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Czech Govt Human Rights Commissioner: The term “inadaptable” deprives Roma of their humanity

Lety u Písku, 19.5.2013 12:00, (ROMEA)
Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková at the commemoration ceremony in Lety by Písek, 2013. Photo:  František Kostlán
Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková at the commemoration ceremony in Lety by Písek, 2013. Photo: František Kostlán

Dear survivors, dear ladies and gentlemen,

We have gathered at this place of remembrance as we do every year to pay our respects to the memory of the Romani victims of Nazism, in particular, the 1 309 Roma who were forcibly interned in the so-called “gypsy camp” at Lety from 2 August 1942 to 6 August 1943, as well as the 326 who did not survive that internment. There were 241 children among those victims.

Permit me to mention a few historical facts and also give some contextual information about this site which may not be so well-known and which will help us understand the importance of these commemorative ceremonies and the remembrance of the persecuted Romani victims during WWII. Prior to the creation of the “gypsy camp” here and the one in Hodonín by Kunštát, there were disciplinary labor camps in this country for men over 18 who could not prove they had a regular source of income or a permanent address.

Romani men comprised anywhere between 10 and 25 % of the populations of these labor camps. Their establishment was closely linked to an edict banning itinerancy and the subsequent forced settlement of Romani people. Municipalities did not want Romani people settling on their territories and endeavored to have them assigned to these disciplinary labor camps.

It is also necessary to say that some mayors back then did protect their Romani neighbors of many years. Those mayors also refused to give them up to the authorities later on, when Romani transports were being sent to their deaths. However, there were only a handful of Roma whose local governments stood up for them, took responsibility, and “reclaimed” them from the deportation lists. Unfortunately, it remains a sad fact that the steps taken by the protectorate government were initiated even before the creation of the concept for “solving the gypsy question” in the Reich, and their steps were merely a continuation of measures that had been undertaken by the authorities of the First Czechoslovak Republic.

The internment of Bohemian Roma in the concentration camp at Lety by Písek and of Moravian Roma in the camp at Hodonín by Kunštát proceeded according to the decree on “abating the gypsy nuisance” issued by the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia on 10 July 1942. That act began the racial persecution of Bohemian and Moravian Roma on our territory. Their systematic assignment to these concentration camps was based solely on the basis of their membership in an ethnic group. The administration of the “gypsy camp” at Lety was entrusted to Czech Police officers who treated the prisoners not just brutally, but cruelly, forcing them into a state of unconditional submission. Their forced internment in these camps took place under inhumane conditions and ended with their transport to the extermination camps, Auschwitz in particular.

Dear ladies, dear gentlemen, the genocide of the Roma was not spoken of in our society for a long time, and to this day the general public is not very familiar with the fate of the prewar population of the Bohemian and Moravian Roma. We must continue to raise awareness and to preserve the memory of the Romani victims of racial persecution. In that regard, I would like to thank Mr Čeněk Růžička and the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaust) for organizing today’s gathering.

In that context, I would also like to point out the important role of the Museum of Roma Culture, which in addition to its other work makes a fundamental contribution to documenting the history of Roma during WWII on our territory. I firmly hope that the proposal to merge this museum with the Museum of Moravia will not be implemented and I believe that decision must be changed. I have taken many steps to make sure the independence of the Museum of Roma Culture is preserved, as it is a real gem collecting information about Romani culture, customs and history not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Europe, and I firmly believe my efforts will have positive results.

The proposal to declare 7 March the official “Day Commemorating the Romani Victims of Persecution during WWII” in the Czech Republic may also launch a society-wide discussion that will contribute toward a better understanding of our own history. The Government discussed this parliamentary proposal on 2 May and issued a neutral opinion on it, which means the primary discussion of the bill is expected to take place during a plenary session of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. Should it be adopted, this date would become an important state holiday in the Czech Republic.

