girl looking out of the deportation train just before the doors are closed. The train which left Westerbork on 19 May 1944 and arrived in Auschwitz three days later.

Zoni escapes

Zoni’s family were also in that train. Thanks to the help of a Dutch policeman,  Zoni, then seven years old, manages to escape from another train with an aunt. His family were deported to Auschwitz. His mother, two sisters and brother were murdered, just like Settela, on 2 August 1944. His father dies in the Dora Mittelbau camp.

©Mr. Z. Weisz

Denied for so long?

On 27 January 2011 Zoni Weisz, as first representative for the Roma and Sinti,  spoke in the German Parliament: ‘Why has the genocide of the Roma and Sinti been denied for so long? Why do so few people know about the history of this persecution and murder of this group of people? It is totally unacceptable that a people who have, for centuries been discriminated and oppressed, are also excluded and denied an honest chance of a better future in this century .’

Inhuman circumstances

Zoni Weisz speaks to the German Parliament about the inhuman circumstances in ghettos in Rumania and Bulgaria: ‘In Hungary there are signs again stating forbidden for gypsies.’ Why have we learnt so little from the past and why do governments allow minorities to become victims of hate campaigns? These are urgent questions.

Connecting with children today

Maybe Settela will never be as famous as Anne. But we can still connect Anne’s story to those of other children, Jewish children who lived in the villages and towns where children live today. Roma and Sinti children who suffered the same fate as their Jewish peers. Six of these stories, including those of Settela and Zoni, are told in the digital exhibition The forgotton genocide: the fate of the Sinti and Roma.

Columnist: Karen Polak Karen Polak’s specialism is teaching about anti-Semitism and Holocaust education. In her column she concentrates on forgotten victims of the war in commemorations

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