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Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner welcomes Czech Govt purchase of pig farm on Romani genocide site

24.11.2017 21:10
The signing of the contract to buy out the pig farm at Lety u Písku, Czech Republic on 23 November 2017. (PHOTO:  Richard Samko)
The signing of the contract to buy out the pig farm at Lety u Písku, Czech Republic on 23 November 2017. (PHOTO: Richard Samko)

Yesterday the contract to buy out the pig farm in Lety u Písku standing on the site of the former concentration camp for Romani people at Lety was signed at the Czech Culture Ministry. Public figures from around the Czech Republic and representatives of international organizations that have followed developments in this matter have gradually begun expressing their views of this historic moment.

Michal Horáček, candidate for Czech President, posted to Facebook:  "In July I visited Lety u Písku. I no longer recall what day it was, but my feelings at that site will stay with me always. The smell was so intensive that it was difficult to perceive anything else, to say nothing of remembering the people and the children who died in those locations. Today we have managed to do something great. Buying out that business, which was desecrating the site of that concentration camp, is more important than investing into any industry or new layer of asphalt on a regional highway. As a society we have demonstrated that we are able to afford to buy an empty space. That empty space is so important to healing the wounds of our past and to respect for others."

Benjamin Abtan, chair of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM), speaking to Agence France-Presse:  "This step represents an historic moment for all Romani people. Now the challenge will be to transform that location, so lacking in respect, into a place of dignity."

Nils Muižnieks, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, posted the following to his Facebook profile:  "I welcome the purchase by the Czech Government of the pig farm located on the site of the former Lety concentration camp. I praise the efforts of the authorities and in particular the leading role played in the negotiations by the Minister of Culture. The closure of the farm finally puts an end to an insult to the Roma victims of the Holocaust, the survivors and their descendants. I am aware of the complexity of the removal of the industrial plant from the site where it has been operating for decades. Its reconversion into a permanent and dignified memorial is the challenge which lies ahead for the Roma community, the authorities and the national memorial institutions. Therefore I call upon all stakeholders to engage without delay in a discussion about the future of the site. It is my firm belief that the erection of a memorial is crucial for understanding the fate of the Roma during the Second World War, and that it will send a positive message to society at large."

The purchase agreement was signed yesterday in Prague by the director of the state-funded Museum of Romani Culture, Jana Horváthová, and by the director of the AGPI firm, which owns the farm, Jan Čech, while the approval appendix for the state was signed by Czech Culture Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL). The Museum will take care of the grounds of the former camp.

Another CZK 120 million of investment [EUR 4,715,940] is estimated today to be the cost of cleaning up the grounds and making other alterations, including the building of a remembrance site. The buyout of the farm and the building of a dignified remembrance site on the territory of the former camp has been discussed for more than two decades, but previous Governments have passed the buck on the problem.

The Czech Republic has long garnered criticism over the pig farm on the Romani genocide site from both domestic and international organizations. The European Parliament has also called for the farm to be removed more than once.

The camp was opened in August 1940 by Protectorate authorities as a disciplinary labor camp. Men who were unable to document the source of their income were first sent to the camp.

Persons living itinerantly were also supposed to be sent there. A similar facility was established in Moravia at Hodonín u Kunštátu.

In January 1942, both camps were changed into internment camps, and in August both places were set up as "Gypsy camps". From then until May 1943, according to historians, 1 308 Romani people passed through the camp, 327 of whom perished there and more than 500 of whom ended up at Auschwitz.

After the war, fewer than 600 Romani prisoners returned from the concentration camps. According to Nazi estimates, 90 % of Czech Roma were murdered.

The farm facility on the former site of the Lety camp was built during communism beginning in 1972. During the first phase, 10 feed halls were constructed, with three more halls added during a second phase.

From 2013-2015 the firm added new technology to half of the feed halls. The facility covers a 7.1 hectare area on which 13 halls house 13 000 pigs.

redakce, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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