'Holocaust survivor Raymond Gureme sends powerful message of resistance' reports Rosie Toohey
“Of course the situation has not improved, look at the demolitions, the hatred towards our people." Declared 93 year old Holocaust survivor Raymond Gureme to a packed out audience of Roma, Travellers and supporters in Scotland.
The 20 year old, YTT reporter Rosie Toohey attended Resistance: a new generation, a conference organised by Romano Lav with sponsorship from Article 12 in Scotland and The Scottish Government Equality Unit.
The conference was focused around learning from and building upon history, the importance of alliances and intersectionality and looking at new strategies of resistance as the way forward.
There was a very important guest speaker in the UK for the first time - 93 year old Raymond Gureme, a holocaust survivor from WW2. It was the first time I met Raymond and hearing his story filled the room with many emotions being in the same building as this man was such an honour.
Raymond Gureme gave us a brief look into his life and some of the struggles he has faced. He was born in 1925 into a family of French Manush Travellers and was brought up on the road, following the circus around France and Belgium. He started training in the circus at the age of 2 but it came to an end in August 1941 when French police rounded him and his family up and sent them to a internment nomad camp, Mr Gureme escaped using the acrobat skills he learnt from the circus, for a while he stayed locally and would steal food to throw back over the wall to his family but was soon recaptured and put in a different camp - 9 altogether - and lost his family, finding them again 7 years later in Belgium in 1952. Reunited the family moved back to France as a place they called home but was faced with problems from the government trying to remove him and his family. “ I have a problem with the French government not the French people I would like to see the French government changing their policies with our people" he stated.
Despite the war having ended 70+ years ago he doesn’t feel attitudes have changed towards the Roma community “Of course the situation has not improved look at the demolitions, the hatred towards our people. Discrimination is still alive and well against Roma and Travellers.”
More recently in 2011 Mr Raymond Gureme wrote a biography of his life “Interdit aux nomades” translated into English “forbidden to nomads” which explains the French Government's collaboration with the Nazi's, and he feels the same regime has come back into action in France.
Since publishing his book the French government have shown a lot of hostility towards Raymond and his family however, he is clear to state that this is his opinion and how he felt and it was not his wish for them to be insulted. In 2013 the police came to his trailer - he was awoken by the sounds of gunshots and a young police officer beat him and dragged him out of the trailer kicking him to the floor. Later this file was closed following no investigation.
Mr Raymond Gureme’s wishes he could live for another 50 years to help the younger generation organise and defend themselves like his generation could not and did not do before. Raymond tells us - “to resist, to be able to stand up, never remain on your knees take action and act, never loose hope and always keep some courage!”
I caught up with David Donaldson vice chair of Romano Lav whom also co-hosted the conference afterwards.
“I feel the event went really well, it was the first time an event of this type has ever been held in Scotland and the first time Mr Gureme has ever been to the UK.People seemed to leave the conference with renewed inspiration and a new outlook on intersectionality and the benefits of working in alliance with other organisations and marginalised communities.I hope that after the event we will see minority and marginalised communities coming together more often to tackle inequality within society. It was interesting to discuss intersections of inequality, and to see that many marginalised peoples face the same issues” he said.
This is what some young people at the conference had to say about it .
“Ailie McWhinnie stated: ‘It’s not normal to be normal, Everyone has something they face discrimination for if you look at it. Whether it be race, religion, mental health, disability etc. Everyone is impacted in different ways by inequality. We need to come together and stop saying us and them.’”
There was a sense of solidarity between all of the marginalised communities, "we are fighting the same fight so let’s come together and fight for our rights", said Scottish Traveller Charlotte Donaldson.
I personally think everyone is different, skin colour, hair colour, eye colour and body shape however we all need to work together to tackle racism and discrimination and put an end to it.