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March 21, 2018
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Czech capital sees public discussion on future form and role of the Lety memorial to the genocide of Roma

3.3.2018 8:51
The Museum of Romani Culture and the ROMEA organization held a public discussion on 2 March 2018 about the possible future form and role of the Lety u Písku Memorial,
The Museum of Romani Culture and the ROMEA organization held a public discussion on 2 March 2018 about the possible future form and role of the Lety u Písku Memorial, "Restoring Dignity to the Remembrance Site at Lety u Písku." (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

The Lety memorial to the Holocaust of the Roma could include a replica of an original barracks, a tree-lined avenue, or a burial mound with a cross - and one of the buildings from the pig farm that was built there after the Second World War might also be left standing. Those are just some of the ideas discussed yesterday during a public discussion about the possible future form and role of the Lety u Písku Memorial, called "Restoring Dignity to the Remembrance Site at Lety u Písku".

A similar event is planned by the Museum of Romani Culture this spring in the town of Lety itself. ROMEA TV, the Czech Republic's first Internet television channel, broadcast yesterday's discussion live on the website (video is here).

Relatives of the victims said they want a stone mound with a cross to be erected in a quiet remembrance area of the grounds. "We have an idea to indicate where the original ground plan of the [camp] buildings has been preserved in a contrasting way," Museum director Jana Horváthová said.

An avenue where the number of trees would symbolize the number of victims is also being counted on. A visitor's center would be located where the current administration building of the pig farm is now.

The Museum plans to establish a permanent exhibition about the Holocaust of the Roma and to exhibit archeological findings from the former concentration camp there. Some of the pig farm buildings in place there now could even be left standing.

"If we completely demolish the pig farm, then the horror of what the Communists built there will be lost," said Rudolf Murka, a relative of those imprisoned during the Protectorate. Others speaking yesterday said it is important to install another replica of some of the original barracks with original bunks and equipment at the site.

The Museum expects to take over the facility from the firm operating the farm at the end of this month - reportedly about 1 000 pigs are still there now. After taking control of the grounds, the Museum will announce a tender for the demolition and recultivation of the buildings and the removal of hazardous waste.

According to Jaroslav Kolčava from the Czech Culture Ministry, roughly CZK 117 million [EUR 4.6 million] has been allocated for that particular aspect and another one million euro will most probably come from Norway Grants. He said the ministry's overall allocation for the entirety of the memorial project is approximately CZK 140 million [EUR 5.5 million] and that the demolition and recultivation is anticipated to cost approximately CZK 120 million.

According to historians, the Lety facility in Bohemia was first opened in August 1940 by the Protectorate authorities as a disciplinary labor camp. It was first intended for men who were unable to document their incomes to the authorities.

People who lived a travelling way of life were also meant to end up there. The same kind of facility also existed in Moravia at Hodonín u Kunštátu.

In January 1942 both camps were transformed into internment camps, and in August both places became "Gypsy Camps". From that time until May 1943 about 1 308 Romani people - children, men and women - passed through the Lety camp, where at least 327 of them died, while more than 500 of them ended up in the Auschwitz death camp.

After the war fewer than 600 Romani prisoners returned to Bohemia and Moravia from the concentration camps. Experts estimate that the Nazis murdered 90 % of the Czech and Moravian Roma.

In mid-February 2018 the Czech Government Council for National Minorities supported a proposal to include a day to commemorate the Romani victims of the Holocaust among the significant days of the official Czech state calendar. The Council also condemned remarks made by the vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies and head of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party, Tomio Okamura, who erroneously alleged that the camp at Lety had not been fenced and the prisoners had been able to come and go freely from it.

After those and other criticisms were voiced, Okamura apologized for using imprecise wording about the camp fence. He then immediately went on to describe the fence as made of wood and to erroneously allege that it had not been guarded most of the time.

Several MPs have proposed that Okamura be removed from his post as vice-chair of the lower house but were not able to get discussion of that motion onto the agenda through the regular process. An extraordinary session of the Chamber of Deputies should be convened on that subject next week.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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