Czech Culture Minister wants to solve the problem of the pig farm at Lety
Paying his respects to Romani Holocaust victims while commemorating the former "gypsy camp" at Lety by Písek, Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL) said there must be zero tolerance for hatred, racism and xenophobia in the Czech Republic. The minister said he believes such sentiments should not be taken lightly.
The ceremony was also attended by the director of the Human Rights Section of the Office of the Czech Government, Martina Štěpánková. Czech Television broadcast the Culture Minister's speech live.
"In comparison with other societies, I do not believe Czech society is a leader when it comes to racist and xenophobic tendencies. On the other hand, I do believe we must not underestimate the signals that are coming from our society," Herman said, adding that he is of the opinion that we have not yet managed to learn from history.
"We cannot brush this aside by saying it's part of the distant past and nothing of the sort is possible today. If someone had told me when I was young that I would live to see neo-Nazis marching through the streets of our towns, I probably would not have believed them. In 1928, Adolf Hitler won a mere two parliamentary seats in democratic, free elections. All it took was five years and the situation was completely different. Let's not let ourselves be lulled into thinking things are not that acute," the minister said.
Herman emphasized that there is a constant need to fight hatred, racism and xenophobia. He also stressed that the principle of applying collective blame on the basis of ethnic origin is invalid.
"The fact that someone is born a Czech, a German, a Jew or a Roma tells us nothing about whether his life is good or bad. 'Ye shall know them by their fruits'," he said, quoting the Bible.
Herman believes this is why events such as today's ceremony at Lety are very important. "I keep talking about a culture of remembrance, because racism has deep roots and unfortunately is not just part of the past. That's why we must constantly remember what happened, the crimes that were perpetrated when people labeled a certain population group inferior," he said.
The minister added that the camp at Lety during WWII was very specific in at least one aspect. "It is not possible to lay the blame for it only at the feet of Fascist Germany. With full humility we must admit that this concentration camp for Romani people was managed by members of the Czech Protectorate Police. In their brutality and coarseness they were not much different from the Nazi German executioners in other concentration camps," he said.
"The atmosphere in our society today is not satisfactory. It is important that we manage to settle our debts from the past, to call things by their right names, and to deal with them correctly. My grandfather died in the Mauthausen concentration camp, and if pigs were rolling around there today, then I would not see it as a good sign," Herman said.
The commmemorative ceremony was held at Lety on the occasion of several historic events. The Lety "gypsy camp" was first established on 1 August 1942.
"On 2 August we also commemorate the International Remembrance Day of Roma Victims of the Holocaust and the closure of the Romani section of the concentration camp at Auschwitz," said Milouš Červencl, director of the Lidice Memorial. Today's ceremony was also attended by several women who survived the annihilation of Lidice in 1942.
The memorial to the victims of the former camp for Romani people at Lety is located near the pig farm. The surviving relatives of the victims have been fighting to have the farm removed for years now.
The farm is located directly on the site of the former camp and representatives of the Czech Government have stated several times in the past that there is no money in the budget to buy it out. "Minister Dienstbier and I are doing our best to work on this problem and find a solution," Herman said.
The history of the concentration camp at Lety
The original space at Lety served in 1940 as an accommodation facility for construction workers. Subsequently, a disciplinary labor camp was created there on the orders of the Interior Minister of the Protectorate Government, Josef Ježek, on 15 July 1940, issued on the basis of Government Decree No. 72 on disciplinary labor camps dated 2 March 1939.
That particular decree had been issued prior to the country being occupied by the Nazis. According to the decree, "wandering gypsies and other vagrants living in the same way who are capable of work, beggars by trade and those who make a living from begging (children, etc.), gamblers by trade, inveterate idlers, loafers and persons making a living from dishonest earnings (prostitution, etc.), whether their own or those of others" were to be rounded up and concentrated in particular facilities.
The first 12 prisoners arrived at Lety on 17 July 1940. On 1 August 1942 the camp was changed into a "Gypsy camp" and subsequently entire Romani families were transported there.
The concentration camp began running on 1 August 1942 and was closed on 4 May 1943. Its capacity was increased to accommodate up to 600 prisoners, but that number was soon exceeded, as during the course of August 1942 more than 1 100 children, men and women were interned in the camp.
The camp was not equipped with the necessary hygienic or other facilities for such a large number of people. The prisoners often had to bathe in a nearby fishpond.
Until August 1942, only men were imprisoned at Lety. After that, children and women were also brought there to rot in completely unsatisfactory conditions.
After the big influx of August 1942, whole families were mostly brought to the camp as well as individuals. A total of 326 people died directly in the Lety camp, 241 of them children.
A temporary burial ground near the camp was used to inter 120 victims. Another 540 prisoners from Lety perished while being transported to Auschwitz.
A total of two mass transports were undertaken. The first one departed on 3 December 1942 as a transport of so-called asocials, 16 men and 78 women, to the Auschwitz I concentration camp.
The second transport practically meant the liquidation of the Lety camp, as it included 417 prisoners who went to the Auschwitz II -Birkenau concentration camp. While the first transport took place on the basis of a decree about crime prevention, the second took place on the basis of Himmler's decree of 16 December 1942, which ordered all Romani people transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The remaining 198 prisoners were then relocated to the "gypsy camp" at Hodonín near Kunštát (the so-called Žalov camp) or were interned in camps in Pardubice and Prague. On 13 May 1995, at the site of the mass grave next to the former camp, a memorial was unveiled with the inscription "To the victims of the gypsy camp at Lety 1942-1943. Never forget. Ma bisteren."
On 13 May 2010 the Lety Memorial was officially opened there. A government decision has entrusted the Lidice Memorial with management of the site.
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