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Commentary by Petr Uhl: "They killed our Anežka, blue-eyed girl"

Prague, 8.5.2012 19:43, (ROMEA)
Petr Uhl, member of the Czech Helsinki Committee, who was the first-ever Human Rights Commissioner in the Czech Republic.

"Masaryk, you deserve to swing with Hilsner!" Those are the lyrics to a Czech folk song dating from the turn of the 20th century. Professor Masaryk was "pleading the case" of Mr Hilsner, a Jewish man convicted of the murder of 19-year-old Anežka Hrůzová, a dressmaker from Věžnička u Polné. For taking this action, Masaryk was considered just as much of a criminal as Hilsner, if not worse. Both of them "deserved to hang". For the vast majority of people, there was no doubt as to the guilt of Leopold Hilsner, who was a beggar and a wanderer.

Everyone "knew", after all, that the Jews needed the blood of Christian virgins to make unleavened bread for their holiday of Passover - without the blood, the matzohs wouldn't be right. The murder took place before Passover, Hilsner was Jewish, and the autopsy findings clearly stated that "the death was caused by total hemorrhaging, but the amount of blood found at the scene did not correspond to the amount she lost".

Hilsner was not pardoned by Emperor Charles I until 1918. He was never rehabilitated. I remember that even after WWII, the belief that matzohs contain blood was still prevalent in this country. The French managed to settle a similar matter, the Dreyfus Affair, after 10 years.

The saying in those days - "Don't buy coffee, sugar, flour from the Jews - They killed our Anežka, blue-eyed girl" - bears a striking resemblance to today's slogans of anti-Gypsy instigation. These slogans are being featured at public gatherings in towns and are reflected in the language used by local politicians, the media, and police.

There are only a few mayors who have actively opposed these generalizations and rumors today. One of them is Oldřich Ryšavý (Czech Social Democrats - ČSSD) of Břeclav, where recently the neo-Nazis have been inciting others against Romani people. Rumor has it that Romani residents of Břeclav seriously injured a 15-year-old boy there. His mother stated that he said his attackers were Romani. Maybe they were - maybe they were Romani people from Slovakia - or maybe they were someone else. The mayor defended the human dignity of the citizens of his town, a dignity based on the rule of law. He defended that dignity against hate and intolerance, against collective blame.

Mayor of Varnsdorf Martin Louka, who is from the independents' movement, warned against rumors inciting hatred against Romani people last winter. "There were rumors that the daughter of an influential local Vietnamese businessman had been raped, that a mail carrier had been attacked, and that several youths had been assaulted and robbed when in reality they had lost their money in a much more prosaic way. None of these incidents ever occurred. The invention of these rumors tangibly increases the tense atmosphere in town and damages our reputation. The situation here is not at all as horrible as it might seem from the newspaper headlines and television reports," Louka said.

That has been confirmed by North Bohemian Police spokesperson Vojtěch Haňka. He has determined that there have been eight fabricated crimes reported in North Bohemia, five robberies and three thefts.

František Kostlán of news server charges Mayor of Rumburk Jaroslav Sykáček (from the same ČSSD party as Mayor Ryšavý) with provoking last year's unrest in the Šluknov foothills. Sykáček supported the initial story told about a particular violent incident, in which 20 Romani people were said to have attacked five defenseless "whites". It later turned out the incident was one of a brawl between two gangs of drug dealers.

Citizens, the media and politicians all bear enormous responsibility. The Hilsner Affair must not be allowed to repeat itself.

Originally published in the daily Právo on 4 May 2012.

Gwendolyn Albert, Petr Uhl, Petr Uhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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