Czech Education Minister commemorates Romani Holocaust in Hodonín by Kunštát
Dozens of people gathered yesterday at the former concentration camp in Hodonín by Kunštát to pay their respects to the memory of the victims of the Romani Holocaust. The event commemorated the largest transport of Romani people from Hodonín by Kunštát to the death camp at Auschwitz 69 years ago. Thanks to the caretaking performed by the J.A. Komenský National Pedagogical Museum and Library, a reconstructed building which once served as a prison on the campus of the former "gypsy camp" was opened on the occasion of this sad anniversary. The building is the first part of a planned Romani Holocaust Memorial which should be completed there within three or four years.
During the commemoration, an open-air mass was held next to the former prison building. Those attending them moved to the grave sites of the people who perished in the camp during the Nazi occupation. As the numbers of the dying rose, the dead were buried in a mass grave just adjacent to the camp itself in Hodonín. At the burial sites, which today are called Žalov, the Museum of Roma Culture erected a memorial in 1997. Currently the first preparatory steps are underway to have this site declared an official cultural monument, which will increase the overall significance of the site. The Museum of Roma Culture has filed an official request with the Czech Culture Ministry.
Dozens of Romani people and human rights defenders traveled to Žalov yesterday for the ceremony. The NGO IQ Roma Servis and the Museum of Roma Culture organized buses to transport attendees to the site from Brno. Representatives of the Museum, such as ethnologist Jana Poláková, who has been entrusted with the museum's management, and historian Michal Schuster gave speeches at the memorial site, as did the chair of the Society of Romani People in Moravia (Společenství Romů na Moravě), Karel Holomek and Czech Education Minister Petr Fiala. Representatives of the Embassy of the United States of America and other diplomatic offices, such as the Embassy of the Republic of France, also said a few words.
News server Romea.cz will upload video of some of the speeches and the text of Mgr. Michal Schuster's speech in a single location on its website. (The Czech text of Schuster's speech is available here http://www.romea.cz/cz/zpravodajstvi/domaci/michal-schuster-nacisticka-genocida-romu-navazovala-na-predsudky-panujici-v-evrope-jiz-pred-tim). This commemorative ceremony takes place at the former concentration camp every year.
The grand opening of an exhibition on the construction of the memorial and the history of the camp took place in the reconstructed prison building yesterday as well. At 2:30 PM, those in attendance visited the cemetery in nearby Černovice, where 70 Romani camp inmates are buried. The site features a memorial plaque which was created by Božena Přikrylová, a visually impaired Romani artist. People laid wreaths at the grave and lit candles.
For decades, the campus of the former concentration camp was used as the Žalov recreation center. Beer was served in the building that had originally been the prison and children played there. The Czech Education Ministry purchased the campus three years ago and, after a complex process of seeking financing, began to reconstruct the site. The small cottages previously lived in by those visiting the recreation site were demolished. Only the frame of the wartime-era prison building was left.
Hodonín by Kunštát was originally created as a so-called disciplinary labor camp for people unable to prove they had a legal source of income. A maximum of 20 % of its inmates at that time were Romani. That labor camp then became an internment camp. The so-called "gypsy camp" was not opened at the site until August 1942. Its function and operations were fundamentally different from the preceding types of camps. The internment camp was officially closed and all of the prisoners were released - except the Romani citizens, who became the first prisoners in the newly-opened "gypsy camp".
Hundreds of Romani people were crowded into three buildings at the camp. The prisoners had no access to electricity or running water. Typhus and other diseases spread among them, killing as many as 200 people. An even worse fate awaited those who did not succumb to disease.
The first transport of 46 men and 29 women from Hodonín was sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz at the end of 1942. The second transport of 749 prisoners took place on 21 August 1943. That massive transport is now annually commemorated by Romani people at the site of the former camp. Only a fraction of the remaining 60 prisoners lived to be released, while the others were also transported to Auschwitz in the winter of 1944. Approximately 1 400 people, a third of them children, passed through the camp during the war and about 300 of them perished there.
The camp later served as a field hospital for the Soviet Army. After the war, ethnic Germans were interned there prior to being deported from Czechoslovakia, where they also died of typhus and other diseases. Some were also buried in the camp's small cemetery.
During communism, from 1949–1950, the site became a forced labor camp, intended for people who were allegedly avoiding work and thereby allegedly endangering the economic life of society. People were also imprisoned there for allegedly violating the law "on the preservation of the republic and against the black market", for allegedly committing administrative misdemeanors, or for otherwise allegedly endangering the "people's democratic order".
Paradoxically, the campus was then transformed into a children's recreation center. After the state purchased it three years ago, workers removed the recreational cottages and swimming pool. Only the prison building was left intact as the basis of the future memorial.
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