Thursday, August 1, 2019

Rev. Jackson Meets with Holocaust Survivors and Young Activists in Poland and Declares “Your Struggle is Our Struggle”

KRAKOW, Poland – Descendants of the “Forgotten Holocaust” – the Nazi slaughter of some 500,000 Sinti and Roma people during WWII – jumped to their feet in a packed university lecture hall here Thursday to cheer and applaud a descendant of American slavery, segregation and racial terrorism.


“Your struggle is our struggle,” Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. told the audience attending an international civil rights conference of Sinti and Roma, who were classified and persecuted by the Nazis as “Gypsies” and nearly eight decades later continue to face discrimination and acts of racially charged violence throughout many parts of Europe.


“Roma people and African Americans share a legacy of racist victimization and marginalization,” Rev. Jackson said. “We also share a legacy of fighting for our civil rights, of resistance, of standing up for our rights and equality.”


The conference – “Is ‘Auschwitz Only Sleeping?’ Sinti and Roma Narratives After the Holocaust” – was one of a series of events leading up to European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday, Aug. 2.


On that date, 75 years ago, more than 4,000 Sinti and Roma men, women and children were massacred at the Nazi extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, about an hour’s drive from the cobblestone streets, ancient churches and sidewalk cafes of Krakow.


At the preserved remains of the death camp turned museum and memorial, Rev. Jackson will deliver a keynote address Friday, honoring the dead and warning the living to resist the “ugly head of racism, nationalism and neo-Nazism” that “is rearing up again in the U.S. and Europe.”


All told, roughly 20,000 Sinti and Roma perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including more than 50 relatives of Rita Prigmore, a 76-year-old Sinti anti-racist activist and Holocaust survivor from Germany. “My family was ripped apart,” she said. “Almost everybody was shipped to Auschwitz.”


Over coffee Thursday morning, Ms. Prigmore shared her story of survival and resistance with Rev.  Jackson. She and her twin sister, Rolanda, were born March 3, 1943 in northern Germany. The year before, the Nazis had ordered all Sinti and Roma to be sterilized or be sent to a concentration camp.


They were considered by the Hitler regime to be undesirables, thieves, gypsies. But when Nazi doctors learned that Ms. Prigmore’s mother was pregnant with twins they allowed her to continue the pregnancy. The Nazis wanted twins for medical experimentation.


Ms. Prigmore pulled back her hair to show Rev. Jackson a scar near her left eye.


“They were trying to dye our eyes from brown to blue,” she said.


She said four Gestapo doctors crowded into the delivery room when she and Rolanda were born. The newborns were whisked away under the supervision of Dr. Werner Heyde, director of a mental hospital and a protégé of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz Angel of Death.


Rolanda was dead within six weeks. But as an infant, Ms. Prigmore was reunited with her mother. When she grew up, Ms. Prigmore married an American soldier. She moved to the United States and became a U.S. citizen in 1976.


She has suffered from fainting spells and severe headaches for her entire life, a painful reminder of the evil she narrowly escaped. She later returned to Germany for medical treatment and continues to live there.


She also returned to fight for compensation for Nazi crimes against the Sinti and the Roma people.


“I have to say it looks like it’s starting all over again, the racism,” Ms. Prigmore said. “These last few years have gotten worse.”


Rev. Jackson shook his head in agreement. On the flight from Chicago to Poland earlier in the week, a flight attendant asked him why he was traveling to Krakow. He told her he was going to participate in commemoration ceremonies at Auschwitz for European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. The attendant looked skeptical.


“I’m not sure it (the Holocaust) happened,” she told Rev. Jackson.


Ms. Prigmore sighed deeply.


“We have Nazi parties all over the place,” she said. “A lot of them say there was no Auschwitz.”


“Americans have not come to grips with slavery or segregation,” Rev. Jackson said.


As they ended their conversation, the survivor turned freedom fighter handed Rev. Jackson her card. It read:


Rita Prigmore


Ambassador for a society without racism


Two hours later, with Ms. Prigmore heavy on “my mind and heart,” Rev. Jackson walked into the crowded lecture hall to address the civil rights conference. There he met another Holocaust survivor and anti-racist activist, a 95-year-old Roma man from France named Raymond Gureme.


“I say to the Sinti and Roma people let’s fight together,” Rev. Jackson said. “Silence is betrayal. Unless you fight for freedom you will not get it. Nor will you deserve it. No more Auschwitz’s. We are not going back.”



Media Contact:
Don Terry


Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international organization that was formed in December 1996 by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. through merging of two organizations he founded Operation PUSH People United to Serve Humanity (estab. 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (estab. 1984). With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, the organization works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens while advocating for peace and justice around the world. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Its mission is to protect, defend and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields while promoting peace and justice around the world.