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Staffers of the Institute of the Terezín Initiative in the Czech Republic are outraged by the board's dismissal of director, fear Holocaust victims' database could be endangered

10.7.2021 11:14
The Database of Victims maintained by the Institute for the Terezín Initiative has now published data about the victims of the Holocaust labeled
The Database of Victims maintained by the Institute for the Terezín Initiative has now published data about the victims of the Holocaust labeled "cikáni" by the Nazis and their accomplices on Czech territory during the Second World War. (PHOTO: holocaust.cz)

Staffers at the Institute of the Terezín Initiative in the Czech Republic disagree with the recent dismissal of Tereza Štěpková as director and consider the decision to have been manipulated and tendentious, saying so in a collective statement on the issue that has been sent to news server Romea.cz. "The nonprofit organization of the Institute of the Terezín Initiative (the ITI) has spent the last 20 years creating its unique database about 175 000 Holocaust victims who came from all over the former Czechoslovakia," the staffers first note in their statement.

"In addition, the ITI organizes a nationwide event, the Public Reading of Holocaust Victims' Names on Yom HaShoah. That event has now apparently become the reason for the dismissal of director Tereza Štěpková," the staffers say in their statement, adding that the board dismissed the director from one day to the next without giving her or them any reason for doing so.   

According to the staffers, board chair Pavel Štingl has appointed the lawyer Martin Thiel as director, and the ITI staff are concerned that the database of Holocaust victims and the other projects developed during Štěpková's tenure will be revoked or suspended. "I have absolutely no iea what will happen with the database and our projects," said ITI database administrator Aneta Plzáková.

"We have been living with this uncertainty since last year, because the members of the administrative board were changed completely, twice. Board chair Pavel Štingl of the Bubny Memorial of Silence has been in office since October, but during that entire time he has never properly familiarized himself with what it is that we do," Plzáková said.

"At the board meeting on 30 June 2021 the director, Tereza Štěpková, was dismissed with immediate effect. No reasons for her dismissal were given to her, so it is only possible to speculate that the board was bothered by the reading of the names of the Romani victims of the Holocaust at the 16th annual public, republic-wide commemoration of Yom HaShoa - the board chair had been against the reading of the names of Romani victims, they say just Jewish names are meant to be read," Plzáková said.

"All of us at the ITI are convinced that it is good to honor the memory of all victims equally," Plzáková said. As for Štěpková, she has said that "The attempts by the new leadership of the Terezín Initiative and its Institute to thematically narrow the mission of the organization down to a conservative concept of the Holocaust and the differentiation of the Jewish and Romani victims is incompatible with the stance and the values according to which I have led the organization for the last nine years." 

According to the declaration made available to Romea.cz, all employees of the ITI are standing up for the dismissed director and are demanding that the board reassess its decision and announce a selection procedure for the job. "The new director, Martin Thiel, took office on 1 July and then immediately went on vacation for two weeks," ITI staffer Marie Smutná said.

"None of us know what his plans are. It is quite difficult to explain to our partner organizations in the Czech Republic and abroad what is happening here," Smutná said.

"We have educational projects for schools and other activities that have yet to be completed and we have no guarantee as to the form in which they will continue," Smutná said. Historian Michal Frankl, who was behind the creation of the database currently administered by the ITI and who has long dedicated himself to researching the Holocaust and its victims, said that "In association with this rapid change in the ITI leadership I have strong concerns about our future collaborations and especially about the opportunity to use and further develop the database of Holocaust victims and digitalized documents."

"This is not just about the access to this data source, which is essential to the survivors and their families for scholarly purposes, for education, and for remembrance. I consider the preservation of this unique competence to be crucial and, at the same time, to be very difficult - as I know from my own many years of experience, this is not something that can be created overnight," Frankl said. 

Since 2019 Frankl has been leading an international team, the work of which is supported by the European Research Council, and he is the Czech national coordinator of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). As for Štěpková, the now former director of the ITI, she graduated from Charles University in Prague in the fields of education and Jewish Studies and had worked at the ITI for 20 years, directing it since 2012.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Anticiganismus, Holocaust.cz, Institut terezínské iniciativy, NNO



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