SPOKANE, Wash. -- Although historians agree that an estimated half a million Gypsies died at the hands of the Nazis, Gypsies feel the suffering of their ancestors has not received wide enough recognition.
To that end, American Gypsies are now seeking participation on the 65-member U.S Holocaust Council, which is in the process of planning a memorial to all Holocaust victims. The latest effort follows the formation last year of the U.S. Romani Holocaust Council.
'We want the world to know that we, too, mourn our dead and cannot forget what happened,' said Jimmy Marks of Spokane, a Washington state senator. 'We are tired of waiting for the world to realize our people suffered.'
He recently was selected by Gypsies from 11 Western states to lobby for the Gypsies' case once again before Congress and the Holocaust Council and said he plans to do that in April when the council next meets.
Gypsies have been trying for decades to persuade the German and United States governments to acknowledge the pain and suffering of Gypsies under Hitler.
Gypsy women were sterilized the year Hitler came to power in 1933 and mass internment of Gypsies took place well before the Jews were sent to concentration camps.
Nazi scientists of the period called Gypsies 'worthless primitive elements' who were to be registered for later destruction. Laws declaring Gypsies an inferior race had been on German books since the late 1800s.
In 1936, the anti-Gypsy campaign was stepped up with the formation of the International Center for the Fight Against the Gypsy Nuisance by Interpol in Vienna.
In July, 1936, the first group of 400 Gypsies was sent to Dachau concentration camp.
Historians now agree that an estimated 500,000 Gypsies died at the hands of the Nazis.
After the war, German courts rejected many compensation claims by Gypsies. As a result, few Gypsies have received indemnification.
Despite a hunger strike at the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau in 1980 and an appeal by the president of the European Parliament, Simone Wiel, no block reparations have ever been awarded to the Gypsy people like those made to Israel.
Two years ago the German government finally admitted Gypsies had been the target of Nazi racial persecution.
That was a big step for Gypsies, according to Marks, but only the first one.
'We want to participate in the remembrance ceremonies as well as selection of the Gypsy exhibits which will be displayed when the memorial is complete,' said Marks, 39.
Members of the council are appointed by the president and no vacancies will occur until 1986.
'If we don't get on peacefully, we'll sue,' Marks promised. He said lawyers representing Gypsy interests have researched the case for over two years.
The Gypsies would argue the Council failed to carry out its mandate to include all Holocaust victims in the memorial process.
'It is time, one way or the other,' said Marks, 'to let our ancestors rest in peace.'