Galina Trefil: While "Never Again" Happens Again
1959. A pair of determined, 19-year-old Romani male eyes stare down one of the many guard towers with which the Iron Curtain has surrounded Czechoslovakia. Though well within range of the machine guns’ fire, he takes a deep breath and suddenly darts illegally across the border. He moves through a river and then shakes himself dry momentarily on the other side. If he is shot, he will not be the first one in his family to be killed by an oppressive regime. For the rest of his life, he will never know how many brothers he has—only that they died by machine gun as children under Hitler’s tyranny.
The young man makes his stand, poses, and, on the other side, a nervous relative takes his photograph for proof. Just as quickly as he illegally crossed over, the teenager crosses back. Smugly now, he regards the malicious guard tower again. Though Romani and born in America, he had been taught to love Czechoslovakia, where his father had been born. His own people, by his thought, were just as much Czech citizens as any Slav and this was just as much his peoples’ homeland. And no machine gun had been able to keep him from proudly stepping foot on his homeland’s soil. Even if it was for mere seconds, for the rest of his life, no one would be able to take this pride from him….
Nineteen John Trefil.
2011. Though Hitler by no means loved the Czech people, nor Slavic people in general, it has become a grotesque joke that revering him and his practices has become an ever-more present theme throughout many Eastern European countries. Though he’d have had a clean conscience slaughtering Czechs en mass during his reign, this has apparently been forgiven by a great many for the simple fact that he ALSO murdered 1.5 million Roma. Cheering for Hitler, Neo-Nazi mobs rise up and Romani citizens in Czech Republic today hide as hundreds of people march, crying for them to be sent to gas chambers, set on fire, lynched, and shot.
In Varnsdorf and Rumburk, the crowds of those assembled are so domestic that there are even many mothers rolling their infants along in strollers while they scream out their lust for murder. Romani children cower, wondering if they will be killed. Czech children shudder, wondering if they are going to be forced to watch these killings and if their parents will be the ones committing them. Throughout this, Czech police stand by and, for the most part, do absolutely nothing while the mob destroys Romani property and threatens innocent people with genocide.
There are some who think that the pogroms occurring in Czech Republic pertain only to the people there; have no effect on the world at large. That Roma are threatened, attacked, forcedly sterilized, burnt with Molotov cocktails, or killed has become socially as accepted as, in America, attacks on Natives and African-Americans once were. It is as taken for granted as the violence suffered mutually by Jews was in Pre-WWII Europe for over a thousand years. But the crimes against humanity occurring now in Czech Republic do not solely touch the Roma there. It is a knife also felt by Romani-Americans; a knife my own family has felt keenly plunged into its front and its back.
When violence is directed against us, without exception, we are blamed for it. Why? We did not “assimilate.” My grandfather once taught at Karelova University in Prague. Most anyone would have considered that assimilated enough, but he was still a Rom and, thusly, he was shot at with a machine gun and saw his children butchered. His life was destroyed. Roma families all have slaughter stories from the war though. To be Romani, one expects and has to find a way to accept hatred from birth. So, from that perspective, that Neo-Nazis would march and cry for our murder yet again is a frontal assault; not a surprise at all.
Where my own family has felt intense betrayal is that so many were destroyed by the original Nazis that, collectively, many Holocaust-survivor families today say, “Things changed. They got better. And we can take comfort in that.” I and others in my family proudly display the photographs of the Romani-American soldiers of World War II—men who volunteered for the army, eager to be part of that change; eager to bring justice and freedom to their brethren and other ethnic groups besides across the ocean. Risking their lives, these men returned to America with medals, proving not just their valor in battle, but their commitment to the idea of genocide being wiped out.
In 1959, my father made a gesture of standing up to a government that does not protect its citizens, but instead forces them to suffer. He swam a river and risked his life in order, just for a moment, to stand in his father’s homeland with pride. Even if it was only a gesture, sometimes gesture are necessary.
My father, a retired psychiatrist and surgeon, still loves the Czech Republic. This is an all-encompassing and devoted love that will not, no matter how many vicious mobs arise, ever change. No matter how many police refuse to arrest citizens bent on murder, he will never blame the Czech people as a whole, but rather the government which is failing to protect its non-Czech citizens. He considers those who Czechs who did not stand up to and or prosecute the mob as shameful to their own race and sympathizes with the many decent, ethical Czechs who are shamed by the escalating violence that they did not take part in.
John Trefil in adulthood. (Photo: Family Archive.)
However much he loves Czech Republic though, he has broken-heartedly asked other family members to not go to there anymore. Nazis killed enough of our family already 70 years ago without more members needing to be sacrificed to the Neo-Nazis’ rise. And if the Czech government will allow this violence against its Romani citizens to go unchecked, it has betrayed every Romani-American soldier in my family that once volunteered to protect it. Most decidedly, the Czech Republic of 2011 is not one that my father would have swam that river to cross into.
And when he says this, he points out that this is the modern legacy of Czech Republic: not prosecuting what, in America, would be termed the crime of criminal solicitation for mass murder. By this failure, Czech Republic has rewound time back seventy years and now it is not German soldiers attempting to enact murders based on race. It is a thousand Czech civilians. These violent racists are the image that the Czech Republic is delivering to the media and to public relations. They, and not respectable people, are the voice which all citizens in other countries, not only foreign Roma, will be hearing. This is a thought that any good-hearted Czechs who stood by and did nothing should consider the next time that they proudly love their country. Will good Czechs allow their homeland to become thusly humiliated?
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Tags:Czech republic, Šluknovsko, Extremism
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