US Ambassador to Czech Republic hopes Roma Holocaust site can be made whole
Participants in yesterday's commemorative ceremony in honor of the Roma victims of the Holocaust at the site of the former concentration camp at Lety by Písek called for the nearby industrial pig farm to be removed. The farm was built in the 1970s directly on the site of the former camp. A memorial to the victims was later erected several hundred meters away.
Representatives of Roma organizations attending the ceremony today called for the pig farm to be removed. US Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen was also in attendance and addressed the gathering. He said he hoped "one day to return and see the site whole again, without the other structures that still tarnish these grounds."
The Roma Association Forum has started an initiative to remove the pig farm and has chosen the slogan "Shut the Pig Farm" ("Zrušte vepřín") for its international campaign. "For Roma people, the Holocaust in the Czech Republic will not be over until the government removes the pig farm," Ondřej Giňa, Jr said on behalf of the association.
Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, told journalists the Committee is not giving up on the idea that the farm would be removed. He said the Committee was grateful that the memorial site has been renovated recently, but he still considers the form of the memorial to be undignified. "We are not recommending anyone consider the renovations here dignified, because you can smell the pig farm from here 365 days a year," Růžička said.
The memorial site was officially made accessible to the public this year. A natural amphitheater and three temporary wooden buildings were installed, one of which houses a permanent exhibition on what life was like for Roma people at the camp.
Růžička said the Committee had been pressured not to organize this year's commemoration and to allow the Lidice Memorial, which manages the Lety memorial, to organize it instead. The director of the Lidice Memorial, Milouš Červencl, who significantly contributed to implementing the renovations to the Lety memorial, was not present at yesterday's commemoration. The Committee did not invite him. Růžička said the Committee does not want to collaborate with the Lidice Memorial and would prefer it stop managing the Lety memorial.
Former Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Michael Kocáb included shutting the pig farm as one of his priorities, but in 2009 the Czech Government decided it would remain in place. The cost of removing it is estimated to be several hundred million Czech crowns. The farm is owned by the AGPI company. In the past its management has said the firm is willing to relocate the farm in exchange for "adequate remuneration."
The camp at Lety was opened in August 1940 as a disciplinary labor camp. The same kind of facility existed at Hodonín by Kunštát. In January 1942 both camps were transformed into concentration camps and in August 1942 both places became specifically "Gypsy" camps. From August 1942 until May 1943, a total of 1 308 Roma children, men and women passed through the camp at Lety, 327 of whom perished there. More than 500 Lety prisoners were transported to Auschwitz.
Less than 600 Roma prisoners returned to the Czech Republic of the former Czechoslovakia from the concentration camps. The Nazis murdered an estimated 90 % of Czech Roma.
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