Leicester University is celebrating its centenary by looking at their archives. They aren’t only looking at what is there; they are also considering what isn’t, and why, and the team have started a conversation so that the silence can speak. Big Ideas was invited to present at the Silence in the Archives conference at the University of Leicester.

In a talk entitled ‘Missing archives; Finding voices’, Big Ideas put a spotlight on Foundation Stones for the Roma and Sinti people murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. We undertook this work in partnership with the Romani Cultural & Arts Company and its founder Isaac Blake. A selection is featured in the film above.

Foundation Stones are unique painted stones which will become part of the new UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre when it is built. They commemorate the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust and all victims of Nazi persecution, and subsequent genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda. 

Those marginalised by history are often marginalised in the present. 

Although it is estimated that more than 500,000 European Roma and Sinti were murdered by the Nazis, this genocide is still largely unknown and was only fully recognised by the West German Government in 1981.

Know as the Porrajmos, or ‘the devouring’, the murder of Roma and Sinti people is commemorated on 2nd August each year to mark when the so called gypsy camp (Ziggeunerlager) at Auschwitz was liquidated and 2,897 Roma and Sinti people were murdered in the gas chambers.

These Foundation stones – many of which feature emblems of Gypsy culture such as the Romani wheel, horses, and wagons – were painted during a school engagement week supported by the Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service in South Wales. Children from schools with a high proportion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children took part as well as young people at the Shire Newton traveller site, on the edge of Cardiff, and adults connected with the Romani Cultural & Arts company.

Annihilation is the aim of genocide. The Nazis and their collaborators kept limited records of the Roma and Sinti people murdered and classified them as ‘asocial’. The appalling silence in these archives means that it is very hard to know for sure how many Roma and Sinti people were murdered.  

Including the Roma and Sinti story in the Foundation Stones archive is inseparable from inviting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community members to participate in this national project.

The beautiful Foundation Stones created with them are becoming part of a new national archive for the future to be kept in the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.  

We are grateful to the Romani Cultural and Arts Company as well as the EMTA service in Wales for their support. 

Thanks to Leicester University for Silence in the Archives and our Creative Partner Yewande Okuleye who was at the heart of this exciting and thought provoking event.