Czech Republic: Roma say MP has denied the Romani Holocaust and discredited the victims of Nazism
Czech MP Tomio Okamura's recent statements doubting the suffering of those imprisoned at the concentration camp in Lety by Písek have sparked an enormous wave of negative reaction. News server Romea.cz publishes below the opinions of several Romani people whom we contacted for comment.
David Beňák, vice-chair, Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs
Tomio Okamura's statements are shameful and a display of deep disrespect for hundreds of victims. Doubting the victims of the Second World War absolutely crosses the line. Romani people experienced many hardships during the Second World War, and there is no doubt that as a group they were persecuted by the Nazis, including on the territory of the Protectorate. If Mr Okamura doesn't know this, then that is sad at the very least, and he should consider resigning from any further political activity. Okamura is yet another example of how insubstantial Czech politics has become. He is not afraid to build his career on the backs of those who cannot even defend themselves. I appreciate the politicians who have condemned Mr Okamura's statements.
Čeněk Růžička, chair, Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust in the Czech Republic
To tell you the truth, we traditional Czech Romani and Sinti people are no longer surprised by the remarks made by the Okamuras, Klauses, Čuněks, Doubravas, Řápkovás or Janáčkovás. During the time we have been living in the Czech lands, we have gotten used to quite a lot. These people are "only" speaking the language of criminals, and more than enough criminals have been hanging around Romani people here since time immemorial. (...) Right now this MP is just cunningly saying what a large proportion of the public wants to hear. He knows very well that an officially racialized point of view was applied to the Romani prisoners in the concentration camps, including the camps at Hodonín and Lety, from the moment of the so-called "gypsy census", and he also knows very well that what lay behind the repressive policies enacted against Romani people in Czechoslovakia both before WWII and up until 1942 was a racialized perspective. Right now he is enjoying his parliamentary immunity from prosecution. We will, of course, not be filing charges against him as long as he is immune. (You can read Mr Růžička's full statement here).
PhDr. Jana Horváthová, director of the Museum of Romani Culture, historian and museologist
Tomio Okamura is mistaken and his ignorant remarks have done further damage to his already-tarnished image. I am not very surprised, since as an historian I encounter relatively well-educated people rather often who mix up the various phases in the life of the camps that were in operation during the time of the Protectorate. The racialized, targeted action against "gypsies" during the Protectorate was well covered-up for a very long time and for a very clear reason: So the entire action of the "final solution to the gypsy question" could take place as quietly as possible. (You can read Dr Horváthová's article on the history of the camps here).
Cyril Koky, Romani Affairs Coordinator, Central Bohemian Regional Authority
The events of the Second World War led, among other things, to the cruel persecution of Bohemian and Moravian Roma. Whether we call Lety by Písek a concentration camp or a waystation, it was a place where the widest possible range of human suffering occurred. Imprisonment at Lety brought the Roma who were kept there enormous humiliation, suffering, and certain death. To belittle that period of persecution and victimization is in poor taste, it is pathetic. No decent person who is the slightest bit educated would permit himself to do that. Mr Okamura's remarks have obviously crossed the line and have invited a hefty slap in response.
Martina Horváthová, civil society member, Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs / coordinator, Slovo 21
Mr Okamura evidently does not understand - or for marketing purposes is pretending he does not understand - what the word "Holocaust" means (in Romanes, Porajmos). Our Romani historical experience is irrefutable and nobody has the right to belittle or deny it. A modern society, which Czech society would certainly like to consider itself to be, would force a politician with such opinions to resign from all of his public offices. Will we meet this challenge, or will we continue to tolerate anything and everything being said in the public arena here? This is a test of our strength as citizens, and Mr Tomio has served the ball to us. He is taking quite a risk, but he wouldn't have consciously done this if he didn't believe his side would score points. We must not let him win! Let's demand a public apology and his resignation.
