Romania honours Roma Holocaust survivors

2 min

Bucharest (AFP)

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis paid tribute Monday to Roma victims of the Holocaust, awarding honours to three survivors in a ceremony that marked 75 years since Auschwitz was liberated.

The two men and one woman honoured were among an estimated 25,000 Roma deported to Transnistria in 1942 on the orders of Romanian dictator and Nazi ally Ion Antonescu.

Transnistria is a narrow breakaway state in what is now Moldova.

For years, Romania placed all responsibility for Holocaust crimes on Nazi Germany, but Iohannis said that "Romania has understood the scale of the horror, has taken responsibility for this dark page of history and is taking steps to preserve the memory of the Holocaust."

"In Transnistria we knew only death and misery," said Constantin Braila, who was 11 when he was deported along with his family, six of whom died.

According to a report produced by a panel of historians chaired by Romanian-born Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, around 11,000 Roma died in work camps in Transnistria.

Those who weren't murdered by soldiers fell victim to hunger, sickness or cold.

"Every one of the survivors represents a voice of humanity against racism and xenophobia," said Iohannis.

"The terrible suffering inflicted on the Roma is not sufficiently well known," he added before vowing to "destroy the seeds of hatred and intolerance."

Romania only began to officially commemorate Roma victims of the Holocaust in 2009.

"This official recognition is important because it will help raise awareness about the fate of the Roma," historian Petre Matei told AFP.

For years, Matei has pressured Romanian authorities to award Roma survivors adequate compensation.

"Many survivors still have not received the damages they are entitled to," he said.

Iohannis also awarded honours to Romania's Federation of Jewish Communities and to two Holocaust research institutes.

Only around 7,000 Jews remain in the country, compared with a population of 850,000 before the First World War.

Historians estimate that between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were murdered in from 1940 to 1944 in territories controlled by the Antonescu regime.