American author Paul Polansky has passed away
Today Paul Polansky, the American activist defending the rights of Romani people in the Balkans and Eastern Europe who was an author and poet, has passed away after a difficult illness at the age of 79. His death has been confirmed to news server Romea.cz by Argentina Gidzic, a Romani community member who knew him well, and his funeral will be held on Monday, 29 May in Knez Selo, Serbia.
In the year 1992, Mr Polansky came across approximately 40 000 documents in archives in the Czech Republic about the WWII-era concentration camp for Romani people at Lety u Písku, which had been administered by the authorities of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The camp had been written about by historian Ctibor Nečas in the 1970s, but it was Mr Polansky who publicized the fact of its existence, called it a concentration camp, and sparked a society-wide discussion about the fact that a pig farm had been built on the grounds during communism.
Mr Polansky took up residence in Prague for some time in order to continue his research into the subject. The result of his efforts and those of others were revelations about part of the sad history of Romani people during the Second World War on the territory of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and a broad debate that resulted in the unveiling of the first official memorial at Lety u Písku.
"I am quite sorry to hear of his death, he played an immeasurably important role in the case of the pig farm at Lety u Písku, at a time when it was still a taboo to speak of Lety as a concentration camp. He contributed to opening that debate, he broke through the walls of silence surrounding that issue. In 1998 his book, Black Silence (Czech title Tíživé mlčení), about the fate of the Roma in the Holocaust, was published, and the testimonies in that book make for heavy reading. May his soul rest in peace in eternal light," journalist and Romani community member Jarmila Balážová told news server Romea.cz.
One year after Black Silence, Mr Polansky published another book, The Storm (Czech title: Bouře), where, through the story of a Czech-Romani family, he novelizes the fates of Czech Romani people during the Second World War. In 1999 he began to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as an advisor on issues with respect to Romani refugees from Kosovo.
From July 1999 to September 2009 he was the head of mission in Kosovo and Serbia for the German-based Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker-International). After pogroms against Romani people had resulted in the forced displacement of about 90 % of the Romani residents of Kosovo, he invested all of his energy and strength into fighting to save at least a small part of the population of Roma on the territory of Kosovo.
In the year 2003 Mr Polansky established and led the Roma Refugee Fund in Kosovo, a nonprofit organization working with those in the Romani IDP camps in Mitrovica. Among other issues, he revealed the shocking case of the lead poisoning in the IDP camps administered by the United Nations in Kosovo.
In 2005 he produced a documentary short film on that issue, "Gypsy Blood", which won the prize for best documentary at the Golden Wheel International Film Festival in Skopje, Macedonia. Mr Polansky was born on 17 February 1942 in Iowa, USA, into a family of Czech-German immigrants.
He studied journalism, history and rhetoric and Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. From 1969 to 1992 he was a businessman.
During his lifetime Mr Polansky published a total of 52 books, 16 of them collections of poetry. In the year 2004 he won the prestigious Weimar Human Rights Award for his work fighting for freedom, equality, freedom of speech and respect for minority rights.
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