The date of 7 March was chosen to commemorate the first transport of Bohemian and Moravian Roma to Auschwitz in 1943. I very much support the adoption of this bill, because I consider it an important symbol of positive changes reflecting the maturity of a society that has learned to completely face up to its past. By adopting and supporting this bill, the representatives of our state would officially acknowledge that Romani people, just like Jewish people, were one of the populations most victimized by genocide during WWII. Only 10 % of Bohemian and Moravian Roma survived the war. This bill will show that our state representatives perceive that fact as momentous and worthy of commemoration.

The interest of society in this topic is also attested to by the fact that every year the number of visitors to this remembrance site increases. During 2012, a total of 11 963 visitors came here, a new record (and compared to 2011, an increase of 1 555 people).

However, that positive development has not yet resulted in the purchase of the local pig farm, a relic of the communist regime that grossly desecrates this site of Roma suffering during WWII. Respect for this site of human suffering has not been preserved. It is my opinion that in a democratic society, this should not be tolerated. Financing to resolve this situation should be found. I would like society to realize the moral dimension of this problem and to understand why it is necessary to remove the pig farm from this site.

When commemorating historical events, it is necessary to be aware of their connections to the present day. I consider it unfortunate that even today there are efforts to concentrate Romani people into the poor hygienic conditions of residential hotels that are being run in out of the way places, and to not only subject them to special supervision there, but to make money on their formidable situations of personal misery.

It is sad that even today there are efforts to deprive Romani people of their humanity by labeling them incorrigible and “inadaptable”. Just like in the years leading up to the Holocaust, politicians are turning up now who base their political careers on the dissemination of hateful statements about the members of this ethnic group and on untrue claims that this group is enjoying some sort of unfair advantages and represents a burden to the majority population.

If we are aware of the tragic fate of the Romani people whom we remember here today, then we will always speak out strongly against ridiculous policies that push Romani people out of communities and force them to live in the garbage dumps of half-deteriorated industrial factories. We will speak out against bills and measures to set such processes in stone, such as those that are turning up in the current debates about the alleged usefulness of preserving the residential hotels as a component of social housing.

On the other hand, it is always necessary to highlight municipalities that do good everyday work on social integration, such as those collaborating with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. It is also necessary to appreciate the many improvements being made in the area of education.

Speaking personally, I must say that compared to the previous leadership of the Czech Education Ministry, the situation now is truly changing. Representatives of the Czech Republic have acknowledged the indirect discrimination of Romani children in education and are seeking to correct it. That is why a plan has been created for measures to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of D. H. and Others against the Czech Republic. This plan clearly defines the steps to be taken to get rid of indirect discrimination.

We are endeavoring to prohibit Romani children from being enrolled into the so-called “practical schools” on the basis of their ethnicity. These schools provide instruction according to the framework educational program for children with light mental disability. We must know how to provide Romani children equal opportunities and the same starting point in education so as to facilitate their full-fledged participation in society, just like all other children.

The situation is also developing positively in relation to the compensation of women who have been illegally sterilized. Romani women have been subjected to this treatment to a great extent. I am negotiating with the relevant ministries about a motion adopted last year by the Czech Government Human Rights Council on this matter. Even though those negotiations are not easy, I firmly believe we will find a consensus very soon so that a bill to compensate illegally sterilized women can be submitted to the Government this summer.

In conclusion, I would like to appreciate the work of everyone who has been familiarizing the public, in particular the younger generation, with the chapter in Czech history we are commemorating here today. This contributes, small step by small step, to a greater understanding of the coexistence between the majority society and Romani people. This is one of the greatest human rights tasks of the present day in our country.

Speech by Monika Šimůnková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Lety u Písku, Pietní akce, pietní akt, rekordní návštěvnost, Romové, romské oběti nacismu, romský holocaust, rozsudek D.H., sterilizace, Šíření nenávisti a nesnášenlivosti, ubytovny, vládní zmocněnkyně pro lidská práva, ženy, Czech republic, Čeněk Růžička, Education, Events, Facism, genocide, Germany, History, memorial, Praktické školy, Racism, Roma, Sterilisation, Židé


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