Khamoro: establishing the facts of the "unknown Holocaust"

Seminar über den Roma-Holocaust

Every year, for the last five years, the Khamoro festival has brought the vibrant culture of the Roma to the streets of Prague. It's a festival dominated of course by the exhilarating and heart-rending music of the Roma. But there's also a serious side to the festival, as Rob Cameron now reports.

The Roma have no tradition of writing down their history, and so their tale of slavery and persecution is passed down from generation to generation in song. But Khamoro is not just about music.

Here at a seminar in the heart of Prague's Old Town, a group of academics and historians from across Europe have gathered in an attempt to shed light on one of the darkest moments in Europe's past: the Roma Holocaust:

"Roma people are discriminated anyhow, even today. And it is the reason nobody was so interested."

Lidija Grebo, the organiser of Tuesday's seminar. She says there are huge gaps in our knowledge of what happened to the Roma during the Second World War:

"There is no documentation, a lot of documents have been destroyed. And a very, very important thing: Roma people immediately after the war didn't start to work on the Roma Holocaust."

That combination of poor documentation and lack of interest among historians means that it's hard to arrive at any concrete figures for just how many European Roma perished in the camps. Jana Horvathova, from the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno:

"The precise number of Roma who died is still a matter of discussion. A figure that's often mentioned is 350,000, although many historians believe that's too low. Others claim as many as two million Roma died, which many historians say is too high. I personally believe the true figure is around half a million."

Seminar organiser Lidija Grebo - herself a former refugee from Bosnia - says establishing the truth of what happened to the Roma during the war might be a painful process. Nonetheless, she says, it's a crucial one.

"I think that all young people should learn about what happened during the Second World War because it is our history. And we have to learn something from history."