A stirring Canadian documentary focusing on the plight of the Roma people during the Holocaust will be screened at this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival.
A People Uncounted documents the travails of the Roma in Europe – often pejoratively referred to as Gypsies – who were among those targeted by the Nazis as part of Germany’s Final Solution.
According to statistics obtained by the filmmakers, it’s estimated that more than 500,000 Roma were murdered during the Shoah.
Aaron Yeger and Marc Swenker, the film’s director and producer respectively, told The CJN they hope the Jewish community comes out in force to see the film and recognize that the two communities are intrinsically linked.
Yeger, who is Jewish and whose family descends from Holocaust survivors, said the film can serve as an educational resource for the many who have limited knowledge of the Roma.
“I come from a family of survivors, and [before filming] I didn’t realize the extent to which the Jews and Roma were linked” by their shared fate in World War II, he said.
The film does a superb job of editing emotional interviews with Roma survivors, a Jewish survivor (Yeger’s grandfather) and Roma and Jewish scholars and historians, who all agree that the tragedy that befell the Roma is woefully underreported and unacknowledged.
The main difference between the two peoples post-World War II is that “unlike the Jews, once the war ended, [the Roma] had no community to embrace and support them and nowhere to go,” the filmmakers wrote on the festival’s website.
A People Uncounted is a production of Toronto-based Urbinder Films and was the outgrowth of an idea by the son of a Holocaust survivor as a way to bridge gaps between the international community and the Roma, Swenker said.
He also noted that the film, released last year, also tried to capture much of the modern-day persecution the Roma experience in various European states, most notably in Hungary, where certain members of the ultra-nationalist Jobbik party have displayed open contempt for ethnic minorities.
Swenker and Yeger also turned their lens on France, where the government has dismantled numerous Roma camps and in 2009, deported some 10,000 Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria, followed by another 8,300 deportations in 2010.
Politics aside, A People Uncounted is a beautifully filmed story, complete with an original score by Robi Botos, a Hungarian-born Roma pianist now living in Toronto.
“The intention of this film was to build bridges between the Jewish and Roma communities,” Yeger said. “Jews can understand what the Roma went through.”
It’s estimated the Roma population worldwide is between 13 and 15 million people.
After filming and editing the movie, Swenker said he came away feeling “let-down” by the world community for continuing to mistreat the Roma.
Yeger added that the Jewish community should feel a source of pride, since “much of the support for Roma rights comes from Jewish scholars and advocates.”
“At the end of the day, our mandate is to get the Roma story out there,” Swenker said. “Hopefully this film will inspire other filmmakers to look at the Roma.”
Yeger said he and the film crew recorded more than 20 hours of Roma Holocaust survivor stories and are hoping to put those testimonials into a format similar to what Steven Spielberg used to set up his Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has recorded tens of thousands of Jewish survivors’ stories.
The filmmakers noted that the Romany equivalent of the word Shoah is Porrajmos, a term that’s becoming more widely used in their community, though many Roma also use the term Shoah to describe what happened to their people.
A People Uncounted will screen at the TJFF at 8 p.m. on May 8.
For more information, visit www.tjff.com