Vojtěch Lavička, musician
This makes me sad. There is no doubt that Okamura has a strong stomach, otherwise he would be throwing up at his own statements. The fact that this bunch of nonsense finds a certain support among the ranks of the Czech majority also makes me sad. However, neither of these facts are so horrible, every country has its Le Pen or its Sládek - we have Okamura, and a certain percentage of idiots is to be found in every country. What is saddest, of course, is that there are other Czech politicians who don't have their own heads in order and who support Okamura to a certain degree. It is said that you can recognize the level of a nation by the strength of its own conscience, by how well it knows how to refute its own historical myths. The fact is that the camp at Lety by Písek, established by the Czechs, was run by a Czech crew who were responsible for the deaths of the Lety prisoners. That's why it is nonsense to propose that Romani people collect money from themselves to get rid of the pig farm that is there today. Lety by Písek is on the conscience of the Czech nation. As we can see, that conscience has not yet fully come to life.
Marie Brendzová, college student/coordinator of the Child and Youth Education Program, Open Society Fund
There is no doubt that Tomio Okamura, through his anti-Romani statements, is doing his best to score as many political points as possible. We got used to the fact that he is very good at PR back when all he was talking about in the media was his travel agency. Okamura should go back to that business, because if he so publicly denies the Holocaust as an MP - and it's all the same whether he denies the gay Holocaust, the Jewish Holocaust, or the Romani Holocaust - then he should not be in politics. Tomio Okamura needs to complete his education in this area.
Emil Horvát, civil society member, Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs / private firm manager
I remember how Okamura (I will not call him "Mr") almost wept on Jan Kraus's TV show as he talked about how he had been discriminated against here just because he looks different. Then he began his political "career" using nothing but insults against ethnic Roma, he even wanted to move us all to Ukraine. The elections are coming and Okamura once again is continuing his crusade because he knows that publicly insulting Romani people scores his party points. The mood in the Czech Republic is strongly anti-Romani and he is exploiting it. It's bad that in a country with a 25-year history of democracy a politician can afford to do this. He should be charged with defamation of an ethnic group, nation or race and he should resign from all his political offices.
Robert Tonelli, political scientist
I take Mr Okamura's statements on this topic to be his political manipulation of public opinion so he can win potential votes and voter preference during the upcmoing municipal elections. To build one's career on denying genocide, denying human indignity, and denying the level of human suffering that occurred at Lety is the nasty behavior of a hyena and has no place in respectable society. We should learn from the bad events of history, not exploit them for personal and political gain. The Czech nation is not racist, we just find a hidden talent here from time to time named Tomio Okamura who wants to wind up the Roma. Unfortunately, he is mainly exploiting this politically and playing a cheap populist tune, as he is aware that those are the right political points to score. I believe Czech voters are rational and I am sure the final result of the municipal elections will be an end to this man's political career. I am very glad that political representatives from the widest possible variety of movements and parties have condemned Mr Okamura's remarks.
Stanislava Ondová, telesales specialist
These days we have ample confirmation that if you want to be visible, if you want everyone to talk about you, all you have to do is raise any topic at all concerning the Roma. Okamura is fully aware of this situation. Not that much has been heard about him yet, no one is taking much of an interest in him, so there was a need for him to stir the waters a bit and get into the headlines and prime time. This time, however, he has really crossed the line with his fallacies and falsities. He has insulted the memory of the dead, of those who were murdered in concentration camps - which Lety by Písek definitely was - and I pesonally hope he will be forced to take responsibility for his actions, because it is alarming that a politician in this country can speak this way about the victims of the Second World War.
Lukáš Kotlár, student, collaborates with ROMEA, o. p. s.
From his call to deport all Romani people out of the Czech Republic to his Holocaust denial, Tomio Okamura's words are chilling, but they are not surprising. The media and society are correct to condemn this politician's lies. I am sorry to see that a person who is supposed to set an example for society has crossed the line of decency and honor in this way. I condemn Tomio Okamura's statements - he has taken his populism too far this time.
