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Hundreds commemorate Romani victims of WWII-era camp, criticize Czech politicians for Holocaust denial

16.4.2018 6:57
Approximately 300 people attended a commemorative assembly on 9 April 2018 in České Budějovice for the victims of the concentration camp at Lety u Písku. (PHOTO: ČTK)
Approximately 300 people attended a commemorative assembly on 9 April 2018 in České Budějovice for the victims of the concentration camp at Lety u Písku. (PHOTO: ČTK)

The Czech News Agency has reported that on 9 April approximately 300 people in the town of České Budějovice joined a commemorative ceremony for the victims of the concentration camp in Lety u Písku. Those assembled held a minute of silence and brought papers with the names of the camp victims and their birth and death dates written on them.

Organizers of the assembly will deliver the papers to the secretaries of the ANO movement's members in the lower house as well as the Communists (KSČM) and the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) movement. Tomáš Trantina, chair of the TOP 09 party's cell in České Budějovice, informed the Czech News Agency of the event.

Czech MP Tomio Okamura (SPD), the vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies, has been criticized for remarks he made recently about the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety - for example, erroneously alleging that the camp had not been fenced and that prisoners had been free to come and go from it. He apologized for making remarks that were imprecise and then again erroneously alleged that the camp had not been guarded most of the time and that there had been freedom of movement for the prisoners inside the camp.

Organizers of the assembly on the 9th said Okamura retains his vice-chair post thanks to the votes of ANO, KSČM and the SPD. The gathering on Přemysl Otakar II Square began at around 17:00 on the 9th, with some in attendance carrying Czech flags.

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Jan Mihaliček, Romea.cz

 

The vice-chair of the Czech Senate, Jiří Šesták (from the Mayors and Independents club) and Czech MP Lukáš Kolařík (Pirates) attended the event, as did the musician Jaroslav Hnízdil. Those attending lined all four sides of the square with a human chain.

"I am the father of children who are three and six years old, and when I looked into what the Lety camp basically was - and maybe it's thanks to Tomio Okamura that I did so - I told myself that his remarks cannot be allowed to stand without normal civil society responding to them in a visible way. We cannot just let this be, we can't let the journalists and other politicians from the democratic parties deal with the populists and extremists on our behalf without speaking up. It's necessary that those politicians see support from civil society," Trantina said.

Trantina also criticized outgoing Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) for his previous remarks about the camp at Lety, which he was overheard to describe as follows: "Whoever didn't work, bam! he ended up there." Babiš later apologized for the remark and said it had been taken out of context.

The latent racism and xenophobia in Czech politics bothers Trantina. "This is purely a civil society expression of the position that we South Bohemians know what the concentration camp at Lety was, that 240 children under the age of 14 died there and that it is something that must not be minimized - not even if a person doesn't feel well and has a fever of 39.5 Celsius," he said, referencing Okamura's later excuse that he had said what he did because he had a fever.

The camp at issue was situated two kilometers away from the village of Lety. In August 1940 it was called a labor camp, as of 1942 it was called an internment camp, and as of August 1942 it was called a "Gypsy Camp".

At least 326 prisoners died there, 241 of whom were children younger than 14. Another 540 of its prisoners ended up being sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

In 1973 an industrial pig farm was built on the site of the former camp. In the 1990s representatives of the state then sold it to the AGPI firm, which is now selling it back to the state for CZK 372 million [EUR 15 million] exclusive of VAT.

According to the director of the Museum of Romani Culture, Jana Horváthová, which is now managing the site, the pig farm will be demolished by the end of this year and a memorial to the Holocaust and its Romani victims will be erected there. Various Czech cabinets have attempted to resolve the problem of the pig farm for two decades.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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České Budějovice, Demonstrace, Lety u Písku, Pietní akce



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