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Opening remarks at commemoration quote Romani genocide survivor: "There's a pig farm at Lety. How could they allow that?"

13.5.2017 20:57

The traditional commemorative ceremony at Lety u Písku was opened today at 12 noon by Čeněk Růžička, the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaustu - VPORH). In his opening remarks he reminded those assembled of the fate of the Roma and Sinti during the Second World War by recalling the story of one of them, which news server publishes here in full translation.

Opening Remarks at Lety commemoration ceremony, 13 May 2017, Čeněk Růžička 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome you to this place, the story of which has found its way into the hearts and minds of many members of the public as a reminder of the perverse theory of racial superiority. This ceremony is dedicated not just to the Romani victims of Nazism, it is also devoted to the millions of victims from the Jewish nation and the commemoration of the tens of millions of human beings who immeasurably suffered during the Second World War under Nazi Germany’s sphere of influence and that of its allies.

Before we lay our wreaths at the memorial to the victims, I would like to tell the story of a family who, with the aid of some of judicious Czech fellow citizens, managed to hide from the persecution perpetrated by the Nazis and their underlings. These descriptions of the fates of the indiviual Romani families who either hid or were imprisoned are from our archive, and it is actually a complex process to get consent from the survivors and their family members to make them public.

Mr Kloc, a Sinto, who was a nine-year-old boy when he went into hiding with his family, has told us his story. Some of what he told us are his own personal memories, and some of this is what he recalls his parents telling him.

Our interview with him was recorded in May 2008. This is his testimony:

“When the Germans invaded, we were able, in the Protectorate, to live and travel around the country as we had always been accustomed until the end of that year. Our family traded in horses on its travels, like all Roma and Sinti did. We had no problem making a living, and because we were traveling, we did not know about the Germans until a Czech gendarme came to our caravan and told us that we were no longer allowed to travel. It was the Germans’ wish, so we had to leave the campsite and we were supposed ask in another village where we had some Czech friends whether our family could apply for residency there.

However, it was a problem to apply to reside in any village; the local administrations did not want to accept applications from travelling Romani families, so we wandered from place to place. Exactly as Romani people today have difficulties applying for residency, we had problems back then.

I did not realize until later that back then they needed to register us so that they could know about us all and have an easy job of imprisoning us. However, the refusals to register us suited my Dad and my Mom, because they were an excuse for why we were not settled, and we were able for some time afterward to travel about for business. Then something happened that I will never forget.

We were heading for our wintering grounds near Kolín, and we wanted to sleep near the forest on the way. A gendarme came to us and told us to move on. Dad had just covered the horse with his blanket and fed him, and he asked the gendarme to wait because we were tired, the horse needed to eat, we needed to make dinner, and he told the gendarme we would move on in the morning. The gendarme, however, insisted and slapped my Dad. My father didn’t like that at all and wanted to return the slap, but we children and our mother restrained him, and then we immediately left that location.

Again we parked at a different place, and once more a different gendarme came and told us to “Move on”. So we continued to another site, and again another gendarme told us to “Get out of our region”, and that same situation repeated itself again and again. The horse could go no further, it was cold, we were aboslutely exhausted and hungry, and it was strange to us that this continued even during the night.

Later I found out that the mayors of the villages had been instructed, under the strict threat of a fine, that wherever travelling Romani families happened to be as of midnight on whatever day it was (I don’t remember) in the year 1941, then the mayor would have to accept them as residents.

The place where we were able to live in our caravan before we went into hiding was a small village near Kolín. It did not take long before Dad had to sell the horse – the work for the locals in those rural locations was infrequent, we were impoverished, there were five of us, and so we began to beg in the neighboring villages with our mother. In the autum of 1942, a gendarme came to our vehicle early in the morning who knew us, and he warned Dad that a decree had been published ordering them to take us to the police, and that the same fate as had befallen the Jews now awaited us – imprisonment and persecution – and he said we should go into hiding. My father was a friend of a local in the next village to whom he had sold his horse, so we abandoned our vehicle and that friend let us live at his place for some time in the hayloft above the barn. However, he could not allow us to stay long, because his family was afraid they would be arrested, so he and Dad agreed that we would hide in the forest and the friend would send us clothing, food and medicine. He also advised my father as to where we might come across the place where the sick pigs were quarantined and buried. That information was important for us to know.

Beyond the village, in the forest, we helped Dad make a dugout in the hillside, covered it with tree branches, and our difficult life in hiding began. In the beginning, we children were not aware of the danger we were in, and if we hadn’t been so cold, it would just have been another adventure for us. The local man sent us flour, lard, potatoes, some warm things to wear and medicines. Mom was not as dark-skinned as Dad, so from time to time she went to the nearby villages to ask people to give us what we needed. When she had the opportunity, she picked up the items we needed to survive. I recall our Dad urging us to use only dry kindling so that the smoke from our campfire would not betray our location. I was slapped quite a bit for not doing that. The snow was our water source.

We had good luck until the spring of 1943, nobody turned my Mom in, but then the son of the local man who was sending us what we needed came to see us in the forest and told Dad that he had heard a bunch of Czech people agreeing in the pub that they should tell the gendarmes about our hiding place. We had no choice but to leave and hide elsewhere.

What we experienced in the forest after that I don’t want to talk about. It was a horror. I don’t want to remember it. If it were not for that local man, our family would never have survived the war.

Our other relatives were not so lucky. Some perished in the camp near the village of Lety, and most in Hitler’s concentration camp at Auschwitz.

There is a pig farm at Lety now. How could they have allowed that?”

After giving this testimony, Mr Kloc angrily shook his head and kept quiet for quite some time. He no longer wanted to continue the interview.

Čeněk Růžička, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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