Roma author to speak in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day

In commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ronald Lee, executive director of the Toronto-based Roma (commonly known as “Gypsy”) Community & Advocacy Center, will speak about The Romanian Holocaust at 7 p.m. Friday, April 12, in the Benjamin Mays Center, 95 Russell St. The public is invited to attend this talk, sponsored by the Multicultural Center at Bates College, free of charge. A Canadian-born Romani, Lee is an author, journalist, lecturer and educator whose autobiographical novel, Goddamn Gypsy (Tundra Books, 1984), is the only account of Romani life in Canada written by a person of Romani ethnicity.

During the Nazi regime, the Romani community was, along with the Jewish community, pinpointed for sterilization, deportation, internment and murder in concentration camps. Many Romani communities were devastated during this period, and continued persecution postwar forced many families to flee from Europe to the United States and Canada.

The ancestors of the people known today as the Roma migrated out of India in the 11th century, and by the 15th century they appeared throughout Europe as far west as France, as far north as Latvia and as far south as Andalusia in Spain. Romanis living in feudal Eastern Europe were valued as artisans.

The Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia enslaved Roma from the 1400s until their emancipation in 1865. Like African slaves in the southern United States prior to the Civil War, Roma could be bought and sold like animals, families could be torn asunder for sale and owners had the right to punish, mutilate and even execute their Romani slaves with impunity.

Lee has researched and developed two recent documentaries, The Gypsies of Svinia and Opre Roma, produced by the National Film Board of Canada. He lectures on Romani history, culture and techniques are used to combat the stereotyped term “gypsy” (which has a negative impact on the acceptance of Romani newcomers to Canada) and the current persecution of the Roma in the former Communist countries of eastern Europe, forcing many to seek refugee status in Canada and elsewhere.

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