What's so funny about the Romani Genocide, Jimmy?

We at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum are disturbed by the ‘joke’ made by comedian Jimmy Carr in his new Netflix show “His Dark Material”. It produced gales of laughter about the horrific crimes suffered by Roma and Sinti people during the Holocaust.

We condemn the joke itself but our concern goes deeper. We ask WHY the joke was met with so much laughter. The blatant prejudice against the GRT community that it reveals in the audience is representative of a much larger issue.

The lack of education surrounding the GRT community and the Roma Sinti genocide is completely evident. Research from YouGov in 2019 found that 55% of surveyed British adults did not know that over 500,000 Roma and Sinti people were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Additionally, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found in their National Barometer of Prejudice and Discrimination that people in the UK held the highest level of prejudice towards Gypsies and Travellers at 44% (the next highest levels being held towards Muslims at 22%). There is a clear and strong case for improving education to address this.

The Roma and Sinti genocide that took place during the Holocaust is often overlooked. We must remember each of those that suffered unimaginable pain and loss during this time — those such as Sinti girl Anna Maria ‘Settela’ Steinbach, whose picture below has haunted successive generations, and those whose names we do not even know and whose stories are lost. It is important to humanise these victims and not generalise. It is much harder to laugh when we see a victim's face.

While Jimmy Carr’s ‘joke’ has shocked and offended so many, this incident is certainly not the only of its kind in modern day contexts. A survey carried out by Friends, Families and Travellers in 2019 asked Gypsy, Roma and Traveller young people what the biggest challenge they faced in school was – 86% of pupils reported the biggest challenge at school to be bullying, followed by racism at 73%.

Banning comedians from telling offensive and upsetting jokes will not solve the root cause of this issue. We should not only condemn this behaviour, but we should challenge the attitude that it stems from. It is our hope that this ‘joke’ has served as an admonition for many who now wish to challenge the dark history surrounding this despicable form of hatred and how it still manifests today.

Photographs from the Robert Dawson collection at the National Holocaust Museum

Read more here

Newsweek article by Justin Klawans https://www.newsweek.com/comedian-condemned-making-light-holocaust-netflix-special-1676489

Jewish News article by Director Marc Cave https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-did-jimmy-carrs-audience-laugh-at-his-holocaust-joke/ 

Open letter by our survivor speaker Joan Salter MBE 

Our webpage on the Roma and Sinti genocide during the Holocaust from August 2020 https://www.holocaust.org.uk/Blog/roma-sinti 

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