The Memory of the Roma Holocaust

Aug 02, 2015 - Oct 02, 2015

Memorial practice as an act against contemporary oppressions

Today, we are coming together to commemorate August 2nd the international Roma Day of Holocaust, Pharrajimos. That night in 1944, the „Zigeunerlager” in Auschwitz-Birkenau camp were exterminated by Nazis and they deported several hundred of what they classified as “capable” Roma to various other camps, and exterminated those who were labeled as “useless”.

It is inevitable to not think about those contemporary social and political mechanisms that facilitate the “soft killing” of Roma based on their racialization. I would like to recall the French political thinker, Claude Lefort, to understand the importance of “duty to remember” and the “duty to think”.

 “For the last few years, we have been taught that it is our duty to remember. That is certainly a positive development. Yet the doctrine that urges us not to forget the crimes against mankind is accompanied by the hope that this memory will prevent us from repeating the atrocities of the past. But without the duty to think, the duty to remember will be meaningless.” (exerts from an unpublished paper of Claude Lefort,” The Refusal to Think Totalitarianism.” Cited by Lothar Probst, 2003)

The Gallery8 commemoration is similar to Claude Lefort’s thoughts on remembrance, it is an invitation to reflect on the persecution and extermination of Roma during the Holocaust as well as to “think” about those structural legacies and conditions as well as the discursive stigmatization that contributes to the fatal exclusion of Roma in our contemporary societies. Without making this analytical link to our commemoration then the “duty to remember” without “duty to think” would be meaningless based on the statement by Claude Lefort.

Our performance and artistic installation aims to illustrate the mental references of Roma between past and present such as collective stigmatizations, deprivations, oppressions and exclusions. Whereas during the Pharrajimos the extermination of Roma by the Nazis and their collaborators was an explicit and visible acts of violence than in our contemporary societies where the acts of violence as well as mental and physical torture are embedded in more sophisticated socio-politico mechanisms, policies and discursive frameworks that create almost a terminal and irreversible racial exclusion of Roma. This process is defined by our performance and artistic installation as a contemporary “soft killing” based on the theoretical work by Georgio Agamben (1998) and Achille Mbembe (2003). Agamben in his book, Homo Sacer argues for the importance of the homo sacer to understand the bare life. “Homo” means human/man, and “sacer” has the double meaning of “sacred” and “taboo”. Homo sacer can be killed with impunity since their life does not matter! Agamben conceptualized their life as a “bare life” which exists without the ethical and political recognition and the necessary intervention by the state to improve the social and political conditions of them to exercise their fundamental human rights. Agamben’s conceptualization of Homo Sacer’s bare life based on the concept of biopolitics developed by Michel Foucault (2010). Achille Mbembe developed further the biopolitical logics of contemporary societies and added the term of necropolitics (necro-death) to describe the intensified exploitation, subjugation and ingrained oppression of life in the global, neo-liberal capitalist world. Based on Mbembe description, necropolitics characterized by the extreme underfinance and privatization of public services that support structural racism, extreme poverty and class divisiveness. He argues that the logic of necropolitics offers meaningful and significant life for those who have all kinds of power, symbolic and material capital, and financial means and all those who are ignored by the neo-liberal public capitalist structures are to be left to die.    

So, it is our duty to remember, to think, to speak up, to protest and to act against all the exclusionary structures and rhetoric that let Roma in this present time live a social and political death!!! 

Angéla Kóczé, Curator


Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Foucault, Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979 Basingstoke, 2010.

Mbembe, Achille, ‘Necropolitics’ (translated by Libby Meintjes), Public Culture 15/1 (2003), pp. 11–40.

Probst, Lothar. ‘Founding Myths in Europe and the Role of the Holocaust’, New German Critique 90, Autumn (2003), pp. 45–58.


Participating artist:

Virág Erdős: contemporary Hungarian, poet, writer and playwright (http://www.erdosvirag.hu)                                  

Zuzana Hrušková: contemporary Slovak photo, film and fine artist (http://fotobezka.sk/zuzana)

János Dégi: actor, director and playwright (http://degijanos.hu)

Grant Livesay: American musician (http://grantlivesay.bandcamp.com)

János Kepes:  translator with degree in mathematics and linguistics (https://kepesjanomuvek.wordpress.com)

Special thanks: Junghaus Timea, Szász Anna, Szilágyi-K Ágota, Balogh Tibor, Gallyas Gyula, Balogh Lídia , Baki Júlia

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