Jimmy Carr, a comedian often known for his outrageous comedy, has stirred up controversy following his recent Netflix special, His Dark Material.
What did he say?
In a Netflix special that came out on Christmas Day 2021, Carr said: “When people talk about the Holocaust, they talk about the tragedy and horror of 6 million Jewish lives being lost to the Nazi war machine. But they never mention the thousands of Gypsies that were killed by the Nazis. No one ever wants to talk about that, because no one ever wants to talk about the positives.”
Carr has defended his words by saying it’s educational, and he is in fact poking fun at the fact that most people don’t know about GRT (Gypsy Roma Travellers), homosexual, disabled people and Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Nazi’s murdered.
In some ways, he has a point. The death of the hundreds of thousands of GRTs is something that is now referred to as the ‘Forgotten Holocaust’. So, let’s break it down.
Who are Roma?
Roma, also known as Romani, are travelling people who first arrived in Europe in the early 15th century. They originated from Northern India and the language they speak is Romany, an Indo-Aryan language with roots in Sanskrit.
Within Roma, some groups distinguish from each other based on the area they now reside in. There is the Sinti group that is primarily based in Germany. There is also Lalleri, who come from the Czech Republic. It’s important not to confuse these traveller groups with Irish Travellers, who do not have Roma roots and have been colloquially known as Gypsies in the UK, particularly the media.
What happened to Roma in World War II?
Like many races and groups, Romani communities were seen by the Nazi’s to be racially inferior within the Nazi ideology. Many Roma were detained, put in forced labour camps or made to live in ghettos across Germany and Poland.
In Generalgouvernement, a Nazi German-occupied zone of Poland, Roma’s were subject to scientific experiments. A tragic case of this was the Roma theatre performer, Theresia Seibel. She was sterilised by the Nazi’s and her twin daughters were the subjects of medical experiments resulting in the death of one of her children.
Sinti and Lalleri were forced out of Austria and placed in a ghetto where hundreds, possibly thousands, died of typhus, starvation and a lack of shelter. Those who survived were sent to the Chelmno extermination camp in where they were gassed. Those who didn’t perish from carbon monoxide poisoning were shot by Nazi soldiers.
Those who “didn’t behave like Gypsies” were deemed “pure” and Nazi soldiers treated them as an exception. Approximately 10,000-15,000 people fell into this category and were usually treated with more dignity than their “half-blood” counterparts. However, during night-time roundups, the exception was often ignored and Roma soldiers serving for Nazi Germany were captured and killed.
It’s estimated by historians that anywhere up to 500,000 Roma were killed in what Romany speakers call porajmo, ‘the devouring’. Between 25-50% of all Roma groups were victims of the Nazi genocide and it has resulted in an undeniable collective trauma for these people.
There has been little to no restitution for the horrific acts that occurred and to this day the Traveller identity is still held in a negative light – with recent polling suggesting that as many as 50% of people surveyed in the UK hold negative views of Irish Travellers.
How are Travellers seen in the UK today?
The statistic above isn’t that surprising when the representation of GRTs in UK media is taken into account. From casual racism to wide-reaching stereotypes in shows such as Channel 4’s Dispatches: The Truth About Traveller Crime, GRTs are on the receiving end of what the Guardian called the last “acceptable” form of racism.
The material in the media such as Carr’s comment sadly seems to be representative of a societal attitude towards these groups. Even though his comment was said in the context of a comedy show, the underlying truth is that of hateful stereotypes. This hateful rhetoric around these groups is synonymous with their treatment outside of their communities – shown by the statistic that as many as two-thirds of Travellers have been verbally and or physically attacked.
How have people responded to Carr’s comment?
The Roma Support Group released a statement following the release of the Netflix special saying: “As descendants of Roma victims and survivors of the Holocaust, we are appalled with Jimmy Carr’s abhorrent comment…We feel hurt and deeply upset. His joke…revealed the depth of anti-Roma hatred, prejudice and discrimination.”
It’s not just Traveller groups that are voicing their opinions on this, London-based writer Sunny Singh said: “Words spoken, supported, amplified and propagated by the powerful in any land are always reflective of and connected to, real-world actions the same powerful sections take.”
This comment is highly controversial and has opened up some important discussions on the regulation of Netflix as well as the societal misunderstandings around Travellers.