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From the JFR Library – June 2024

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From the JFR Library

Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews, and the Holocaust

by Ari Joskow­icz

National Jewish Book Awards Finalist 2023

Reviewed By Lin­da F. Burghardt for the Jewish Book Council – March 20, 2023

Ari Joskow­icz, a bril­liant young pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry, Jew­ish stud­ies, and Euro­pean stud­ies at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty, grew up in Vien­na in the 1980s with four Holo­caust sur­vivor grand­par­ents. While they told him so many sto­ries that he devel­oped a vis­cer­al under­stand­ing of the grav­i­ty of their suf­fer­ing, he dis­cov­ered only years lat­er that pop­u­la­tions besides the Jews were vic­tims of the Nazi geno­cide as well.

Schol­ars esti­mate that between 250,00 to 500,000 Romani peo­ple were mur­dered on the killing fields and in the con­cen­tra­tion camps along­side the Jews in the Holo­caust, ful­ly one-quar­ter to one-half of the Romani pop­u­la­tion in Europe at the time. Yet though they were sin­gled out for per­se­cu­tion, forced ster­il­iza­tion, depor­ta­tion, and mur­der at the hands of the Nazi regime, their wartime suf­fer­ing has remained a large­ly untold story.

Now, through metic­u­lous research and an out­stand­ing pre­sen­ta­tion, Joskow­icz has brought us a book that presents a clear, flow­ing por­trait of this under­stud­ied but deeply vio­lat­ed pop­u­la­tion that fun­da­men­tal­ly alters our per­cep­tion of the Holo­caust, enlarg­ing it to include the Romani vic­tims and bring­ing to the fore their quest for his­tor­i­cal jus­tice and self-representation.

Roma is a term used to describe all ​“Gyp­sies” who came to Ger­many from Hun­gary and oth­er parts of East­ern Europe, begin­ning as far back in his­to­ry as the Mid­dle Ages. It includes the Sin­ti pop­u­la­tion, who are con­sid­ered a sub­group. Euro­peans feared the Romani peo­ple, and they were nev­er accept­ed into Euro­pean soci­eties; many did not set­tle in spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ties but instead remained nomadic, which served only to strength­en their image as outsiders.

Joskow­icz demon­strates how schol­ars, politi­cians, and edu­ca­tors can all look at the same geno­cide but see some­thing dif­fer­ent. In his view, it is the inter­ac­tion between the Jew­ish and Romani vic­tims, two groups that had lit­tle in com­mon before the Holo­caust, that offers a sig­nif­i­cant change in both how we under­stand what hap­pened in the Holo­caust and the way we deal with the com­plex rela­tion­ship between his­to­ry and memory.

The simul­ta­ne­ous per­se­cu­tion under Hitler of the Roma and the Jews gave these two dis­parate groups some­thing that bound them togeth­er. And this, Joskow­icz posits, gives them a crit­i­cal com­mon­al­i­ty that can pro­vide strength and uni­ty in the fight against racism and anti­semitism in today’s world.

Under­stand­ing the geno­cide of Europe’s Roma pop­u­la­tion — how it is entwined with the destruc­tion of Euro­pean Jews, and how each group found a way for­ward — pro­found­ly effects not only com­mem­o­ra­tions of the Holo­caust, but also how we define the Holo­caust itself. Both points are great­ly enhanced by this illu­mi­nat­ing new book.

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