So, another Saturday night, another blog-post (written Saturday, posted Sunday for proof-reading purposes. I do know (I’m pretty sure anyways) which day it is).
I feel like I have been super-productive the last couple of days; I had the loveliest possible day yesterday (Friday). I went to work (I love my work, colleagues and the students). I voted, and I went for a super-lovely and very interesting walk through the botanical gardens at Tøyen.
Today I attended a conference. The conference was on the WW2 Genocide of the Roma and the Sinti. The conference was named “The Nazi (…)” but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, as the talks also covered Croatian fascists and others (is it weird that I am this nit-picky when it comes to wording, yet I willingly link to Wikipedia? Yes it is). It is not exactly the cheeriest of topics, but it is an incredibly important one. I have spoken/written a little about the current situation of the Roma in Norway and Europe, but it is not a field I am super-familiar with, so the conference was very enlightening. I was bracing for the emotional impact before going. I am a wee bit soft, and I cry really easily (it is ridiculous at times), but I had forgotten about the blessed ability of academics to talk about the grimmest of topics without allowing for emotionality (it’s been one looong year since I finished my M.A).
Anyway, I was already aware that the estimated number of Roma/Sinti killed during the Holocaust is foggy at best. I tried finding accurate numbers when I wrote the prior article/blog-post (and if there’s one thing in this world I do think I am pretty good at, it is finding accurate info) but in the case of Roma/Sinti, it is virtually impossible. The estimates of people killed during the Holocaust are a fairly good indicator of how muddled it is; it ranges from 96000 to well over 500.000 according to Anton Weiss-Wendt, one of the speakers at the conference. Others were guesstimating 1.5 million.
I learned that the French authorities (Vichy) attempted to assimilate/make Roma conform to an unnatural (to them) way of life way back in the 30′s and 40′s. I learned that the French distinguished between those who had a permanent residence and those who were labelled “Nomads/travellers”. “Nomads” had to carry very specific identity cards, and were frequently detained and sent to camps. They were subjected to surveillance, arbitrary arrests and efforts at “rehabilitation”. The attempts at “rehabilitation” were in reality persecutory assimilation-attempts. I learned that Govt’s, both in Norway and in most other European nations were complicit, but to my surprise, Muslim clergy did make a serious effort to protect the Roma in their ranks (We can see a parallel today; the Clergy here in Norway have been stellar in speaking out on the behalf of the Roma). I learned that Roma belong to several of the major religions (including Islam); I had this weird misconception that they were largely catholic and orthodox (or of a intersect of religions). I learned that (as usual in subjugation/persecution of minorities), humiliation was used as a tool (in this case, by Croatian Ustaša) ; the Roma were forced to remove their clothes, and then dance for their executioners (this makes me feel sick to my stomach. I can’t even…) before being killed sequentially. That is, they got to witness their impending fate..
I learned that one of the most prominent psychiatrists in Norwegian history belonged to the Eugenics movement. I found out that Roma in Norway were sent to forced labour-camps faaaar north in the country; how many died is uncertain (again..) because there were no records of women and children, only men (there was, according to eyewitnesses, no doubt that there were women and children present.
There was also a visit from one of the most prominent Roma-families in Norway. They were not happy. They felt that the focus on past-events was misguided, and were pretty adamant that people, and certainly so academics, should be focusing on their current plight. I do believe they had a pretty inaccurate perspective of what life is like in academia though, and I don’t think they understand how important it is to recognize/remember history in order to understand and (hopefully) rectify current conditions. Yelling at those who try to help you is certainly not the way to go. But that’s just my opinion.
Nevertheless, the people on the panel handled the situation in the best way possible, I can’t even begin to express how impressed I was.