“A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ROMA”
The “Gypsy” Holocaust
Many associate the Holocaust with the attempt at annihilation of the Jewish people and we forget that others were also destroyed at the same time. The Roma (Gypsy) appear almost only as an afterthought when we look at the darkest period of history in the existence of the world.
The Roma (Gypsies) faced annihilation during the Nazi ‘Final Solution,’ yet have been relegated to a footnote in history. The Roma are still victims of extreme and often violent racial persecution. This film is the story of Europe’s largest minority group.
A People Uncounted is a powerful journey exposing the tragedy of Europe’s largest minority group. Director, Aaron Yeger, visited eleven countries and interviewed many Roma (artists, historians, musicians, Holocaust survivors) and we see here the very rich and the very difficult lives led by the Roma. Through their music, words and poetry we see their story and learn that once again that in Europe there is racism and genocide for some ethnic minorities. We must never forget the lessons of history and be aware that it can, indeed, happen again. This is the first nonfiction feature dedicated to Romani victims and it consists of visual evidence, historical commentary and survivor testimonies.
The Roma migrated northward from India during the Middle Ages, landing everywhere from Russia to the U.K. In some places they were forbidden to settle or own property and in other places they were segregated into ghettoes. Vlad the Impaler, Henry VIII and Maximilian I were among those who authorized their exile, persecution or outright murder. Nonetheless, a romantic popular stereotype of footloose freedom persisted. Today they are Europe’s largest minority as well as the European Union’s most discriminated against. They are widely associated with theft and miscellaneous other misdeeds and this gives right-wing politicians and ethnic nationalist groups a license to brand them undesirables and encourage hate crimes against them. We see one woman here that is so afraid that her educated, successful children will be tainted by association that she’ll only discuss her heritage while being photographed in silhouette.
The Nazis targeted them and because their skin was somewhat dark and they lived in isolation they became easily identifiable. The Nazis had every intention of erasing them from the face of the earth and referred to them as “gypsy scourge”. Many perished in concentration camps; while countless others were simply shot or starved to death in their homelands. Survivors of this holocaust, which claimed up to 90% of Europe’s Roma population, tell frightening stories here, including one man who was subjected as a boy to Mengele’s experiments.
The catastrophe of the Roma was not hardly recognized after the war. There was no information about or mention of them at the Nuremberg trials and until recently they have not had academic or political voices.
“A People Uncounted” primarily looks at the genocide of the Roma and Senti people during World War II. Yeger and also touches on parallels with the American Civil rights movement as well as genocide that has taken place in more recent years. There is a lot of ground covered within an hour and a half, maybe a bit too much for a film of that length but it is better to have a film that tries to say too much, than a film that essentially says very little.
There is no accurate count of Roma and Senti people who died in death camps or the various round-ups, but it estimated that the population loss was close to 90 percent. We see the historical perspective as well as current laws, in places such as in Italy where Roma people are registered and have been forced to move from cities such as Milan, where municipal laws are able to circumvent European Union rules. A montage of clips from movies and television shows touch on how “Gypsies” have been portrayed in popular culture with a mix of both prejudice and fanciful romanticism. It is the first person accounts that make A People Uncounted worth watching, both for providing some added historical perspective on a minority people, but also as an antidote to those who insist on trivializing history for their own dubious purposes.
Genocide is defined and the modern white power movement is deconstructed, giving a broad overview of the many issues and secondary indicators of ongoing discrimination and hate. The intent is to give a bigger picture idea of how the persecution of the Romani people that we see as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of different cultures — has persisted throughout history and is perpetuated in modern society.
The modern motto of “We must NEVER forget, lest it happen again” reminds us that we do FORGET and in many cases, “we” do not even know or adequately acknowledge the existence of genocide being perpetrated against so many groups throughout the world – the Turkish genocide of Armenians, Stalin’s purges and Holodomor against 10,000,000 Ukrainians, the recent and various “ethnic cleansings” within the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda’s decimation of Tutsis by the Hutus – to name but a few. Yeger’s film is superbly researched and emotionally wrenching. We see the Roma as a people who have been “uncounted”.