Miroslav Kováč, chair, Equal Opportunities Party (Strany rovných příležitostí)
It is very difficult to find the polite, printable words needed to correct the statements made by indecent people who have no compunction about "dancing on the graves" of martyrs. Entire families, including children, were concentrated into the Lety concentration camp. On that principle alone it is aberrant to discuss this in terms of a "disciplinary labor camp", even though the site itself was originally designed for that purpose. As of August 1942 the camp was transformed into an exclusively "Gypsy camp", into which prisoners were concentrated solely for racial reasons. At that camp, as a result of cold, hunger, and inhumane treatment, hundreds of Romani people, including children, died. Many were murdered by guards right in the camp. The survivors were deported to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, where the Nazis executed them. It was the concentration of Romani people into the camps at Hodonín and Lety that facilitated their mass transport to the extermination camp. From an historical perspective, therefore, these camps are key to the perpetration of the Romani Holocaust in the Czech Republic. However, many Czech politicians do not like the idea of accepting responsibility for this. Basically, to this day Czech society has not managed to come to terms with this crime, and politicians copy their voters. In the past, the communists covered over this place of Romani suffering with a pig farm, maybe so it might be forgotten about. It's rather possible that MP Filip, as a young communist, might have even laid the cornerstone to build the farm, which is why it seems counterproductive to him to stop "agricultural production" at a site where children, the elderly, men and women died in torment. It is also rather possible that influential politicians and their loved ones, including MP Okamura himself, might even own stock in Agpi a.s., the firm that runs the controversial pig farm. Maybe all that low ground is the reason the Romani Holocaust in the Czech Republic is still so shamefully belittled. People usually do their best to shirk responsibility and the best way to do that is to embellish, to misrepresent this shameful past. Only respectable people know how to admit they have made a mistake. Those who are not respectable need to be reminded of their history, even if it means going to court.
Michal Miko, coordinator, Slovo 21
The statements by this person who is exploiting populism for his own benefit make me very bitter. It is clear to see that this gentleman, who calls himself a Czech, essentially does not have even the most basic historical knowledge about the Second World War. The camp at Lety was an internment camp and the victims ended up in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Okamura should resign from the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic for his remarks. He is an example of how politically incorrect the political scene in the Czech Republic is. This is not the time to ask for an apology, which is why I am calling for a lawsuit to be filed againstt him. Why rant and rave about it? There are laws here, after all, that apply to everyone equally!
Alena Gronzíková, field worker, IQ Roma servis
I believe Mr Okamura's remarks are reaping the fruits of our political scene, fruits those on the scene planted themselves when they failed to put an end to previous similar populist ideologies. These days everyone in this republic can do whatever he likes. Unfortunately, such statements most painfully affect those who were most injured by the Holocaust, in whatever particular form. We must never forget the past and under no circumstances should we belittle and downplay the history of the Romani Holocaust as Mr Okamura is attempting to do. I believe most people here are not completely closed-minded, that they can distinguish the wheat from the chaff. This populist is nothing but chaff to me.
Petra Gelbart, co-founder, Initiative for Romani Music, New York University
Mr Okamura is not just denying basic historical facts, thereby making himself ridiculous, he is also advocating the mistaken notion that all Romani victims of the Holocaust were so-called "asocials". In reality, both in the Protectorate and in other countries, highly integrated Romani and Sinti people were also included in the transports to the concentration camps. I happen to know what I am talking about not in this regard not just thanks to historical sources, but because the Holocaust affected my relatives, of whom only a tiny fraction survived. As for the fairytale that "the Germans were responsible for everything", my great-great-grandmother was killed directly by a Czech camp guard. Unlike Mr Okamura, however, I reject the notion of collective blame.
Imrich Horvát, Romani activist
All I can say is that Mr Okamura needs to give himself a big slap in the face, because he doesn't even know what the words "concentration camp" mean. He must not be permitted to do what he has done to the memory of the victims who had to live at Lety by Písek. He is doing his best to cover up the crimes committed by the Czech guards. At the end of the day he is not the first MP who doesn't want to acknowledge these facts. It would mean admitting that there were Czechs at that concentration camp instead of Nazis. One day, I hope, the Czech Republic will acknowledge its mistake and correct it.
Rastislav Lučanský, former European Parliamentary candidate
Tomio Okamura just wants to ensure himself the votes of anti-Romani citizens through these remarks - this is populism. As an MP, he should not support racism and he shhould not humiliate and insult Romani people. Romani people died in the camp at Lety by Písek, they were enslaved and humiliated there. I believe Tomio Okamura will take responsibility for his mistakes and apologize to all Roma.
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