Eighth International Roma Caravan of Memory

A Roma group and the Tarnow Ethnographic Museum plan a Roma caravan from July 26 to 29 to commemorate the Nazis? mass murder of Roma during World War II.Other objectives of the event that the Tarnow Ethnographic Museum and Roma Social-Cultural Association in Tarnow organized include helping build Roma self-identity and fostering a more positive image of Roma among non-Roma.The route that the caravan of horse-drawn wagons will follow will include key locations in Roma history, including places where they became victims of the Nazis.  The caravan will help underscore the positive stereotype of the Roma wanderer associated with colorful wagons, campfires and music.The Ministry of Interior and Administration, which has established a program to try to help assimilate Roma into Polish society, is financing the International Roma Caravan of Memory. There have actually been 7 caravans before this one – the first in 1996 ? and the organizers hope to make it an annual event. Each year, the caravan generates tremendous interest both from those living along the route and from news organizations, including radio stations where the caravan stops.Organizers select a route each year that is both comfortable for the horses and that allows a lot of people along the way to make contact with those in the caravan. Overnight stops are chosen in places suitable for the horses.The State Stud Farm in Klikowa, near Tarnow, provides the horses and some of the wagons, and the facility?s staff travels in the caravan to care for the horses. Tarnow is 85 kilometers from Krakow in Malopolska Province.Organizers say that after so many years they have tried most of the route options, so future caravans are likely to follow routes already taken. The first caravan hit the road in 1996. Its destination was Szczurowa, a village near the Vistula River about 45 kilometers northwest of Tarnow that was the site of a Nazi massacre.  Ten to 20 Roma families lived in Szczurowa before the Nazis arrived in 1943. They were settled Roma, well enough integrated with the local population for mixed marriages to occur. On August 3, 1943, German military police shot 93 Roma at the local cemetery – almost the entire Roma population. A list of the victims was preserved in Roman Catholic Church documents because all had had been baptized at the church in Szczurowa. Szczurowa residents and the Brzesko branch of a veterans organization, the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, arranged for a commemorative marker to be put on the Roma mass grave on May 8, 1956. The Szczurowa memorial can be regarded as the first to commemorate what has become known as the Roma Holocaust. The Tarnow region contains other mass Roma graves besides the one in Szczurowa. However, most of the victim?s identities is unknown so the graves have largely been forgotten. The best-known mass gravesites along the Caravan of Memory route are at Zabno, where 49 Roma were murdered; Borzecin Dolny, 28; and Bielcza, also 28. The first caravan consisted of two wagons and about a dozen people. The second in 1997 contained five wagons.  On the road, the caravan is joined by friends and supporters in cars. Some Roma park their cars, ride a few kilometers in the wagons, then return to their vehicles. Other families join the caravan at night, then drive back to Tarnow in the morning, since the route is never more than 45 kilometers from the city.  To give television crews the best possible footage, the first caravan forded the Dunajec River near Tarnow. Although there were only two wagons, the crossing took considerable time and one horse fell in the river, so the fording has not been repeated. The second caravan in 1997, like the first, was supposed to last three days. But it had to be cancelled the second evening because of floods ravaging the countryside. The mostly empty wagons returned to Klikowa the next day in pouring rain. The caravans offer young Roma a glimpse at the old life of traveling on the open road and the elderly a reminder of a life they once knew. The caravans create awareness of Roma history by visiting memorial sites and mass graves that most people are unaware of. Roma in the caravans learn firsthand about the Roma Holocaust from eyewitnesses, clergy and authors who have written about it. The caravans? use of symbols such as flags and anthems and the events? emphasis on tradition – the wagons, horses, tales told around a fire in the evening – help promote a sense of identity among the participants, a feeling that their culture has value. The intense attention from journalists helps support such feelings.The Roma Caravan of Memory has become an important event in the government?s effort to integrate the Roma community into Polish society.Another is the annual Roma pilgrimages to Czestochowa, which has a monastery that is home to the famed Black Madonna painting, a tribute to the Virgin Mary. Each year, millions of people from all over the world – mostly non-Roma ? come to Czestochowa to see it and pray.Two other key Roma-integrating events are Roma festivals in Gorzow Wielkopolski in western Poland and Ciechocinek, a spa town in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Province.The caravan in 1998 led to a conflict in the Roma community. A group of Roma, inspired by a woman who survived the Roma massacre in Szczurowa, sent the Polish Press Agency (PAP) a protest in which they accused the organizers of the Caravan of Memory of profaning the memory of the victims by what they called the picnic-like atmosphere of the event. The protest was motivated by personal conflicts, but news organizations jumped all over it. The publicity focused incredible attention on the caravan that has lasted until this day. 
Program  Thursday, July 26: Departure from Tarnow at 11:00.  Route: ul. Krakowska, Rynek Glowny, ul. Walowa, Rynek Wiezniow Oswiecimia, ul. Lwowska, ul. Starodabrowska, ul. Sloneczna, ul. Solidarnosci, ul. Nowy Swiat, ul. Romanowicza, ul. Klikowska, ul. Wyszynskiego, ul. Moscickiego, ul. Moscice, ul. Wierzchoslawice and ul. Bielcza. The caravan will stop at Bielcza?s cemetery at 16:00. Caravan participants will spend the night at the sports stadium in Bielcza.  Friday, July 27: All day in Bielcza, where traditional caravan life will be highlighted.  Saturday, July 28: Departure from Szczurowa at 11:00. Stop at the cemetery in Szczurowa at noon. Caravan participants will spend the night next to the museum and mansion house in Dolga.  Sunday, July 29: Return to Tarnow via Radlow.   
Hours of departures/arrivals are approximate.

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