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Germany unveils memorial to Holocaust's Roma victims

October 24, 2012 |  8:11 am

Germany Sinti Roma Holocaust Memorial
BERLIN -- A memorial dedicated to Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust was unveiled in the center of the German capital Wednesday after years of delay caused by a dispute between the artist and the city over costs and design.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel inaugurated the new monument, joined by President Joachim Gauck and dozens of Roma survivors of World War II. The memorial features a small pedestal jutting out from the center of a round pool of water on which a fresh flower is to be placed daily. A poem titled "Auschwitz," by Italian Santino Spinelli, is engraved around the pool's rim, which is circled by jagged stones laid in the grass.

The memorial, designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, is in the Tiergarten, Berlin's largest urban park, which lies across the street from the Reichstag, the German Parliament building.

The exact number of Roma, also known as Gypsies, killed in the Holocaust is unknown, but experts estimate that up to 500,000 could have died. The Nazis deemed the Roma racially inferior and shipped them to concentration camps, where many were killed and subjected to medical experiments.

It took Germany decades to acknowledge and honor these Roma victims of the war. Germany first officially recognized Roma victims in 1982 under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and the idea for the exhibit came about 10 years later.

Construction on the memorial began in 2008, and it was originally scheduled to be unveiled in 2010. But according to the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Karavan accused the city of Berlin of mismanagement, and the federal government had to take over.

In addition to acknowledging the delays, Merkel said that "a culture of remembering is very important to me" in her weekly podcast. "That is why we must have appropriate places where that is possible -- where people can also go in the future when the survivors are no longer alive," Merkel said.

Roma in Europe still suffer from discrimination and poverty. "The biggest minority in Europe is discriminated against in most European states," Romani Rose, the head of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany, told a Berlin newspaper Sunday. "The Roma's living conditions are horrible in many countries."

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-- Renuka Rayasam

Photo: Members of the media visit a new memorial in Berlin dedicated to Roma victims of the Holocaust. The memorial was officially opened Wednesday. Credit: Markus Schreiber / Associated Press

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