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Germany opens memorial to Nazis’ Gypsy victims

A woman placed a flower at the Gypsies memorial Wednesday in Berlin during the memorial’s opening ceremony.

Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

A woman placed a flower at the Gypsies memorial Wednesday in Berlin during the memorial’s opening ceremony.

BERLIN — Germany opened a long-awaited memorial Wednesday to the hundreds of thousands of Gypsies, or Roma, who were killed by the Nazis in what one survivor called ‘‘the forgotten Holocaust’’ — and pledged to fight the discrimination the minority still faces in Europe today.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck inaugurated the memorial at an official ceremony in Berlin’s Tiergarten park. Designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, it features a water-filled basin with a retractable, triangle-shaped column at its center that will be topped by a fresh flower every day.

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Panels detailing the Nazis’ persecution of the minority surround the memorial, located across the road from the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament building, and close to memorials to the Nazis’ Jewish and gay victims that have been inaugurated in recent years.

Gypsies were subjected to racial discrimination from the early days of Nazi rule. Before Berlin hosted the 1936 Olympic games, hundreds were rounded up and interned; and in 1938, SS chief Heinrich Himmler set up a central office for the persecution of Gypsies.

It’s not clear exactly how many Gypsies were killed during the Holocaust. Estimates range from 220,000 to more than 500,000.

Their fate drew little attention as post-World War II Germany began to come to terms with the Nazis’ crimes, primarily focusing on the slaughter of some 6 million Jews.

Only in 1982 did West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt publicly declare that Sinti and Roma ‘‘were persecuted for reasons of race. These crimes constituted an act of genocide.’’

Plans to build the Berlin memorial go back to 1992, though the project was delayed by disputes over the design and other matters.

‘‘Unfortunately, it is too late now for many survivors of the Nazi terror,’’ said Zoni Weisz, a Gypsy who recalled escaping deportation to Auschwitz from the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands in 1944, at age 7, with the help of a policeman.

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