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December 8, 2019
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Roma testimonies recall their families' Holocaust suffering

1.2.2019 14:47
Ladislav Dudi-Koťo, one of the many eyewitnesses in the Memory of the Roma project to testify as to his family's suffering during the Second World War. (PHOTO:  www.pametromu.cz)
Ladislav Dudi-Koťo, one of the many eyewitnesses in the Memory of the Roma project to testify as to his family's suffering during the Second World War. (PHOTO: www.pametromu.cz)

Many European Roma and Sinti fell victim to the Holocaust. The Memory of the Roma project maps the fates of Romani people currently living on the territory of the Czech Republic and presents the history of Romani people from the wartime era until today through their own eyes, producing audiovisual interviews with many Romani eyewitnesses to the wartime anguish, some of which have been subtitled into English.

Just as the Jewish people were persecuted by the Nazis for pseudo-scientific "racial" reasons, so were the Roma and Sinti. Legal interpretations of the Nuremberg Laws, for example, discuss the 3 January 1936 instruction of the Reich Minister of the Interior Frick, which elaborated that "Besides the Jews, only the Gypsies in particular are a foreign race."

The way in which Romani people were finally to be disposed of was definitively decided in the so-called Auschwitz Decree of Heinrich Himmler on 16 December 1942. The Nazi ideology impacted the Romani people living on the territory of what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in an especially harsh way, and their systematic destruction was made easier, among other things, by the thorough registry of the "gypsy" population during the First Republic.

Most Romani people in the Protectorate perished in the concentration camps, and 90 % of them did not survive the war. "My mother, during the time of the Second World War, lost her first husband, Václav Růžička, to the concentration camps. [...] They apprehended him somewhere on a train. She had been devoted to him for about three or four months, she had a little girl with him - but she never saw him again. When they captured him they immediately transported him to Auschwitz. [...] She was the only person in her entire extended family to survive," Čeněk Růžička recalled for the Memory of the Roma.

A similar fate met the relatives of Mr Hauer: "Four of my father's children perished in the concentration camp, as did his first wife. [...] They arrested his wife in Smržice u Prostějov, she was the first. They sent her with her children by direct transport from Olomouc to Auschwitz. That was in the year '43. It was one of the first transports that went to Auschwitz. It's recorded in these books, the date of arrival to Auschwitz and the exact date of death there. I can't recall exactly, but they did not live longer than 14 days there. They took Dad to Brück, and then he was in Wroclav."

Emílie Horáčková recounts that "I don't know whether my father was at Lety, but I have records of him having been at Auschwitz, where he was the only one of his relatives to survive. At Auschwitz, from 2-3 August, when they destroyed the camp, he was sent to Buchenwald and then Dachau, as a 12-year-old boy. He was at Dachau when it was liberated. [...] I never knew his family becase most of them ended up in the gas chambers or died of some disease."

In addition to those who survived being interned in the inhuman conditions of the "Gypsy" camps of the Protectorate or the Nazi concentration camps, only those who managed to hide from the Nazis somehow escaped death at the time. Some, such as the father of Karel Holomek, fled to Slovakia.

"Dad was one of the Romani people who had already achieved higher education at that time, because he graduated from Charles University in the year '37 and was the only 'Gypsy' there, which decidedly did not fit with the Nazi theories about inferior races. He would have been one of the first to end up in the concentration camps, so eventually he had to disappear to Slovakia," Holomek says.

Others hid from the Nazis in friends' homes. "My name, and the name of my sister, were listed among the 10 most-wanted 'Gypsies and gypsy half-breeds' who were meant to end up in the concentration camp, to be deported. However, that never happened, on the one hand thanks to the bravery of my mother, and on the other hand thanks to a gendarme who came to see her and told her 'Mrs Holomková, you have to disappear, tomorrow the SS will be here.' [...] Mother traveled with us by train, by bicycle, and by sledge to see different relatives and people who were unknown to me. What was most fantastic was that in the village, nobody ever officially told either the Germans, nor the Czech gendarmerie about us - it was just assumed that we belonged there. We simply disappeared along with our mother, she saved us," Holomek recalls.

Just a handful of Romani people had the good luck not to be chosen for transport, as was the case of Mr Daniel. "The gendarme at Oslavany was involved with my Aunt Málka, and she took us children in. As for the others, well... Mom didn't have to go [on the transport], but she loved Dad, so she also went. On the 3rd of May, I remember it exactly, they separated us all, and on the 5th of May they let us go home. I was already sitting in the arena, I didn't know about it, I wanted to go with my parents, right, and somebody came over, one of those guys, in plain clothes, a secret policeman, he grabbed a hold of me and said that I wasn't going anywhere. I shouted that I wanted to go with my parents [on the transport] too. Well, he just dragged me out of there. Otherwise ..." recalls Zdeněk Daniel.

Die, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Holocaust, Memory of the Roma, Mezinárodní den obětí holocaustu, Film



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