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Czech Republic will not finance new memorial at Romani genocide site, funds will come from Norway

26.4.2018 11:58
On 25 April 2018 at Lety u Písku one in a series of discussions convened by the Museum of Romani Culture and ROMEA on the future form of the memorial at Lety u Písku was held. (PHOTO:  Jan Mihaliček,
On 25 April 2018 at Lety u Písku one in a series of discussions convened by the Museum of Romani Culture and ROMEA on the future form of the memorial at Lety u Písku was held. (PHOTO: Jan Mihaliček,

The new memorial to the Holocaust and its Romani victims at the site of the former concentration camp for Romani people in Lety u Písku will not be paid for by the Czech state. Speaking at a public meeting in Lety yesterday held by the Museum of Romani Culture and the ROMEA organization, Czech Deputy Culture Minister René Schreier delivered that message.

Schreier confirmed that the memorial will be paid for with funding from Norway Grants. The Czech state will pay to demolish the farm, to remove anything environmentally toxic from the grounds, and to re-cultivate the grounds for future use.

The demolition will cost CZK 117 million [EUR 5 million], and the Culture Ministry plans to draw on the Government's reserves to add that amount to its budget this year. "The state will not contribute money toward building [a memorial]," Schreier said.

Norway plans to contribute EUR 1 million toward building the memorial. The farm will apparently be demolished next year despite the fact that Jana Horváthová, director of the Museum of Romani Culture, had originally assumed the farm would be demolished by the close of this year.

The director said the demolition will be more demanding than those involved had originally believed. The Museum will apparently announce a tender for a demolition firm at the end of this year.

"Probably by the spring (of 2019) it will be clear who will perform the demolition," the director said. A two month long archaeological survey will begin in May on the grounds and will cost CZK 1.5 million [EUR 60 000].

This summer the Museum, which has taken over the grounds, will establish the criteria for the architectural and artistic competition to design the form of the future remembrance site and visitors' center. The grounds should feature a visitors' center with an exhibition of the archaeological finds, a lecture hall for school visits, and guided tours for groups.

The meeting in Lety's community hall, where approximately 100 people gathered, began with a minute of silence for the Romani victims of the Holocaust. "We want to inform local residents that we have great interest in collaborating with them and involving the community in our plans," the Museum director said.

Organizers familiarized the audience with what the Holocaust memorials and remembrance sites of several different former concentration camps in Germany look like today. During the debate, one audience member said the best memorial to the former camp and the way the site was subsequently dealt with would in fact be the buildings of the pig farm itself.

The option of preserving at least part of one of the feed halls was something the Museum director admitted she was considering. "That is a subject to which we are giving a lot of consideration. We ourselves do not yet know whether absolutely everything will be demolished," she responded.

Archaeologist Pavel Vařeka presented the outcome of the archaeological survey conducted so far at the site, which involved less than 1 % of the area of the former camp and was undertaken at a location that is municipally-owned. He said artifacts from the camp have been surprisingly well-preserved.

"We can exactly locate the former camp and investigate its various parts. Another surprising finding was that the camp was liquidated in such a way that the wooden barracks were burned, all of it was set on fire, although nothing about that was documented in written sources. In the cells that we investigated we found personal items of the prisoners, parts of clothing. That is a unique material record that makes it possible to generate insight into daily life in the camp," the archaeologist said.

An audience member alleged that the pig farm had never been located on the site of the former camp, but had been positioned adjacent to it. The archaeologist responded that from an aerial photograph taken in 1949 the traces of the former camp are visible in the terrain and that it is apparent from that evidence that most of the camp was later overlaid by the pig farm grounds, although much of that particular part of the farm was never built upon.

"Approximately one-fourth of the camp is beneath the feed halls. Most of the camp grounds are inside of and overlap with the pig farm grounds," the archaeologist said.

Another audience member raised the issue of whether the facility had been a labor camp or a concentration camp. An historian from the Museum explained that it had first been a labor camp and then became a concentration camp in 1942.

The farm was taken over from the AGPI firm by the Museum earlier this month. The 7.1 hectare farm first began to be built in 1972 and eventually housed 13 000 animals in 13 feed halls.

The discussion of whether to buy out the farm and create a remembrance site there is one that took 20 years to reach a conclusion. "We do not hold a grudge against this community, as some believed we did when were blockading the entrance to the pig farm over the years. I am glad we can finally honor a cultural memorial there," Josef Miker, a relative of those who suffered in the camp, said during the debate.

The next discussion about Lety that will be held in the series organized by ROMEA o.p.s. will be realized in collaboration with the Museum of Romani Culture and the Prague Forum for Romani Histories on Monday, 21 May at 18:00 at Kampus Hybernská in Prague. That discussion will not just be about Lety, but about the entire Czechoslovak region, and panelists will focus on historical research into the Holocaust and its Romani victims and how research can overlap with activism and commemoration.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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