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August 12, 2022



Former Czech Foreign Minister does not believe his father was involved with the Lety camp

Prague, 2.1.2015 23:50, (ROMEA)
Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg chairs the TOP 09 political party and was a candidate for President of the Czech Republic during the country's first direct elections to the presidency in 2013.
Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg chairs the TOP 09 political party and was a candidate for President of the Czech Republic during the country's first direct elections to the presidency in 2013.

Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg does not believe his father was involved at all in the establishment of the WWII-era camp at Lety by Písek. Radio Wave reports that Schwarzenberg made the statement in response to claims by Paul Polansky that Schwarzenberg's father needed a cheap labor force in 1939 to clean up after a large blizzard and asked authorities to build a labor camp for that purpose.

"In December 1939, that entire region was affected by the biggest blizzard that locals had ever experienced. Karel Schwarzenberg, not the current one, but his father, owned 10 000 hectares of forest and a large portion of it was destroyed. It was a catastrophe for him. He needed a cheap labor force to process the wood as quickly as possible, otherwise he would have gone bankrupt. He asked the authorites to build the labor camp. However, he was far from the only person to take advantage of slave labor. In the archives, and in my interviews with survivors, I have discovered that Schwarzenberg also brought Jews from Mirovice, where the biggest Jewish community was, as slaves to Lety and did his best to save them by doing so. That was at the beginning of 1940. However, all of those people were professors, business people, lawyers, teachers, they didn't know how to do manual labor. Schwarzenberg saw that it wasn't going to work. They were all sent to  Terezín and replaced with Gypsies, who knew how to do manual labor. They did not work for him only in the forest, but also in a nearby quarry, so from 1940 to December 1942, he exploited first a Jewish and then a Gypsy labor force on his land as slaves," Polansky said in an interview with Radio Wave on 30 December 2014.

Polansky referred to personal interviews he claims to have conducted with many forest workers or local farmers who allegedly saw the Jewish workers and spoke with them in the forest at the time. "Look, I was two years old then. I'd have to look at the documentation like anyone else. However, I do not believe it's true," Radio Wave reports that Karel Schwarzenberg has now said in response to Polansky's claims.

"He claims to have spoken with my father's former employees, but please, they had all long been in heaven by the time Polansky came to Bohemia. I would really like to know who pitched this to him," Schwarzenberg said, emphasizing that, "When I returned to the Czech Republic, I attempted to find all of the former employees. One gamekeeper was already bedridden and otherwise everyone else was dead. I would like to know who he actually spoke with, who this responsible employee was."

Even though Schwarzenberg said he appreciates Polansky's work in Kosovo, where he has worked with Romani people, he compared the results of Polansky's research on this matter to a conspiracy theory. "It's terrible, no government has been willing to get the money together [to buy the pig farm now on the site of the former camp], and it is true that the owner has raised the price for an impossibly long time. I spoke about this with Vladimír Mlynář when he was the human rights envoy, and he negotiated with them in good faith. It all collapsed. It's horrible, it stinks there, it's a real shame," Schwarzenberg commented to Radio Wave about the current state of affairs at the Lety site.

The history of the concentration camp at Lety

The original space at Lety served in 1940 as an accommodation facility for construction workers. Subsequently, a disciplinary labor camp was created there on the orders of the Interior Minister of the Protectorate Government, Josef Ježek, on 15 July 1940, issued on the basis of Government Decree No. 72 on disciplinary labor camps dated 2 March 1939.  

That particular decree had been issued prior to the country being occupied by the Nazis. According to the decree, "wandering gypsies and other vagrants living in the same way who are capable of work, beggars by trade and those who make a living from begging (children, etc.), gamblers by trade, inveterate idlers, loafers and persons making a living from dishonest earnings (prostitution, etc.), whether their own or those of others" were to be rounded up and concentrated in particular facilities.  

The first 12 prisoners arrived at Lety on 17 July 1940. On 1 August 1942 the camp was changed into a "Gypsy camp" and subsequently entire Romani families were transported there.

The concentration camp began running on 1 August 1942 and was closed on 4 May 1943. Its capacity was increased to accommodate up to 600 prisoners, but that number was soon exceeded, as during the course of August 1942 more than 1 100 children, men and women were interned in the camp.  

The camp was not equipped with the necessary hygienic (or any other) facilities for such a large number of people. The prisoners often had to bathe in a nearby fishpond.  

Until August 1942, only men were imprisoned at Lety. After that, children and women were also brought there to rot in completely unsatisfactory conditions.

After the big influx of August 1942, whole families were mostly brought to the camp as well as individuals. A total of 326 people died directly in the Lety camp, 241 of them children.

A temporary burial ground near the camp was used to inter 120 victims. Another 540 prisoners from Lety perished while being transported to Auschwitz.

A total of two mass transports were undertaken. The first one departed on 3 December 1942 as a transport of so-called asocials, 16 men and 78 women, to the Auschwitz I concentration camp.  

The second transport practically meant the liquidation of the Lety camp, as it included 417 prisoners who went to the Auschwitz II -Birkenau concentration camp. While the first transport took place on the basis of a decree about crime prevention, the second took place on the basis of Himmler's decree of 16 December 1942, which ordered all Romani people transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.  

The remaining 198 prisoners were then relocated to the "gypsy camp" at Hodonín near Kunštát (the so-called Žalov camp) or were interned in camps in Pardubice and Prague. On 13 May 1995, at the site of the mass grave next to the former camp, a memorial was unveiled with the inscription "To the victims of the gypsy camp at Lety 1942-1943. Never forget. Ma bisteren."

On 13 May 2010 the Lety Memorial was officially opened there. A government decision has entrusted the Lidice Memorial with management of the site.  

ryz, Radio Wave, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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