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December 13, 2019
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Czech Republic: Director of Terezín memorial against NGO honoring Romani victims separately

Terezín, 21.1.2015 0:21, (ROMEA)
The entrance to the Small Fortress at the site of the former concentration camp at Terezín. (PHOTO:  Emmanuel DYAN, Flickr)
The entrance to the Small Fortress at the site of the former concentration camp at Terezín. (PHOTO: Emmanuel DYAN, Flickr)

The Konexe association is planning to hold an event to honor the Romani victims of the Holocaust at Terezín on the same day that the official commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz will take place. Konexe is concerned that Romani victims will either not be remembered at all or will not be sufficiently remembered by the official event.

The director of the Terezín Memorial does not like the idea. The Federation of Jewish Communities (Federace židovských obcí - FŽO) has said it is not opposed to the event with respect to its content, but believes Konexe should have reached an agreement about it in advance with the organizers of the official event or  with the FŽO, while documentary filmmaker Břetislav Rychlík and historian Michal Schuster say they welcome the NGO event.

There was only one Holocaust

Miroslav Brož of Konexe claims that his association does not intend to disrupt the official commemoration ceremony but is concerned about it overall. He said there was only one Holocaust committed on the basis of the Nuremberg Laws, and Konexe wants to remind the world that Romani people were also victims of Nazism.  

Another of Konexe's aims is to raise awareness internationally about the fact that a pig farm still stands on part of the territory of the former concentration camp at Lety by Písek in the Czech Republic. "Not just the commemorative ceremony at Terezín, but the entire atmosphere around it does not assure us that the Romani people who were murdered will also be remembered in a dignified way. For example, Czech Television is preparing to broadcast a whole slate of films and other programs to mark the anniversary, including programs about the Czech resistance and about Jewish people, but not one program is about Romani people," Brož told news server Romea.cz.

Břetislav Rychlík, an actor, director, and documentary filmmaker, agrees with that. "I took a look at everything Czech Television is preparing to broadcast on the topic of the Holocaust and there really is nothing there about Romani victims. Films do exist on that topic, and not just mine ["Oh, You Black Bird" - Ó, ty černý ptáčku - Editors], but at least two others," Rychlík said in an interview with Romea.cz.

Some politicians cast doubt on whether victims should be remembered

"The memory and suffering of one group is recalled with the deserved respect and reverance. The suffering of another group of victims is relativized, called into question, and their memory is disgraced not just by the pig farm, but also by the statements of some politicians, such as Tomio Okamura, for example," says Brož.

According to historian Michal Schuster of the Museum of Romani Culture, while after 1989 developments occurred in the public commemoration of the Romani Holocaust and in education and research about it, the process is definitely ongoing and there is much still to be done. He believes that Romani Holocaust victims have been intentionally doubted by some Czech politicians and that rejudices continue to predominate in Czech society (and not only there) that are just as dangerous as those that existed more than 75 years ago.  

"The date of 27 January, which is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorates the liberation of the concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz, where various groups of people suffered and died, and in that suffering all victims of Nazi murder are equal, so on 27 January, the memory of Romani victims should also be commemorated in a dignified way, and not just at Terezín," Schuster told Romea.cz. For his part, Rychlík - who has long studied the history of the Holocaust (including on the Commission of the Phenomenon of the Holocaust established by Václav Havel in the second half of the 1990s) - said he believed the Terezín event by the Konexe association is necessary.

Rychlík believes there can never be enough commemoration of the Romani victims of the Holocaust. "I began my film about the Romani victims of war with the concept of the 'forgotten Holocaust'. Since then, awareness of the Romani victims of Nazism has improved a bit, but not by much. Konexe should, of course, have reached an agreement on this with Jewish organizations first," the documentary filmmaker believes.  

"It is good to remember Romani victims together with the Jewish ones. The strong animosity felt against Romani people here means some try to doubt the Romani Holocaust. Some online discussants even express support for the Holocaust of the Roma specifically. In this atmosphere it is very important to remember all of those affected by the Holocaust," Rychlík said.

Objections to the form of the event

Tomáš Kraus, FŽO secretary, says that speakers commemorate all Holocaust victims, Romani people included, during the commemorative ceremonies it organizes. "Every year we first hold an event in the Czech Senate, and Romani victims are always mentioned there. This year, of course, I don't know how it will be during the commemoration at Terezín, because it is possible that we will not be given room on the program to make a statement. It is being organized by the European Jewish Congress and there will be many guests," Kraus told Romea.cz.

Kraus said he has no objections to the content of Konexe's event. "The problem is, however, that the people from Konexe just announced this to us without attempting to reach any kind of agreement with us about it beforehand. That is not done in polite society," said Kraus.

Jan Munk, the director of the Terezín Memorial, is less conciliatory. "This is a blunder on their part. The day the Holocaust ended is a time to remember all victims, so it makes no sense to hold a separate commemoration for one minority's victims. Especially given the strict security measures that will be in place, it is absurd to hold such a demonstration," Munk told news server iDNES.cz.  

Brož said the Konexe event would be peaceful. "We will assemble, we will pray for the victims, and then we will peacefully join the main commemoration without intending to disturb it in any way," he said.

The commemoration ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the extremination camp at Auschwitz is being held on 27 January by the European Jewish Congress. Dozens of European politicians will travel to Terezín for it.

Czech President Miloš Zeman has invited 14 heads of state, but so far only the President of Bulgaria has confirmed his attendance. Most of the other statesmen have preferred to attend the commemoration ceremony directly at Auschwitz, which is being held that same day.


František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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koncentrační tábor, Konexe, o. s., Lety u Písku, Osvětim, memorial, Pietní akce, pietní místo, Terezín



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