Czech Republic: Four concentration camps for Roma ran during WWII in Liberec
This is the first of a three-part series about the concentration camps for Romani people located in the Czech town of Liberec that ran from 1939 - 1943 when the country was the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The series is based on articles by Ivan Rous in the books "Camps and Wartime Production" ("Tábory a válečná výroba") and "Blank Spaces in Holocaust Research" ("Bílá místa ve výzkumu holokaustu").
We are categorizing these camps as concentration camps because of their significance - the aim of the camps was to exterminate a certain group of the population. From the standpoint of their organization and the system they were a part of, however, they are different from other concentration camps.
This article will present introductory information, followed by a piece about the camp on Nádražní Street in Liberec where a building belonging to the Textilana firm was used for such purposes. The third article will present the camp near Lom, which was connected with the J. W. Roth firm exploiting Romani labor during the construction of the Domov housing estate at Králův Háj.
Ivan Rous: Camps for Romani people in Liberec
The persecution of Romani people and their liquidation during the Nazi regime, which is frequently called the "forgotten Holocaust", developed as a result of several essential events. Romani people had been persecuted long before 1933, when the President of the German Reich issued an edict on protecting the people and the state from the so-called "population of racketeers".
Strict laws relating directly to the Romani population had been introduced already at the end of the 19th century in Bavaria and became the model for similar ordinances in Germany and in other states with their own particular augmentations. In 1935 the so-called Nuremberg Laws were promulgated, labeling first Jews and later, "Gypsies" as dangerous foreign "races".
As of 1937 there was a Racial Hygiene and Population Biology Research Center in Berlin. That institution, led by a Dr. Ritter, was supposed to give a scientific basis to these racial theories.
For example, "asocial behavior" was called "hereditary" in Romani people by that institution. At that time, pressure against Romani people began to escalate in such a way that in many cases they fled German territory.
In September 1939 it was decided to move Romani people from the territory of Germany into occupied Poland. During the month of October, a precise inventory of Romani people and persons living the so-called "Gypsy way of life" began to be compiled.
As part of this process, camps for Romani people basically began to be created on a larger scale, and the same process took place in the Czech border area that was annexed to Nazi Germany after the Munich Agreement. The first such camp for Liberec was established in November 1939.
The wartime camps for Romani people in Liberec have long been ignored by the historical literature, even though they comprise a significant element of regional history and the history of ethnic Roma. The investigation of this history was launched by a small reference in a brochure entitled "Liberec in the Shadow of Nazism", ("Liberec ve stínu nacismu"), which stated that one camp for Romani people had been located in the area of the intersection of Broumovská, Jablonecká and Kunratická Streets.
The first details about the issue of the camps for Romani people in Liberec, however, were not brought forth until the 2010 oral history of Mr Rado Faltis, who specified the location of that camp and led us to track down a direct Romani eyewitness to the camp, Růžena B., who survived the entire war through enormous luck together with her parents and siblings. In his oral history, Mr Faltis describes how the entire family was saved from being transported to a concentration camp:
"... at the end of October 1944, the B. family received a citation from the Gestapo ordering them to come to the train station in Liberec for transport together with their young children (Růženka was 10 and her four siblings were younger). ... As they were walking to the station, the B. family, who were Romani, passed by a police cordon and a plainclothes Gestapo guy who registered them and assigned them to a group of other people affected by the citation. Either inspiration from above or survival instinct 'ordered' Růženka's father not to sit down on the ground, but to proceed away from that section if possible. There was a moment when a group of three or four higher Nazi chiefs and an officer in the gendarmerie had just arrived. Mr B. stood up so as to be clearly visible, and his tactic succeeded. In the group of Nazi 'officials' he found an acquaintance from Frýdlant, Richard Schwarz, who was already a Higher Criminal Inspector during this police action. Inspector Schwarz approached Růženka's father with the words: 'Ferdi, was machts du hier?' Růženka's father was named Ferdinand, and he explained that he had received a citation ordering him to participate in the transport. The inspector went away for 10 minutes. When he came back, he told Ferdinand B. that he and his entire family must immediately leave the station and go back to their apartment. A designated person would take responsibility for returning them the keys to the apartment."
From further testimony by Mr Faltis and Ms Růžena B. it follows that on the territory of today's Liberec there were probably three camps for Romani people during the war located on the cadastral territories of Liberec, Rochlice, and Starý Harcov. Later a fourth facility in Horní Růžodol was identified.
The oldest camp, dating from the autumn of 1939, was probably located on the grounds of the quarry and was comprised of barracks that have been preserved to this day. However, it is just a hypothesis that a camp for Romani people existed there, because it is mentioned by just one letter from October 1943.
The Gustav Modler firm, a wholesaler in wool, asks in that letter to lease the abandoned spaces in Liberec-Starý Harcov in order to store waste wool there, and that would have corresponded to the above-mentioned barracks. The town agreed to his proposal, but a lack of preserved follow-up communications means it is not possible to establish unequivocally which building was at issue, and it could also have been a building of later origin on parcel 1350/2 in Kunratická Street.
The existence of a camp for Romani people on the grounds of the quarry, however, is also supported by the eyewitness testimony of Růžena B. While she was not directly interned at the camp, she and her father managed to visit it together not long after the transport of Romani people to the concentration camp left from there.
One of the women designated for deportation apparently had refused to submit and had committed suicide by jumping from the cliffs into the flooded quarry. An unequivocally-documented camp, however, was located at Nádražní Street 120 in Rochlice and was in operation until 1944.
In addition to the hypothetical camp located directly on the grounds of the quarry, there was also a camp near the public transportation stop "U Lomu“. That camp was located at the site of the enormous switchback road of Kunratická Street on the cadastral territory of Rochlice and was built in 1941.
Transports of Romani people
From the memories of those who were eyewitnesses we can also follow certain details about the transports. Generally, Romani people in Europe were deported to practically all of the existing concentration camps during the war.
The most significant location, however, was Auschwitz, where after its expansion in 1942 the so-called "Gypsy Camp" was established. According to the testimony of Růžena B., in the beginning the transports of Romani people from Liberec ended up at Auschwitz also.
Later, however, they were divided according to sex: Men were sent to Buchenwald and women were sent to Ravensbrück. That corresponds to findings from other cities on the territory of the Protectorate, such as Brno.
Romani people were first sent almost exclusively to Auschwitz from Brno, but roughly as of the spring of 1944 they began to be sent to Buchenwald and Ravensbrück. Just as in Liberec, these were Romani people both from the Protectorate and from the occupied border areas, so the transports most probably had a single destination.
Another striking coincidence is the fact that representatives of the criminal plice were involved with the transports from Brno and Liberec. The first mass transport in Brno was directed by a councilor of the German Criminal Police, J. Herzig, and a commissioner from the Brno Police Directorate, J. Bilík, reported to him.
In Liberec it was High Criminal Inspector Richard Schwarz who ordered the family of Ferdinand B. removed from transport. In both cases the employees of the criminal police had the option of removing prisoners from the transport and de facto liberating them.
We thank the author for his kind permission to publish his texts.
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