VIDEO: Commemoration at former concentration camp in Czech Republic remembers Romani victims of Auschwitz, Human Rights Commissioner expresses support for a Romani Commissioner
Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (VPORH) spoke yesterday at the commemorative ceremony in Lety (Písek district), Czech Republic and called on politicians to condemn antigypsyism just as they condemn anitsemitism. According to him, both forms of hatred are gaining strength in Europe.
The ceremony held at the site of the former concentration camp at Lety u Písku yesterday commemorated the Romani victims of the Second World War. The annual ceremony is traditionally held in May, but this year it was moved to 2 August, which is European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, after the lockdown provisions enacted earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic made the May ceremony impossible.
"Displays of antigypsyism are gaining strength. They are happening all over Europe on a daily basis," the VPORH chair told the approximately 100 attendees.
He called on politicians to condemn such displays the same way they condemn antisemitism. "This is not yet happening," he added.
Růžíčka reminded those assembled of the more than 3 000 Romani people murdered by the Nazis on 2-3 August 1944 when the so-called "Gypsy Family Camp" at Auschwitz was destroyed and its remaining prisoners gassed to death. Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková also spoke and expressed support for Romani demands to establish the position of a Czech Governmnet Commissioner for the Romani Minority.
"I decidedly support the demands of the Romani minority for a Romani Commissioner to be included in the Strategy for 2021-2030," she said. "Only such an official will be able to represent what they consider to be most important in all aspects, details, and maybe even some brave visions."
"If I have an opportunity to influence this, you certainly will have a Romani Commissioner," the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner said. Another speaker was Deputy Ombudsperson Monika Šimůnková, who said that the Czech Republic is still grappling with excluded localities that are mostly inhabited by Romani people, as well as with segregated schools.
"I am still not convinced that enough is being doing to provide quality education to Romani children," the Deputy Ombudsperson said. She also said the state has not yet come to terms with the cases of forced sterilization performed in communist Czechoslovakia, above all among Romani women.
Šimůnková said the bill to compensate those victims has been waiting for a first reading for one year in the Czech Chamber of Deputies. "I very much call for this bill to be assigned for a first reading as soon as possible," she told the Czech News Agency.
Some of the women affected have already passed away without receiving justice, said activist and journalist Gwendolyn Albert, who has long advocated for compensation for the women who have been sterilized without proper consent. She was given the Award for Humanity for that work yesterday at the Lety ceremony from the VPORH, which represents relatives of the former prisoners.
The Museum of Romani Culture, which has been administering the grounds at Lety since April 2018, is preparing to demolish the former pig farm there and to build a new memorial to the Romani victims of the Holocaust there. Archeologists have already surveyed the site of former concentration camp and the burial grounds adjacent to it.
"We already have a winner of the architectural competition for the future form of the memorial," museum spokesperson Alica Sigmund Heráková told the Czech News Agency (ČTK). The Museum is now completing the organization of the selection procedure for a firm to do the demolition work.
The demolition, according to the spokesperson, should begin in the autumn. The new memorial should be opened by the museum in 2023.
The commemoration began at noon yesterday with the Czech national anthem and with the hymn of the Romani prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps. After the laying of floral offerings at the current memorial, there was a spiritual reflection and cultural program.
From the history of the concentration camp at Lety u Písku
The original grounds of the facility at Lety u Písku served in the year 1940 as an accommodation facility for construction workers. After that it was used for a disciplinary labor camp on the orders of the Interior Minister of the Government of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Josef Ježek, dated 15 July 1940, which was issued on the basis of Czechoslovak Government edict no. 72, "on disciplinary labor camps", dating from 2 March 1939.
That edict had been promulgated prior to the Nazi occupation, and according to it, "wandering gypsies capable of work and other vagabonds living that same way, professional beggars, persons living from begging done by others (children, etc.), professional gamblers, notorious bums and loiterers, and persons living from dishonorable profits (prostitution, etc.), whether their own or those of others" were to be forcibly interned in the disciplinary labor camps. The first twelve prisoners were sent to the one at Lety on 17 July 1940.
About 10 % of those imprisoned there in 1940 were Romani. On 1 August 1942 the camp was turned into a "Gypsy Camp" and entire Romani families were then forcibly transported there.
The "Gypsy Camp" began to function as a concentration camp on 1 August 1942 and was closed on 4 May 1943. The capacity of the "Gypsy Camp" was increased to house as many as 600 prisoners, but that number was soon exceeded, as during August 1942 more than 1 100 children, men and women were interned there.
The camp was not equipped with the necessary hygienic or other facilities for so many people. The prisoners frequently had to bathe in the nearby fish pond.
Prior to August 1942, only men had been imprisoned at the facility. Beginning in August 1942, under absolutely unsatisfactory conditions, children and women were brought to Lety and left there to rot as well.
After the big intake in August 1942, those subsequently forced into the camp arrived there just a family or an individual at a time. At least 326 people died directly in the camp at Lety, 241 of them children.
There were 120 victims of the camp buried in a mass grave somewhere near it. Some survivors, however, have given higher numbers for the prisoners who perished at the camp.
Another 540 Lety prisoners perished after being forcibly transported to Auschwitz. A total of two mass transports to Auschwitz happened from Lety.
The first prisoner transport departed for the Auschwitz I concentration camp on 3 December 1942 and numbered 16 men and 78 women who were deemed so-called "asocials". The second transport resulted in the camp at Lety being practically completely emptied, because it involved 417 prisoners being sent to the Auschwitz II - Birkenau concentration camp.
While the first transport was implemented on the basis of a decree about crime prevention, the second was realized on the basis of Himmler's decree from 16 December 1942 directing the transport of all Romani people to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The remaining 198 Lety prisoners were then relocated to the "Gypsy Camp" at Hodonín u Kunštátu (the so-called "Žalov" site) or to internment camps in Pardubice and in Prague.
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