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Vice-chair of Czech lower house refuses to discuss Romani genocide with relative of victims live online

11.2.2018 19:47
Čeněk Růžička (Prague, 2018) (PHOTO: Tereza Heková,
Čeněk Růžička (Prague, 2018) (PHOTO: Tereza Heková,

The chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, Čeněk Růžička, says the recent remarks by the vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies, Tomio Okamura, about the concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Písku are outrageous and unacceptable to the relatives of the victims and survivors. He gave that assessment last week during a live online program on news server, "Rozstřel" ("Shootout").

Okamura was also invited to be a guest of the discussion show but refused to attend together with the Romani activist. Last month he erroneously told the media that the concentration camp at Lety had not been fenced and that people had been free to come and go from it.

The vice-chair of the lower house subsequently apologized for alleging the camp had not been fenced but said it had not been guarded most of the time, that people had been able to move about freely inside the camp, and that there were holes in the fence. He also said that those who were accusing him of Holocaust denial as a result of his remarks were engaged in a campaign against his SPD party.

Okamura also said that while he does not doubt that people suffered in the camp, he has reservations about how the remembrance site there is being addressed by the state. "That remark by Mr Okamura, the vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies, who should be a person with a moral compass, and who said those things just to keep his voters on side, is unacceptable, absurd, for those of us who are related to the victims. He has outraged us unbelievably," Růžička said on the program.

"That camp was barricaded with a two-meter fence topped with barbed wire. In the camp a minimum of 327 prisoners died, 241 of whom were children. There were 36 newborns delivered there, only one of whom survived," Růžička said.

"That child was saved only because the wife of the camp commander, Janovský, liked that particular little boy. For that reason he was saved," Růžička said.

"People were imprisoned in that camp who had done nothing wrong. They were there just because they had been born Romani. No court ever convicted or sentenced them, they died only because they were Romani," Růžička said in an emotional appearance.

Okamura's apology for his first remarks involved his stating yet another untruth, namely, that the fence around the camp had holes in it. Růžička finds those allegations unacceptable as well.

"That apology is not one we can accept. He could keep on making these remarks a thousand times and apologizing afterward every time. That won't fly," Růžička said before showing the moderator of the program the historical documents about the camp he had with him.

For example, the rules of the camp describe in detail the punishments to be administered to those who attempted to escape. Those documents, according to Růžička, unequivocally refute Okamura's allegations that the prisoners had enjoyed freedom of movement and had been able to leave the camp at will.

"If a Romani person attempted to escape and was captured, they first gave him what for, and then they put a ball and chain around his leg. Then they put him in a booth that was 3.5 x 3.5 meters square and he was fed less food than usual. He had to work during the day in the camp and in the evening he was put back in the booth," Růžička described before showing viewers a survivor's drawing of the torture pole where "disobedient" prisoners had also been strung up as punishment.

The same pole as in that drawing is documented in photographs of the camp from the archive in Třeboň, which Růžička also showed the camera. "Could there have been holes in the fence of a camp with that kind of regime? Nonsense, Mr Okamura," Růžička said to the absent vice-chair of the lower house, who refused to participate in the discussion program with him.

"We invited Tomio Okamura to the program but he refused, saying we should invite a historian as his counterpart," the moderator said. Růžička added that he himself had challenged Okamura to a discussion twice through the Facebook social networking site but that his challenge has yet to be answered.

Růžička also said during the program that Romani people themselves bear some of the responsibility for the current negative relationship between members of that minority and the rest of Czech society. "This is about how Romani people themselves sometimes behave. I visit various ghettos and I myself am critical of the Roma there," he said.

"However, the blame does not just lie with Romani people. The greater blame rests with the majority society," Růžička said.

Růžička sees the error as being the xenophobia that is widespread among the public, but rejected the allegation that Czechs are racist. "Some Czechs are racist, but most are not - they are, however, xenophobically-oriented," he said.

One of the biggest problems today, according to Růžička, is that of the ghettos and the lives of Romani people in them. "The Communists distributed those who returned from the concentration camps and from abroad among the rest of society," he said.

"Not all that happened [during communism] is something we should have gotten rid of. Not all of it is something we should criticize," Růžička said before adding that he himself had experienced problems with the totalitarian regime.

Another positive aspect of the Communist regime, according to Růžička, was that everybody was required to work. "They had to work, they made a living, they didn't have time to fool around," Růžička said.

Růžička also said he views future coexistence between ethnic Czechs and Roma in the Czech Republic positively, recalling that in connection with the scandal of the remarks made by Okamura a wave of solidarity has been expressed by those who have also been bothered by the MP's remarks. "It bothers them as Czechs, the shame of it bothers them. They are not responsible for what happened, but their forebears were," he said.

"I give lectures in the schools and I am pleasantly surprised by the behavior of the youth I meet. I see hope there," Růžička concluded his appearance on

vhl, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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