Forty charities have written to the government calling for the genocide of Roma and Sinti Gypsies to be included as a mandatory part of Holocaust teaching in schools in England, after a joke on the subject by comedian Jimmy Carr prompted outrage.
The letter to the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, said better teaching was needed to address widespread ignorance about the murder and torture of more than 500,000 Roma and Sinti people by the Nazi regime, as well as the high levels of prejudice and hate against Roma communities today.
Carr drew widespread condemnation when he said in his Netflix special that the murder of Romany and Sinti Gypsies in the Holocaust was ignored because people did not want to “focus on the positives”.
“Public condemnation of the comments is important,” the letter said. “But measures need to be implemented to create meaningful change. This incident has highlighted the pressing need for teaching about the genocide of Roma in the Holocaust to be mandatory on the schools’ curriculum.”
The letter, which was organised by Friends, Families and Travellers and Roma Support Group, said YouGov research in 2019 found that 55% of British adults did not know that more than 500,000 Roma and Sinti people were killed by the Nazis.
Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2018, meanwhile, found that 44% of those surveyed expressed openly negative attitudes towards Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, more than any other protected characteristic group.
“There is a clear and strong case for improving education to address this,” the letter said. “Including the history of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in school curricula would improve the understanding that the communities are an integral part of both national and European societies, and would act as an effective tool to combat hatred, discrimination and prejudice.”
The letter also called for additional teaching to reflect more positive narratives about these communities and suggested that the Department for Education support schools to celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month.
Mattey Mitchell, the health campaigns officer at Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “The experiences of Roma and Sinti peoples during the Holocaust remain in living memory, but are still largely unknown to the wider public. When these memories are gone also from our communities, who then will remain to ensure history does not repeat itself?”
A DfE spokesperson said: “The atrocities of the Holocaust should not be forgotten, and that is why it is compulsory in the history key stage 3 national curriculum.
“As part of Holocaust education, schools have the flexibility to teach about the persecution of different groups of people by the Nazis, including the genocide of the Roma and Sinti communities.”
Signatories to the letter include the Anne Frank Trust, the Race Equality Foundation, Show Racism the Red Card and the Runnymede Trust.