It seems that history has been kinder to some races of men than it has to others. Conversely, ir is true that fortune passes everywhere, and at times stereotypes do seem to perpetuate themselves. At what point does a holocaust begin? Is it number of dead, or the manner in which their lives were taken? Is it the reason behind the massacre, or the planning that went into it death on an industrial scale? I could make the argument that the first child's death in war is a holocaust, and there is precedent in scripture and philosophy for this position. And certainly almost any mother would agree.
To us, though, it is almost universal that the Holocaust (which means, in the strictly theological Hebrew definition, a burnt offering,) is the most unparalleled suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of Hitler. But in defining and confining it thusly, we should keep two things in mind: that Hitler has his equal, perhaps, in Stalin, and that the Jews were not the only victims of the mad Austrian. During World War II Nazis killed 800 Krimi Roma in Simferopol. Then, for good measure, after the Nazi occupation, Stalin ordered all Crimean Tatars and Crimean Romani to be deported to Central Asia as "special settlers" in 1944, further devastating their community.
The border crossing at Przymysl is both heart rending and heart warming: despite the suffering written on almost every face, I also saw a sign that said “EVERYTHING IS FREE FOR REFUGEES FROM UKRAINE.” On the platform for the train from L'viv, I saw a tough-looking Polish Special Forces soldier gingerly feeding a baby while its mother ran to the bathroom (and this human piece of iron looked a little nervous holding the baby). I marveled at the way a priest, a rabbi and a punk rock kid, who must have been some form of polyglot prodigy worked together, for the kid took orders from the men of God and sped off to do them, in ratty black Converses, before returning and answering questions to all who asked. And this included the Romany, gypsies, who of all the sufferers were the ones who pulled my heart's strings hardest.
This was the second time I went to the station and in six weeks things had changed: more resources were brought to bear, by ONGs, by the UN, and by groups with special interests, like the Israeli operation. It was amazing: a Jewish refuges just had to prove his lineage to a “relief worker” who looked like he could give the abovementioned Polish soldier a fair fight with anything from a paperclip to a machine gun and a rabbi (another one, not the part of the odd trinity mentioned above) and they were put on a bus, the Law of Return was invoked, and off the bus would go to the airport at Rszesnow, where the promised land waited one short, free flight away. But for the Romani families, the gypsies there was no bus, there was no relief. Instead, what there was were squalling masses of sublimely beautiful children, women who looked solidly beaten by life, and the ever present specter of poverty. The train came and they boarded it, to Warsaw, all sitting together: I counted three women and thirteen kids in one family and ten kids and two women in another. Their possessions were in feed sacks and they were able to travel because Polish Railways, and Eurorail, was giving free rides. But they didn't have diamonds hidden in the folds of their dresses or rubies in their hair. Rather, they had no place to go and nothing to look forward to, except for the relief agencies of whatever country they landed in and the cold charity such places provide. Now, they do seem, from what I have read, to have extended families, and perhaps warm arms awaited them somewhere. But they often don't have documents, as they live in a rejection of outsider society, and in today's world, where your status in a computer is your very humanity. This is not easy.
Wikipedia says of Ukrainian Roma, in an article remarkably scant of information, perhaps for for the same reason the Romani often don't have documents:
The previous discouragement of the education of Roma girls hit them harder after the war disturbance in the education system. Ukrainians are also fighting Russian soldiers in Liubymivka. Despite being part of a marginalized minority, hundreds of Roma volunteered to fight for the Ukraine army.
There were no men with these Romani at the border. Perhaps their men, despite the treatment they have received at the hands of all civil authorities, Ukraine's included, were in uniform. Whatever the case, though, it was the saddest sight in a sea of sorrow: the plight of the Ukrainian Romani, at the border, getting on a train to somewhere, with nothing. The UN High Commissioner of Refugees is aware of their plight, and wants to help, but the UN, from what I have seen, moves at a snail's pace, trying to balance all ends against the ever changing middle in vain hopes of avoiding offense at all costs.
As for me, I gave them 400 Zlotys…it was what the “Bankomat” – an ATM – would give me. I give the woman credit: she was a professional, for without a bit of shame she pointed back at the Bankomat, clearly asking for another. But the machines that rule our life affected hers that day as well as nine, for that was my limit, and as soon as she realized, that, or that nothing more was forthcoming, off she sped. 400 Zlotys is about $80, which works out to about $6.15 per person she was responsible for. I wasn't offended, and wished not for the first time for a bag full of money.
I will say this, though: quite clearly they were experts in survival, and I hope that is enough.
Better that than the reduction to forgotten memory, just another drop in the ocean of tears being cried East of the Vistula right now.
The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
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