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Czech Culture Minister: Buyout of pig farm was important, human dignity cannot be measured in money

19.1.2018 7:31
The pig farm at Lety u Písku, Czech Republic (2017). (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
The pig farm at Lety u Písku, Czech Republic (2017). (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

News server published an interview on 17 January with Czech Culture Minister Ilja Šmíd in which he said he agrees with the amount of money paid to buy out the pig farm in Lety u Písku that stands on the site of a former concentration camp for Romani people because this was an important step and human dignity cannot be measured in monetary terms. "The last Government made that decision and I am convinced it was absolutely correct as far as the amount paid to buy the farm," the minister said.

"This is a question of rehabilitating the conscience of the nation with respect to what happened in the past," the minister said. "If what came to pass was a result of our own actions and not just because of the pressure of the occupational power, then we must come to terms with that."

"Moreover, human dignity cannot be expressed in monetary terms," the minister said. "What will happen next will be a cleanup of the grounds, a non-invasive archaeological survey of them, and the announcement of the architectural competition to design the future form of the land/memorial."

"Norway has expressed interest in financing the final phase of the cultivation of the remembrance site - the building of the memorial - which we greatly appreciate, and we are holding negotiations about the options for financing from Norway Grants," the minister said. Currently the grounds of the former concentration camp are being handed over to the Museum of Romani Culture.

The contract to buy the farm was signed last November. The Czech state paid roughly CZK 450 million [EUR 17.7 million] for it.

The previous Culture Minister, Daniel Herman, and the penultimate Human Rights Minister, Jiří Dienstbier, were involved in arranging the purchase. Buying the farm and building a dignified remembrance site on the territory of the former camp has been discussed for more than two decades, but previous Governments kicked the can down the road.

The Czech Republic has earned criticism from both domestic and international organizations because the pig farm is located on the Romani place of remembrance. The European Parliament has also called for the farm to be removed more than once.

The camp at Lety was opened in August 1940 by the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia authorities as a disciplinary labor camp. In the beginning the camp was intended for adult males who were supposedly unable to document to the authorities how they made their living.

Traveling Romani people were also meant to end up in the work camps. Another such facility was established in Moravia at Hodonín u Kunštátu.

In January 1942 both the Hodonín and Lety camps were changed into internment camps, and then in August 1942 both were transformed into "gypsy camps". From that moment until May 1943, according to historians, 1 308 Romani people passed through the Lety camp, 327 of whom died there and more than 500 of whom where then sent to Auschwitz. 

Fewer than 600 Romani people are said to have returned to Bohemia and Moravia from the concentration camps after the war. According to estimates, the Nazis murdered 90 % of the Czech Roma.

The grounds of the former camp at Lety were subsequently built into a pig farm during communism, beginning in 1972. During the first phase of construction 10 halls were built, with three more added during a second phase.

From 2013-2015 the now private owner of the farm installed new technology into half of the halls. The farm covers 7.1 hectares and includes 13 halls with 13 000 pigs.

th, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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