More than 67 years after the end of World War II, Germany has unveiled its national memorial for an estimated half-a-million Sinti and Roma persecuted and murdered by the Nazis in Europe.
Various studies based on genetic and linguistic evidences have concluded that the ancestors of the Romani people in Europe had migrated from India more than 6,00 years ago and the origin of the Romani language spoken by them in different countries can be traced to some Indian languages.
During the World War II, they were subjected to a systematic extermination by the Nazis. They were often tortured, killed on sight and sentenced to forced labour and imprisonment in concentration camps.
Some historians estimate that the total number of victims could be as much as 1.5 million. But, they say that even the lowest estimate could make the genocide of Sinti and Roma by the Nazis one of the worst mass murders in history.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opened the memorial yesterday at a ceremony attended by President Joachim Gauck and several other political leaders as well as by over 100 survivors of the Holocaust, called upon the nation not to forget the sufferings of the Sinti and Roma under the Nazi terror regime.
The genocide of Sinti and Roma has left "deep scars and still deeper wounds," she said. The memorial is for a group of Nazi victims, whose sufferings until now did not receive the public attention it deserved, she said.
It is a lasting reminder of the "sufferings of hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma victims as well as those people who were annihilated by the inhuman racist policies of the Nazi terror regime."
It is also a warning for the future "to remain alert, protect the minorities and to take over responsibilities," Merkel said.
Israeli artist Dani Karavan has designed the memorial, which is in a dark circular pond with a triangular stone in the centre on which one fresh flower will be placed every day as a sign of grief and remembrance.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Romani Rose, chairman
of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany warned against a new racism against his community.
This is primarily directed against his minority community, but it is also a threat for democracy and European values, he said.
Soni Weisz, a Holocaust survivor from the Netherlands, spoke of the genocide of Sinti and Roma as the "forgotten Holocaust."
He told the gathering how as a child he escaped deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp, but he had to watch his parents and his family members were being transported to the camp.
The memorial unveiled in Berlin is an acknowledgement of the atrocities committed to the Sinti and Roma, but it is also a sign of hope that racism and anti-semitism will not take the form which they took in the 1930s, Weisz said.
It took more than 20 years for the memorial to be completed after the German parliament approved the project in 1992. Its construction was delayed by disputes over its design and its location. Its cost of 2.8 million euros is financed by the German government.
With a population of around 12 million people, Sinti and Roma are the largest minority in the European Union.
A large number of them are subjected to various discrimination and social marginalisation in different parts of Europe even today, according to the Documentation and Cultural Centre for Sinti and Roma in Germany.